There are many variations of equipment that can be used to make snow. All of which use the basic key component, water and air. Your choice of snow gun is determined by the equipment you will be using. We will briefly explain the various types of residential snow guns. Most of these snow makers can be made with parts from your local hardware store. If you want a plug and play snow maker thats specifically built to your air compressor and pressure washer specifications, we suggest checking out are affiliate Snow-Tec.
A tee gun is the simplest snow maker you can build. It doesn't require high pressure water, there are minimal components, and all supplies can be found at your local hardware store. The downside of tee guns is the snow making output is very low, about a 10:1 air to water ratio. If you are beginning snow making, we suggest this be your first snow gun build project.
This is by far the most popular residential snow maker and our favorite at Snowpacked. Though a bit more complex than a tee gun, it's efficient design will allow an air to water ratio of nearly 1:1. There are two variations of a combo gun which are internal and external mix. The difference between the two is the nucleating nozzle. Most supplies can be found at your local hardware store, constructed using 1/4” or 3/8” pipe fittings. We suggest using brass or stainless steel but never black iron pipe! If there's any chance of rust this will absolutely clog your nozzles. Galvanized will also eventually rust so we try to avoid this material too. We highly suggest using gauges on both your pumps and your combo gun. If you have long runs of hoses, there can sometimes be a great variance in pressure drop due to the friction loss in the hose.
Combo guns require high pressure water of 500 psi at the gun and at least 5 cfm @ 90 psi of air. There is no such thing as too much air, more is always better! Combo guns have two to four high pressure water nozzles we call “bulks”, and a single nozzle thats mostly air with a tad bit of water called the "nuc" or nucleating nozzle. When the air and small water mixture is added, it creates a super cooling effect removing heat from the bulk water droplets. The "nuc" nozzle is always positioned below the "bulk" nozzles.
It's exactly how it sounds, with an internal the air water mixture is mixed inside the plumbing of the snow gun. An internal mix has a valve that is adjusted to the wet bulb temperature. We highly suggest using a needle valve. Do NOT use a ball valve and avoid using gate valves. Needle valves allow a fine tune water mixture into the nuc. Internal mix guns do require constant “baby sitting”. The colder the wet bulb, the more you'll have to open the valve. We highly recommend using an in-line check valve on your air line to prevent any water from entering your air compressor pump/tank. They cost a mere few dollars and worth the added safety benefit.
To be certain of the right adjustment, start with the needle valve in the completely closed position. Slightly crack the valve until you can see water barely come out of the nuc nozzle. It should look like fog. Try the “glove test”. Using a glove, place it in front of the nuc nozzle about 18 inches away. You should begin to see small fuzzy snow flakes start to form on your glove. If all you see is water then theres something wrong. Possible problems could be is that your needle valve is open too far, the wet bulb temperature isn't low enough, your water temperature is too high, or you don't have enough air volume and water pressure.
We suggest using MEG nozzles with internal mix guns on both your bulk nozzles and your nuc. For more information read our Nozzles Guide here.
External snow guns are always a better choice but certainly not an easy build by any means. Although very similar to an internal mix, the nucleating nozzle's air and water are mixed externally of the snow gun. There are several ways to accomplish this, but requires a nozzle for each your air and water. These two nozzles must be perfectly aligned within a thousandth of an inch to work correctly. The best part of an external mix snow gun is the benefit of never having to adjust anything. Once started and reached your desired pressures, just sit back and enjoy the blizzard!
Everyone wants a fangun when they first start snow making. People automatically think fan guns make the most snow which is actually not true. Remember, your snow output is relative to your water flow rate and less the type of equipment you have! For example, a fan gun running at 5 gpm versus a combo gun running 5 gpm will make the exact same amount of snow. Actually you would probably see less snow because a fan gun spreads the snow over a larger area and is subject to far more drift.
Fanguns still require high pressure water and an air compressor along with an additional fan inside the barrel. Fan gun water pressures run an average 250 psi, and require at least 8 cfm of air. These are complicated builds and not recommended for the novice snow maker. There are no residential fan gun manufacturers, although Snow-Tec has a prototype currently in production.
Snow guns work best when mounted high as possible, granted there isn't much wind. We call this “hang time”. This allows the droplets to further cool creating the best snow flake. When making snow in windy conditions, you have no choice but to mount your snow gun closer to the ground or else the wind drift will carry away your snow.
Always point your snow gun into the direction of the wind, use it to your advantage! Facing your snow gun directly into the wind, or a cross wind will blow your nuc with the possibility of freezing the nuc itself, and only creating ice.