How-to Build the Ultimate Sand Castle


Pic 2Steve Goodmuth and Karen Koelbel’s family have been visiting Sunset Beach, North Carolina for about twelve years with five other Maryland-based families, (which includes a total of around fifteen children), perfecting their sand castle building techniques.  On a recent visit, they agreed to share exactly how to build the ultimate sand castle, as well as, some tips and hints they have learned along the way.

Tip 1: The finer the sand, the easier it is to work with, which is one reason why they prefer Sunset Beach.  The only ingredients needed are sand and salt water.  “Salt water is very binding as it dries,” explained Koelbel.  No special tools are needed, only a couple of five-gallon buckets, a shovel, and a kitchen butter knife or the like to carve details into the final shape.


First, fill the bucket with ocean water.

Second, add sand to make a slurry about the consistency of pancake batter; (not the other way around with sand and, then, water).

Third, scoop out handfuls and pat into pancake-like stacks in the general shape of what you want the finished sand sculpture to be.


Building the ultimate sand castle is a process

Hint 1:  Put the structure on a mound of sand to protect and highlight it.

Hint 2: If you want your sand castle to stay together awhile, work above the high tide line.  This, of course, means carrying heavy buckets of water a lot further.  “The work is hard.  Lugging water and sand is labor intensive.”

Hint 3:  It is advantageous to have many people helping, especially when building six or more large sculptures in a week.  In general, one large sand castle can be completed when working most of the day.

“If not disturbed, they stand about four to five days. I think it is very interesting to watch how the wind and environment reclaim the sand,” said Koelbel.

Naturally, rain brings the castles down, but nighttime pranksters do too, on occasion.  After you have amassed the sand in the size and proportions desired, begin to sculpt and carve.

Tip 2:  Carve the structure as wet as possible.  As the sand begins to dry it becomes powdery, which makes it difficult to get good detailing.

For a more difficult or technical sand castle, make a mold out of a plastic trash can. Cut the bottom out of the trash can to make the mold.  Then, continue as usual making the slurry.  On the mound, fill the mold with the sand slurry.  When the mold is full, cut down the side of the trash can/mold to unwrap the structure.  Lastly, carve and detail as usual.

One other tip they divulged: instead of using a trash can mold, they developed another method for building a taller structure. It is more difficult to do and not really a starting point, but rather a technique to work up to.

Mound the sand, then, place a pipe in the center for support. Make the sand slurry and pancake it around the pipe, using roofing paper to help bind it into shape.  Once the desired size and shape has been reached, unwrap the sculpture and carve before the sand begins to dry.  Just remember to always discard trash properly and take anything you use off the beach with you each night.

Many regular visitors recognize the group from Maryland who like the community camaraderie of Sunset Beach, which is another reason why they keep coming back.

“Building these sand castles over the years has enabled us to make many friends here.  It is a good ice breaker; a good way to meet people.”


Until next time…


This article was originally printed in The Brunswick Beacon and is reprinted here with permission. 

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