A new calving criterion is introduced, which predicts calving where the depth of surface crevasses equals ice height above sea level. Crevasse depth is calculated from strain rates, and terminus position and calving rate are therefore functions of ice velocity, strain rate, ice thickness and water depth. We couple the calving criterion with three ‘sliding laws’, in which velocity is controlled by (1) basal drag, (2) lateral drag and (3) a combination of the two. In model 1, velocities and strain rates are dependent on effective pressure, and hence ice thickness relative to water depth. Imposed thinning can lead to acceleration and terminus retreat, and ice shelves cannot form. In model 2, ice velocity is independent of changes in ice thickness unless accompanied by changes in surface gradient. Velocities are strongly dependent on channel width, and calving margins tend to stabilize at flow-unit widenings. Model 3 exhibits the combined characteristics of the other two models, and suggests that calving glaciers are sensitive to imposed thickness changes if basal drag provides most resistance to flow, but stable if most resistance is from lateral drag. Ice shelves can form if reduction of basal drag occurs over a sufficiently long spatial scale. In combination, the new calving criterion and the basal–lateral drag sliding function (model 3) can be used to simulate much of the observed spectrum of behaviour of calving glaciers, and present new opportunities to model ice-sheet response to climate change.