Learn expert tips from Andy Hancock, the founder of SandcastleLessons.com, in South Padre Island, Texas, and the winner of the 2013 American Sand Sculpting Championship, in Fort Myers Beach, Florida.

Credit: Kate Mathis

Round up the supplies that the pros use.

  • Good flat-blade shovel
  • Large bucket (about 3 to 5 gallons)
  • Bucket with a hole cut into the bottom
  • Metal cooking spatula (about 4 inches long), to make straight-edged walls and smooth surfaces and to carve doors, bridges, and stairs
  • Mechanical pencil, to draw designs, like shingles, bricks, and windows
  • Drinking straw, to blow excess sand from windows, shingles, and bricks
  • Nylon-bristle duster, to soften sharp edges on rocks, stones, and stairs

Start with a solid—and wave-resistant—foundation.
Dig a moat, about 8 feet in diameter, and pile the sand in the center to create a volcano with a bowl-like depression at its top. Pour a large bucket of water into the hollow and, as the water seeps down, pack the sand well all over. Jump on top of the mound to make it really compressed.

Smart idea: First Google the tide schedule to find out when the tide will be coming in. You may want to position your castle farther away from the water to keep it from being swept away by the waves.

Use the ideal sand-to-water ratio.
Mix up some castle concrete: Fill a large bucket with equal parts sand and water. Always add sand to water, not the other way around. “It should be wet and sloppy, like molten lava,” says Hancock.

Form a toppleproof tower.
Set a bucket with a hole in the bottom upside down, then fill it with castle concrete. Jiggle and slap the sides of the bucket gently. “Vibration makes the sand particles stick together really well,” says Hancock. Lift away the bucket.

Build additions using sand “pancakes.”
Take a handful of more castle concrete and place it on the foundation, flattening it into an inch-thick pancake. Repeat and stack these as you would bricks.

Make a bridge between towers.

First form 2 towers about 6 inches apart. Rest one hand between the towers and pour castle concrete on top of your hand. Hold your hand there for about 20 seconds, until the sand sets, then remove. Smooth out the structure of the bridge with a cooking spatula, making sure to keep the bridge about 2 to 3 inches thick. Finally, add sloppy, wet castle concrete to the bottom of the 2 towers to form the staircase ramps that you will carve later.

Shape the castle.
Starting from the top and working your way down, use the spatula to sculpt out pointed roofs and straight-edged walls and to carve doors and staircases. Scoop out windows and draw designs, like shingles and bricks, with a mechanical pencil. You can blow off loose sand with a drinking straw and use a nylon-bristle duster to soften any sharp edges.

Watch Andy Hancock’s video for a closer look at how to shape a sand castle.