Ultra-Portable Sand Sculpture Forms




About: Warthog-faced buffoon.

The pros use hefty plywood forms which require a pickup truck to transport, but I wanted something lightweight and compact.

Google "Sand Sculpture" and the results will boggle the mind... but the common thread between the larger sculptures you see out there, is that they all use some kind of form to pack the sand pile before the carving starts.

These forms were made for our second stab at sand sculpture (my team: Me, My 10-year-old, & my 8-year-old), but the forms worked great (plus we won first place in the intermediate division at the Long Beach, Washington Sandsations Competition), so I thought I'd pass them along.


Step 1: 30' Square Worth of Squid...

We were building a giant (colossal?) squid, which was pulling a hapless sunbather into the ocean.

It was entitled "Hazards of Sunbathing II," and it was the sequel to our first sand sculpture (photo below), which won the "comedy" award at the 2007 "Friends of the Dunes" competitionin Eureka, Ca.

Monsters eating people is always funny, right?

No photo available of the completed squid, I'm afraid, but I've posted another photo below that gives an idea of the scale...

We had a 30' x 30' square in which to work, meaning we'd need a pretty big squid, and therefore a pretty big pile of sand. I'd used a flexible plastic (compost bin) form for "H.O.S. 1," and while it did work well enough, I wanted to go bigger.

The problem was, we planned a family road trip around the competition, and we didn't have much room in the Dodge Caravan for luxury items such as shovels and enormous plywood boards. I solved the shovel issue ahead of time by asking the kind folk at our lodging locale for that day if we could borrow a shovel or two, but the forms...

Step 2: Materials

-Two sheets of thin plywood
-Retired climbing rope
-Drill (bit sized to rope)

All I had on hand were a few thin (1/4") plywood sheets, so I ended up going with two different sizes:
"Large" form: Eight pieces, 18" x 2'
"Small" form: Six pieces, 1' x 2'

The exact dimensions (and number of pieces) don't matter much; I stayed small because I didn't want the sand to break the thin plywood. If you have thicker lumber (and are less concerned with portability) you could certainly make your pieces larger.

Slice up your plywood, and drill two holes near each board's edge, as shown. I clamped each stack and did all of the the drilling at once.

Step 3: Rope It Up

Feed your rope through each "stack," tie off the ends, and leave a long length of rope.
In the diagram below, the rope would be about 16' long, or, 2'(length of each board) x6 (approximate circumference), + 4' (tail).
Burn or tie off the cut ends of the rope as needed, then coil the contraption up and head for the beach! Notice, the whole package ends up very compact: just the volume of the stacked boards plus some coiled rope.

Step 4: Set It Up

To use your form, pull the boards out, setting up one side at a time. Keep the rope on the outside.

Place the end of each board just behind it's neighbor's rope holes, as shown.

Pile a little sand at the corners, and soon your form will be upright, and shaped something like the "top view" image below (or the photo of the form in action, on the "intro" slide).

If you pull the rope a little tighter at the top than you do at the bottom (add a bit more sand first), you'll create a slight taper, and a stronger pile.

At first, just hook the tail of the rope into a gap, then once you get a bit of sand in and the form is holding it's shape well, tighten up the ropes and tie them off.

Step 5: Fill, Wet, Pack, Peel, Carve!

Now, fill it up!
Consult the masters for pointers (Here's one), or use google. you can get really involved and sieve out shells and hike miles for the finest sand, or just pile what you've got on hand.
Add water, stomp around on your pile, then add more sand. Once it's full, add another form or two until you get the height you're shooting for.
Peel the top form, carve it, then work down and peel the next one down until you're form-free. Then pull the ropes to stack your forms, and Have fun!

Step 6: Next...

I'd be interested to hear if anyone has any suggestions. I plan to keep working along these lines, playing with materials.
I've made another form out of a plastic trash can that weighs almost nothing and rolls up quite well; that will go on top of my two plywood forms for the next sculpture, whenever that is!
Larry Nelson has a beautiful custom form made from sailcloth, and I've seen roofing materials being used for forms, too. Chime in!



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    14 Discussions


    Just a thought. If you cut notches into the boards(say 2/3rds up the sides away from the rope holes) for the ropes to pass through you will be able to get a very stable form even before the sand is added. Basically the friction of the edge of one board pressed against the side of the next will hold it in place. Pressure is added by tightening the ropes. This should allow one person to easily set up the form and also allows the size of the form to be adjustable.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    This is very interesting, but I'm not sure it qualifies as an instructable. It may be two separate instructables, but needs more documentation. And secondly, why are sea monsters always attacking dames? Can't they be cool enough by themselves?

    5 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    i don't see how this Wouldn't be concidered an instructable...there are clear instructions on how to build AND USE a portable framing sollution...you could use if for anything from making sand sculptures to pouring quick dry cement around an enemy's car while they sleep (....not that i'm planning on doing that or anything) this is a very quick and easy form building technique..and i like the idea of "locking" each board behind the rope of the next..it allows for adjustability...really nice

    Fab. Instructable!  Wondeful ideas.

    crapflinger: "pouring quick dry cement around an enemy's car while they sleep" -o.k.  I try and love my neighbour, yet there are some people that are a little trickier to than others...(my bad) but I just roared with laughter!!! Send the idea to Hollywood-great scene for a comedy! lolrotf!

    well...while everyone else is loving their neighbor, i try to spend my time making sure that those that deserve it, get what's coming to them.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Perhaps Sand Sculpture, as a pursuit in itself, needs an instructable. I'd be happy to make one sometime, but there are countless folks out there more qualified than myself who could provide that, so I'll wait a bit.

    Again I suggest that interested parties do a web search for more info; there are competitions all over the USA and the world; there is probably one in your hometown. It's lots of fun, and always a great exercise in foolishness...

    I just wanted to share the form as an instructable for folks who are already interested in sand sculpture, since I heard a number of positive comments about these forms during the build, and I have not seen a setup like this...

    As for monsters? Yeah, they're cool enough. But making a person to scale out of sand is a nice challenge, plus when you add a person, you add drama... you should have seen the poor guy with the squid, it was pathos incarnate. Incidentally, so far both of my victims have been male, though; no "dames..."





    11 years ago on Introduction

    not sure why your using plywood and moving the sand, we just lowered the beach YAY! we made a pile from what was around us! have to say i love the detail of the fingers scratching through the sand

    C:\Documents and Settings\Ben\My Documents\My Pictures\Ben Pictures\me\lazylifeguards.BMP
    2 replies

    11 years ago on Introduction

    Just another idea for forms. I usually use an old 5 gallon bucket with the bottom cut out. Just put it on the sand pile, fill it with an inch or 2 of dry sand, add a lot of watter and mix it until it's very damp (if not a slurry, slurry is the best) then keep adding more and more sand and water until it hits the top. Then you make a tower on top of that with a hand patty method I usually use. To do the patty method what you need to do is to create a ditch and pour in lots of water. Then with both of your hands scoop out slurry (extremely wet sand) like a backhoe and just slop it onto the bucket. Once you get it to the bucket jiggle it a little to set it. Once you get one patty keep adding more. I've gotten towers over 4 feet tall (without a base which can reach more than 3 feet easily). Add those two together and you will have many hours of carving ahead of you. Happy sculpting!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Interesting approach. Sheets of plastic or roofing paper c-clamped into cylinders are even more portable and less set up time as well. See instructions and lots more tips at sandcastlecentral.comsandcastlecentral.com.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Wow... Sand Sculpture royalty, ladies and gentlemen!! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Your website was one of the most valuable as I was preparing myself for my first foray into the foolishness... Can we expect an instructable or two from you? Might compliment your admirable efforts elsewhere (maybe send a few new visitors to sandcastlecentral, and into the same sandy vortex into which I have sorecently plummeted)? I'm afraid that the likelihood is small that I'll be able to make it out to your neck of the woods in the forseeable future, but perhaps I'll see you in Long Beach one of these years? All my best, Mike


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Hey folks! If anyone managed to get any photos of our squid at the 2007 Sandsations in Long Beach, Washington, PLEASE let me know! The tide came in a bit early due to a storm swell that nobody was quite prepared for, and our squid swam away with it's prey before we could get any decent photographic evidence. Many Thanks! Mike Craghead