How to Find and Preserve Sand Dollars for Use in Crafts
If you’re a beach lover, you’ve probably seen sand dollars at the shore. Maybe you’ve found the occasional one at the water’s edge, or even stepped on one in the shallows. You’ve doubtless seen tons of the white echinoderms in souvenir shops, where they’re often in the form of earrings and necklaces, or painted with beach scenes.
If you want to find sand dollars, you don’t have to wait for fate to lend a hand. By learning about the dollar’s habits, you can find lots of them!
First of all, you need to know that the greenish brown sand dollars are probably still alive. If you find one this color, turn it over and look at the underside. If the tiny spines are moving, the specimen is still alive. You might want to return this one to the surf after sharing it with the kids. If the spines aren’t moving, or if the sand dollar appears white, tan, or gray, it’s dead.
Many sand dollars can be found right at the edge of the surf. Just walk the beach and carefully watch the sand under retreating waves. You’ll need to be quick. If the dollar is alive, it will dig itself under the sand in a matter of seconds, leaving you wondering where in the heck it went. The best time to search is at low tide, but I’ve found them at all different stages of the tides.
You can also find sand dollars higher up on the beach, but you’ll have to dig for them. Look for a slight irregular hump in the sand that has a hole or two in it, especially at the bottom. Using your toe or a small shovel, dig down about three or four inches to find your treasure. I must warn you that this is a lot of exercise for your calf muscles. After digging up several hundred sand dollars one afternoon, I could hardly walk for the next couple of days!
Sometimes when the water is exceptionally muddy because of a storm or rough surf, you’ll often find loads of sand dollars in the water. Just walk through the waves slowly, inching your toes along the bottom, feeling for the creatures. Usually, where you find one, you’ll find a lot more.
If you decide to keep some of the brown sand dollars, soak them in cool water until the water turns brown. Discard the water and add fresh water. Continue doing this until the water remains clear.
Next, soak your sand dollars for about twenty minutes in a solution of half water and half household bleach. Remove them from the bleach water and place them in the sun to dry.
To harden the sand dollars, mix together white glue, like Elmer’s, and water – in equal portions. Paint the sand dollars with the glue mixture and let dry completely. You can also purchase a commercial hardener made just for sand dollars. This is usually found at beach shops or in craft stores.
Now your sand dollars are ready to be turned into craft items. Use the small ones for earrings by adding earring holders purchased from Walmart or from craft supply stores. The dollars in the two-three-inch size make nice pendants for necklaces. You might want to “bling” them up a little by embellishing the edge of the sand dollars with gold paint. If you choose this option, forego the glue bath. Instead, paint the sand dollars with several coats of white acrylic paint. The gold leaf or gold paint will adhere to this finish much better than it will to the glue surface.
Those with beach-themed living rooms sometimes decorate their entire Christmas tree with sand dollars. Just add a red or green ribbon to the preserved sand dollars and hang. You might want to completely gild some of these by covering the entire surface with gold leaf or with gold acrylic paint.
Larger sand dollars – the ones in the five-six-inch size, make wonderful little displays for your paintings. I’ve sold lots of these! I usually painted sand dunes, seagulls, sailboats, palm trees, or other beach scenes on them. To make painting easier, apply a coat or two of white acrylic paint before adding your artistic touches. After painting is complete, allow it to dry completely, then spray the sand dollar with a matte-finish polyurethane. Find a small easel at the dollar store on which to display your painting.
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