How-to Construct Castles on the Beach

Assemble your tools at home from metal or buy plastic on the island (but please don't use our cottage flatware!):

  • sunblock - a must when building a sand structure - it's easy to spend hours playing in the sand and forget the effects of the sun.
  • a bucket to carry water
  • a long-handled shovel with a small scoop
  • old kitchen knives, putty knives, paint scrapers, and trowels of various sizes and shapes all work well for carving sand
  • steak knives with the point broken off make good basic shapers and can also be used for scooping out doors and windows
  • a steak knife with the point still intact to etch out surface detail like bricks and rocks or even lettering
  • old soft-bristle paintbrushes to dust off loose sand or eliminate knife marks
  • plastic dinnerware can be modified as follows: (1) break off the tip of the knife to create a basic shaping too that cuts square windows or doors (2) break off the middle tines of a fork to make a column tool (3) use spoons for scalloped edges or arched doorways and windows

Dig a Water Resource and Prepare a Foundation:

Prepare your location by dousing it with several buckets of water. Dig a hole down to the water table and pile the contents in a mound over the wet spot. Digging your hole too far from the shoreline will cause you to have to dig a deep hole to reach water - too close and you may get wiped out by waves or incoming tides. Water is the glue that holds the sand together, so you'll want to have an easily accessible source. You won't get anywhere with sand that is too dry.

Strengthen the Foundation and Add Height to the Structure:

Start building your castle on top of the mound of sand you dug from the hole. Create a sand pile a few feet high with your shovel and soak it with several buckets of water. Sandcastle experts generally carve sandcastles from large mounds of sand, rather than attempting to build flimsy structures from the ground up.

Build a Tower

Once the base has been established, most folks work on constructing a central tower. Forget about using sand molds. They don't work. For a high tower to be strong enough to support its weight -- the sand needs to be very wet. Try using the "pile of pancakes" method of tower building. Using your hands, create a patty of very wet sand, several inches thick. After the patty has been gently leveled and patted into shape, make a new, slightly smaller patty on top of the first. Repeat the process until the desired height is reached. The idea is to create a tall tapering tower with a wide base and narrow top.

Dribble towers are created by using very wet, almost liquid, sand and dribbling it out between your fingers.

Build a Wall or Staircase

Use walls to connect towers and to create staircases. Carve tunnels through them if you like. As an alternative to carving the entire castle, pull wet sand from the hole, hold the sand between flattened hands and shape into a brick shape. Work fast so as not to loose too much water. Keep laying bricks end to end for the desired length of the wall, then layer, repeating until you reach the desired height. To form a staircase, carve the wall into a descending ramp then cut in individual steps.

Begin Carving Details

Start at the top of your pile and work down to avoid having your sand roll down and destroy existing work. The key is carve slowly and take off just a little sand at a time. Put a peak on a tower by cutting an upside down V so it resembles a steeply sloped roof. Repeat angle from other side to form a pyramid. Carefully shave off corners to form a cone shape. Undercut to create roof line. Carve out windows and doors. Use a pointed tool to carve the name of your castle.

Smooth Surfaces

Use your paintbrush to dust away excess sand and smooth surfaces.

Sit Back & Enjoy - Nothing Lasts Forever

Spray bottles can be employed to gently mist the castle walls and fine details. A few timely squirts with a spray bottle can keep your work from drying out and crumbling to dust in the hot sun. But don't get too attached. High tide will be here soon.

or click HERE to visit Ocracoke Cottages