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Ask Martha

How to build a better sand castle

For strong sand castles, make sure you use wet sand.

For strong sand castles, make sure you use wet sand.

Q. Do you have any tips for making sand castles on the beach?

A. Sand-castle making certainly needn’t be taken too seriously — kids can see a “castle” in even the humblest pile of sand. Still, should you wish to take your building to the next level, all you need are some basic tools and wet sand (the wetter the better).

Continue reading below

To start, form a good foundation. Choose a site close to the water’s edge. Draw your castle’s perimeter in the sand, and mound a big pile of sand inside it. Dig a hole in the center, fill with water and tamp down. Add layers of sand and water, until you have a firm, level mound.

Then create a central “keep.” Fill three-quarters of a large plastic bucket with sand, top it with water and tamp firmly. Repeat until the bucket is full, and carefully flip it onto the middle of the mound. Tap the bucket to release the sand, and lift.

For turrets and towers, fill milk or egg cartons, funnels, or yogurt tubs with equal parts sand and water. Pack firmly, top the containers with more sand and water, and then turn over in place.

Finally, add details. Smooth walls and carve windows and doors with any plastic utensils or tools you have on hand. Some of the best tools for sand sculpting can be found in your kitchen.

A set of measuring spoons is especially useful for adding little details or carving out spaces in walls.

In general, remember to pack the sand tightly with water, which helps the castle keep its shape as you work. And don’t forget to enlist the kids’ help at every step — after all, they will be the kings and queens of this castle.

Q. My wooden dresser drawers often get stuck. How can I get them to open smoothly?

A. Wooden furniture swells slightly with humidity — a phenomenon that can cause drawers to stick.

When this happens, gently tug the drawer out of the cavity and clean both with a slightly damp cloth to remove any dust. Then use a small paintbrush to apply a wood lubricant, such as Slipit
Sliding Compound ($17 per pint, www.rockler.com), to the top and bottom edges of the drawer, the central track (if there is one) and along the sides, says David Moser, the chief designer for Thos. Moser, a maker of handcrafted wood furniture in Maine.

Alternatively, you can rub the same areas with paste wax, such as Butcher’s Wax. If you don’t have wood lubricant or paste wax on hand and need to loosen a jammed drawer, candle wax works in a pinch. Use white or a woodlike color.

Always pull a drawer out with both handles, applying even pressure, so it doesn’t get thrown off kilter and jam.

If these steps don’t solve the problem, it’s possible the wood has shifted in such a way that the drawer no longer fits properly in the dresser. In this case, check to see where friction is leaving wear marks on the drawer. Lightly sand those spots with 50-grit sandpaper, says Moser. For more serious repairs, such as a broken track inside the drawer cavity, visit
furnituremedic.com to find a repair company in your area.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
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