How to: Build a Better Sand Castle

Don Wierenga, who once built a 120-ton replica of Chicago’s Wrigley Field out of sand, makes sand castle magic look easy. Indeed, carving runs in his family. His grandfather was a woodcarver who made several museum pieces and created the design for the Lorna Doone cookie. But Wierenga insists you don’t need an artistic lineage to make a sand castle, just a little imagination, a few kitchen utensils and a couple of glorious hours at the beach.

Start with a firm foundation. Spread your arms out as far as they go, and that is the perfect diameter for your base. Next, dig a hole and dump water into the middle, step in and stomp the water around to make sure the mixture is well packed. Repeat the procedure until the base looks like a small mountain, a foot or more high.

Using a mold to form the basic castle shape is not considered cheating, but if you don’t have one, a hand-stacking pancake method works great too. Here’s how:

Head to where the sand and lake meet. Scoop the wet sand, scraping it toward you, like a digging puppy. Fashion the sand into pancakes and place on your firm foundation–no pounding or packing. Stack them one atop the other and gently smooth them into a tower shape. When the pancakes have reached a height of almost two feet, carve in the details.

Here are Wierenga’s tips for creating:

Columns

Tool: Measuring spoon, melon baller or plastic fork with the middle tines removed.
Technique: Put spoon or other tool near the top of a tower, and pull down. The deeper in you dig the spoon, the more shadows and dramatic effect.

Doors

Tool: Grouting tool (small trowel with a rectangular blade that measures about 1 1/2 by 3 inches) or pastry knife with squared-off end.
Technique: Put the end of the blade where you want the top of the door, then gently pull down. For a rounded “hobbit” door, use a spoon and similar technique.

Windows

Tool: Small grouting tool, pastry knife or plastic knife.
Technique: Scribe the outline of the window then scoop out the middle. Make a four-pane window by placing four squares near one another.

Roof Peaks

Tool: Pastry knife or grouting tool; paintbrush
Technique: Start in center of the very top of your tower and slice down at an angle. Repeat with slices on back and sides. Keep the angles, or shave the corners to form a cone, then brush off excess sand with the paintbrush. Finally, undercut the roof by about a quarter inch, using a flat tool and moving around the circle. Use a measuring spoon to make scalloped edges around the bottom if you wish.

Stairs

Tool: Grouting tool or pastry knife
Technique: Build a wall on an incline, smoothing it with a flat tool, even an old credit card. Then cut each step by making a vertical and horizontal cut with your flat tool.

Bricks and Stones

Tool: The pointed end of a measuring spoon works well, or find a stick
Technique: Draw circles to make stones, or squares to make bricks. But start with very wet sand or spritz the dry surface with a spray bottle first.

Arches

Tool: Your hand

Technique: Create two towers close together. Gradually build one tower toward the other. Holding your hand underneath, join together with final keystone pancake.

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    Seems to be a lot missing here … what is the jiggling method and what is a keystone pancake?