One Person's Sand is another Person's Gravel...


In an ideal world, all beach sand would be flat and fine-grained with a medium-to-high silt content.In fact, that is a fairly good description of the sand castle building material one will find on South Padre Island. But in the real world, we have discovered that sand actually can be divided into three categories: sand that will work; sand that will work if we add clay to the mix; and sand that won't work no matter what we try to do to it. (Fortunately, we have yet to encounter this type of sand.)

Almost all professional sand sculptors have their own methods for judging sand quality. I believe Todd VenderPluym of Sand Sculptors International employs something called the "Slump Test." The Sons of the Beach have our own "Juggle Test." If Amazin' Walter can juggle three balls of the stuff for any amount of time, we can build with it.

We thought this might be a good place for sandsculptors - both pro and amateur - to post regional reports on the quality of sand they have encountered at various beaches. If you would like to participate, write up your review and e-mail it to and we will add it to the list.


Location: Lewes Beach, DE
Reporter: "Sand Caslte Lady of Lewes Beach"

Building with Lewes Beach (bay) sand for many years, I find it to be very coarse and granular, with many pebbles and much debris. All these need to be sifted, or taken out by hand (because they will invariably turn up in your steps or fine carving!)  A tremendous amount of water must also be added before it will be 'packable.'

However, if you learn to build with this sand, you will find it similar to switching from a manual typewriter to a computer, and excel with the finer ocean sand!

Sandcastlelady of Lewes Beach
as seen in Southern Living, Mid-Atlantic, May 2004
and in September 2002


Location: East Coast
Reporter: "Doug"

Folks --
While being outside of Pittsburgh PA may restrict carrying out my true SOB instincts on a regular basis, I was surfing for sandcastle ideas when I stumbled across your site. For 20 years, these one-day marvels have been a passion of mine. And I'm happy to find your site. I did, indeed, order your "how-to" book for $7. (Sorry, I had already received your tools as a Christmas present a few yers ago.)
Now, I do have some views about East Coast sand. From my various castle sculptings, here's a quite overview. I like Delaware, overall, for allowing both stature and details with sand. NJ's pretty similar but a bit more coarse. Carolina's sand is more coarse and probably my least favorite, because it just doesn't want to hang together. Hilton Head is tough digging because it's so pancaked and firm, but once into the sand, it's pretty good. The East Coast of Florida is all good but, my view, seems a bit heavy and harder to work with than up north in Delaware. The West Coast of Florida varies pretty widely. Southern Florida's sand is real coarse and shell-filled but allows for large, oversized sculpting. Working north, the sand gets progressively easy to work with and allows for some pretty nice detail work around Tampa, St. Pete Beach and Clearwater. Good sand there. Once all the way north into the Florida panhandle -- in Destin, for instance -- it's a whole new world of sand that feels like white powder sugar. It's a fun sand that allows for extraordinarily crisp details but detail that disappears with the sun and breeze.
Texas looks good, but I've not been there. Nor, no sculpting in San Diego or LA. I need to try those.
For now, that's it for sandless PA.


Location: New Jersey Beaches
Reporter: Bill Comrey

The best sand I've encountered in a natural environment is the wide white beaches of Wildwood Crest, New Jersey.

I've been kicking sand into piles that reasonably can pass as sculptures for the past 20 years. I began this endeavor after watching a man build a sand sculpture with such ease and confidence that suggested to me, "Hey I can do that!" This event occured on the beach at Stone Harbor, NJ during the summer of 1978. My 5 year old son challenged me to build something for him. He wanted a boat. With tools found in the kitchen of our rental and a military entrenching shovel and several hours of "baptism under fire" I created a 15 foot long submarine with a coning tower that stood about 4 foot high and a "seat" just in front of the tower. It was crude and ackward looking, but it got me started into the wild and crazy world of sand sculpting.

I kept building things during our one week summer vacations in New Jersey and we rented cottages at various locations along the southern shores of NJ. I was truely surprized at the difference in texture of the sand on beaches only several miles apart. I also quickly found that the finest sand with a high silt content was best for packing and getting the heigth needed to "wow" my fellow beach bums.

The sand on the beach at Wildwood Crest NJ is gray in color when wet, and drys to an off-white color. The texture of the sand is real fine with very few shells and foreign items to be found. The fine sand allows me to get great detail into the dragons, castles and creatures I build.

The beaches of Atlantic City and Cape May are only 35 and 10 miles from Wildwood Crest, but the quality of the sand found up and down the shore from W-C is dramatically different and of less quality. I later found out that the explaination for this is due to the community's pumping sand from several miles out to sea for the purpose of replacing eroding sand from their beaches. The new sand grains are larger and their is very little silt as well.

My family and I will be on the beaches of Wildwood Crest again this July. Whereas I'm the craver, they come up with some of the themes for my workouts. I keep hearing murmurs of "Godzilla." Good grief, I think I need a front end loader.


Location: Hilton Head, SC


Reporter: Jerry Boehm

I had a grand total of 3 hours of free time on my recent trip to Hilton Head Island, S.C. I spent that on the beach, of course, playing in the sand. I dug a hole to get down to the water line and was disappointed to find small 1/8 inch sea shells making up the layer just 8 inches below the sand. I had to dump top sand into the hole so that I could get it wet enough to work with. It mixed with the shells. It packed well but it was nearly impossible to get good carving sand (lots of shells were everywhere in each scoop). I had very little difficulty in getting it to stand and arches were OK, I just couldn't get smooth walls because of those little shells. But sand castles still look nice even with less detail.

I soon attracted a small audience of children who asked me how I made my arches and stairways. I told them that "Sand Wizards" taught me how to carve sand. They wanted to know if you are a "real" wizard. They helped me make a "Texas Snowball" and drippy trees. The best compliment I received was from a five year old boy who, very seriously, said," What do you want to be when you grow up?"

I left the beach at 5:30 to attend a meeting when I walked back out at 9:30 PM I was very surprised to find everything just as I had left it. I guess sand arches and Texas snowballs are respected in South Carolina.

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