Build a Better Sand Castle

With these simple tips, you and your grandchildren can make structures that stand tall.

By Mary Wheeler

Creating sand castles at the beach is a classic family activity, but for most builders, the construction of a majestic palace quickly devolves into piles and holes. Here's the good news: You don't need years of experience or fancy tools to create an amazing shoreside edifice. Three expert sand sculptors offer some simple tips and techniques for building a better castle.

Meredith Corson, of Treasure Island, Fla., a professional sand sculptor for 25 years and co-owner of Sanding Ovations, suggests these steps for creating a basic sand-castle shape. All you need is a five-gallon bucket with the bottom cut off so that it makes an open cylinder, and a vessel that holds water.

  1. Set the bottomless bucket on the sand. Drop in 4 to 5 inches of sand.
  2. Mix in enough water to wet all the sand, but not so much water that it runs out the bottom.
  3. Tap the sides of the bucket with the palm of your hands to set it. This seals in the bottom ring of the bucket.
  4. From this point on alternate adding water then sand. Make sure you always have a couple of inches of water on the top.
  5. When the bucket is full, tap the sides again and immediately slide the bucket  off the top by grabbing the 1-inch lip on the inside of the top opening of the bucket. You should now have a solid cylinder of compacted sand that you can carve.

Once you’ve created this basic shape, here are five ways to make the most of your sand castle-making experience:

Use fine sand.
Course sand can be very difficult to bind. The sand should be fine, with lots of silt and sediments, says Gregory Grady, of Hampton Beach, New Hamp., a professional sand sculptor for 15 years. Grady has a simple technique for detecting if the sand is the correct consistency. "At the beach, pick up the sand and form a small ball. If you can hold it with two fingers and it retains its shape, the sand is good."

Use lots of water.
Water is the key ingredient in making a sandcastle. "You can never have too much water, and a lot of people don’t use enough of it," says Grady. Water acts as the glue that keeps the castle from falling apart. It also helps to build your castle close to the shore because the sand there is wetter, says Corson. However, keep in mind the high-tide mark.

Use simple tools.
You don’t need expensive tools to make a sand castle. Everyday household items such as a putty knife, spoon, straw, melon baller, small funnel, and shovel work well, suggests Justin Gordon, of Groveland, Mass., a professional sand sculptor for 27 years. Craft stores are also great places to look. "When I give lessons, I will go to art supply stores and they usually have a good variety of inexpensive tools,” says Grady.

Add a twist to the traditional.
Adding an arch or a moat to a sand castle is like adding icing on a cake. "A really nice sand castle includes things like archways, stairways, towers, windows, and moats," says Gordon. To create a bridge, make two piles of sand with a six-inch space between them. Then, take a mixture of sand and water and form a bridge from one pile to the other. By adding sand to each original support, you can then build upward to create a steeple or tower. Trim all remaining sand to the desired shape.

Try using a 64-ounce plastic cup — make sure it doesn't have any ridges — with the bottom cut off, suggests Corson. "You'll find that you will have to tap the sides with a stick or one of your tools as you are lifting it off. You can add these as extra towers on the side of your castle or right on top of the bucket form to create a tall turret.”

Keep your grandchildren interested.
Children are easily bored. "The best way to keep their interest is to let them run with their own ideas," says Gordon. Have them bring their favorite plastic toy from home and try to copy it in sand. You can find shells, sticks, seaweed, and other natural beach items to dress up your sculpture, like seaweed for hair, shells for eyes, and sticks for flag poles, says Corson.


For more fun summer activities, download our free outdoor activity guide. To find terrific locations to make sand castles, visit beyond your basic beach.

Do you have some sand-castle tricks? Share them in the Comments section below.


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