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How to build the perfect Sand Castle

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Leave the cheesy plastic molds behind... and find out what amazing things you can do with wet sand. Here's how nearly everyone can learn how to--
  • Build towers, walls and arches several feet tall out of sand and water!
  • Combine those structures to create other structures!
  • Carve those structures into recognizable shapes!
  • Get a great tan without even trying!
What is Sandsculpting ?
Sandsculpting is the making of a construction in sand. This may be a castle, but the sculpture may also be a composition of other architectural forms, anatomical bodies (humans and animals) and objects. In fact, practically any form can be sculpted in sand. This all seems rather easy, for who hasnšt made a sand castle on the beach in his time ?

The Sand Sculpture in Zeebrugge is however a bit bigger than the average castle built by fathers for their children on the beach. The Sand Sand Sculptures can be made of all kinds of sand, but the final height of the sculpture depends on the kind of sand used. For constructions higher than 1 m, a special kind of sand is needed. The size and structure of the grain are of vital importance.

To cut a long technical explanation short, the following comparison can apply : If you try to pile a few marbles, you will see that everything falls down. If you use cubes, you will succeed. The same counts for sand. Unlike regular beach sand that has a round grain due to the erosion caused by tides, the sand used for sand sculptures has an angular grain. The round grain makes high constructions impossible. The sand used for the Sand Sculpture Festival Zeebrugge 1997 is special young river sand composed by a company named Smals based in Cuyk, Brabant. They select the young sand on the basis of the size, structure and colour. This sand still has an angular grain suitable for high constructions.

The Tools

  • A beach - fine-grained, silty sand works the best
  • A shovel - long-handled with a small scoop is ideal, but a garden spade is better than nothing
  • Some simple carving tools
  • And anything alse you could find! Popsicle sticks etc.!

The Technique
The techniques used originate from the World Sand Sculpting Association. The building of a sand sculpture can be divided into two phases.

The first phase is the building phase. The sand is cast into wooden moulds, layer by layer. Every layer is thoroughly wet and tamped down. This compacting is done with petrol 'whackers' or with wooden or steel hand compactors. When the wooden mould is full, another mould is placed on top of it, so that a pyramid is shaped with a bottomless dustbin or a drainpipe filled with sand on top.

The second phase is the actual shaping of the pile of sand. To carve the sand, the moulds are taken away one by one from top to bottom. The desired shape is than carved in the thus created block of sand and the following mould is taken away. During the carving, the wooden moulds serve as scaffoldings. If you want to learn the sand sculpting technique on a smaller scale, you can also use a bottomless plastic bucket as a mould. You can then make a small block of sand that can be compacted and carved on a table. Or you can use drainpipes of +- 50 cm long to make towers or small erect statues. When working with beach sand, it is advisable to use small moulds. After all, the round structure of the beach sand grain is not suitable for constructions of higher than 1 m. In higher piles, the sand will weigh too much and the pile will fall apart.

Getting Started
Start by digging a hole down to the water table. (If you dig too far from the shoreline you will probably have to dig a very deep hole... too close and you might get wiped out by waves or incoming tides.) Water is the glue that holds the sand together, so you want to have an easily accessible source. An alternative to digging a hole is to mix the sand and water in a bucket and build out of it instead.

Using your hands like a front end loader, scoop out a large doublehandful of super wet sand from the bottom of the hole, pulling the sand towards you. Move that sand fast so you don't lose all the water before you get to your destination. Start building your castle on top of the mound of sand you dug from the hole.

Build a Tower
Flatten your handfuls of wet sand into pancakes by jiggling them with gentle pressure. DO NOT pound, push, pat, pack or pummel the sand into submission! The goal is to distribute the water consistantly through the patty so it settles into and binds to the patty below.

A tower is nothing more than a stack of sand patties piled on top of each other.Use smaller handfuls as you gain altitude so that the tower tapers at the top and doesn't get top-heavy and fall over before you get to carve it.

Build a Wall
Use walls to connect towers to other towers and to create staircases. You can carve your name on a wall or tunnel through it as well.

Once again, pull a doublehandful of wet sand from the hole. This time, instead of flattening it into a pancake, hold the sides between your flattened hands and jiggle so that the sand takes a brick shape. Keep laying bricks end to end for the desired length of the wall, then lay another layer on top, repeating until you reach the desired height. To form a staircase, first carve the wall into a descending ramp, then cut in individual steps.

Building Arches
A cool technigue are arches which on can see through.. but it is also possible to carve shallow arches into walls (in fact that's one way to make a nice big door too). But arches can then have doors and windows in them or on them too. Almost anything is possible. Acrhes must be lightly shaved away from existing walls of sand and if you poke all the way through be carefull not to poke too hard. Removeing a little sand at a time is always the way.

More complex doors can be made with fancy carvings around the edges and arched roofs or collumns on either side. Basically anything you can dream up!

Carving the Structures You Have Built
Put a point on a tower -- Start at the top by cutting an upside down V so it resembles a steeply sloped roof. Repeat from other angle to form a pyramid. Carefully shave off corners to form a cone shape.Undercut to create roof line. Carve windows and doors, etc. etc.

Well we hope that will give you a start! You can practice with a few buckets on a table and get great results. With all these sand secrets (just a little experimentation) you will quickly become an enlightened sand master! So just chant, "top down, thin shaveings...top down, thin shaveings..." As mentioned sand acts like soft stone. So one should always generally carve toward the center if you carve off an edge away from the center you will usually break of (or push off) the edge. It's a very basic rule of stone carveing applied to the physics of sand. Need more instruction? Here are some more How-To Pages:

Zandsculptuur Festival
Internet Center for Sand -
Sons of Beach Sandcastle Page


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