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These Extraordinary Sandcastles Are Pure Wizardry

Look beyond the pail.

Every summer when the beach beckons, most of us head out with visions of building the most enchanted, magnificent sand castle in all the land.

A castle with turrets, spiral stairs, princess balconies and owl aviaries. A corner office for Hagrid, a library for Hermione.

But five minutes into it, we learn why most people settle for some wilted thing made out of plastic cups and a couple of rocks.

The truth is, building a sand castle can turn into a failed endeavor if you don't know a few key tricks. That's why we asked Bert Adams, a professional sand castle consultant and founder of Sand In The City, an organization that teaches people how to make sturdy, professional-looking sand castles on their own, for insider tips. Here's what he said:

1. Bring the right tools.
The Huffington Post

Adams forgoes the traditional pail and shovel for bigger and more basic tools such as a paint bucket, cylinders with both ends cut off of various sizes for things like pillars and watchtowers, and something small to use for carving sand away to make windows, stairs and merlons (the squared top of walls).

2. Pick the best sand.

The first thing Adams does is check the tide tables. "You have to look at the tides if you're going to be at an ocean beach because you don't really want to build something as the tide's coming in, unless you only plan to be there a short amount of time," he tells HuffPost. "If the tide's coming in at you, you're not going to have much time to build something."

Then he finds the best sand on the beach with which to work. "Good sand is small, fine-grained sand without a lot of other stuff in it," he says.

3. Water is your friend here.

There are several ways to make your castle, but as an ingredient, water is just as important as the sand.

Here's Adams's technique: Grab a 5-gallon bucket (with the bottom cut off), fill it with 3 inches of sand and enough water to cover the sand. "This is very important; most people don't use enough water," he says. Stick your hand in and swirl the sand around in a big circle to find unwanted sticks or rocks. Then, repeat the steps, but add three inches of water first and then sand, until the bucket is full. Remove the bucket.

Adams demonstrates how to do it in this video, including how to make a castle base with a spire, balconies and a spiral staircase.

4. Carve stones into your castle.
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A tool can be anything, Adams says. "A shell, plastic knife -- dang near anything, and you can carve your designs with it... A guy in Peru carves mostly with feathers," he says. He'll carve with the quill, "then he takes the feather part and smooths things out with it." When carving, start at the top, because the sand you carve away will fall to the bottom. Also, carving removes a lot of weight, which helps prevent your castle from collapsing from the top down. Most of all, Adams says, "Never cut too much." Pro-tip: If your castle gets too dry, mist it with a water sprayer to rehydrate it until you're done carving.
5. Mix imagination with water.
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Adams says your imagination is only as limited as the water you use, and if you're at a beach, you have plenty of both to work with. "You can make dormers, doors, windows, towers, stairs, any architectural feature you can ever think of," he says. "Let your imagination be your guide the whole time. You can make anything you want, just understand it takes water to get it to stick together." Check out the photos below for some instant inspiration.

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