Popsicle stick towers are a common engineering project to be assigned in school.
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<1> Your assignment may have various criteria for height, weight, and number of popsicles, but this guide will give you a general idea of how to construct a sturdy tower out of just popsicle sticks and wood glue. This project is fun and relatively easy to do. When you are finished with your construction, add weight on top to see how much it can hold.
Making the Basic SquaresGather the necessary materials. For each basic square you will use five popsicle sticks and wood glue. Each layer of the tower will be made up of four basic squares, so each layer will use 20 popsicle sticks. The number of layers you want to make will determine how many total sticks you will need.<2> If you want five “floors” to your tower, you will need 100 popsicle sticks. To make your tower as sturdy as possible, use wood glue instead of the basic white tacky glue.Arrange four popsicle sticks together in a square. Lay out four popsicle sticks in a square with the horizontal sticks on the bottom and the vertical sticks laying on top. You want the sticks to be evenly spaced apart so they make a perfect square. Using one popsicle stick as a measuring device, make sure each stick is one “popsicle stick width” from the edge.<3> Lay two sticks vertically side-by-side across the two horizontal sticks to get the proper spacing. To align the sticks together, use a straight edge such as a block of wood or a brick. Glue each piece together. Lift one end of a vertical stick and place a dab of glue underneath. Press the two sticks together. Repeat this with the other side of the popsicle stick and then two more times with the other vertical stick. At this point, you should have a basic four popsicle stick square glued together.<4> Take care to maintain the accuracy of the square. This will be important when gluing the “floors” of the tower together. Make each module as square and regular as possible. Use a heavy weight such as a brick or textbook and lay on top of the glued joints to keep them flat while the glue dries. If the square gets bumped out of alignment, simply move the sticks back into proper placement. If the sticks dry out of alignment, you can carefully cut them apart with a knife and re-glue them or just make a new square. Wait for the glue to dry. Before continuing on to the next step, you want to let the glue dry. Follow the instructions listed on the bottle of glue you are using. The glue does not need to be completely dry, but you want to make sure it has set enough that the sticks will not move as you handle the square. Leave the square under the heavy weight for at least 15 minutes before moving onto the next step.Glue a cross brace diagonally across the square. Place a popsicle stick diagonally on the “inside” of the square. The “inside” means the brace will be between the two vertical sticks and glued to the horizontal sticks. Place a small dab of glue at each end and glue the brace in place. The brace is essential stabilizing the structure and allowing it to hold more weight.<1> Put weight on top of the whole piece and wait about 15 minutes for the brace to dry. Try to glue the brace in the same place on each square.Repeat this whole process to make enough braced squares to complete your tower. Starting with four new sticks, lay them out in a square and glue them together. After letting the glue set, add the brace to finish. Make enough squares to build your entire tower. If you want five floors in your tower you will need 20 squares. You will get better and better at building the boxes as you go along. Some of your earlier boxes may be "less precise", so if you have unlimited popsicle sticks, you may consider building additional boxes and discard some of the first attempts.
Joining the Squares into One FloorCombine three squares into three-fourths of a cube. Place one side with the cross brace facing out flat on a table. Slide a second square against the outside of the first piece so that it is sticking up. Slide the third square on the opposite side of the square.<2> It might be easier to place the first square on a raised platform so you can easily slide the other sides under it. Opposite sides should have braces going in opposite directions. Glue these pieces together. Liberally apply glue at each corner to attach the sides together. Let the glue sit for at least 15 minutes to set before you try to glue the final side on. Place books or weights against each side to hold everything in place while it dries.<2> While the glue is setting, you can start assembling other squares or cubes. You may need to hold the two pieces together, allowing the glue to set a bit before you place the books/weights to hold it in place.Attach the fourth side to the cube. Once the glue has set, you can attach the final side to the cube. Slide the side over the edges of the sticks and make sure that the brace is facing the opposite direction of the side opposite it. Apply enough glue to ensure a firm seal of the joint. Wait for everything to dry. Continue to assemble other components while waiting for glue to set. Again, you may need to hold the fourth wall in place to let the glue set so the cube will be formed properly. Repeat to form the remaining squares into a cube. Repeat this whole process assembling four squares into a cube until you have enough cubes to build the tower as high as you want. Set up multiple work stations so you can build more than one cube at a time. Each cube takes four sides, so if you want to build a tower with five floors, you will need a total of 20 sides. While your forming the cubes, try stacking them on top of each other and make sure they align properly. If they don’t, either break the cubes apart and remake them, or start with a fresh set of squares and make a new cube.
Assembling the Floors into a TowerStack two cubes on top of each other. Stack a second cube on top of the first one so that the middle brace is going in the opposite direction of the side it’s stacked on top of. The tips of the popsicle sticks can overlap to give you a better position for gluing.
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<2> The vertical sticks should be resting directly on top of the horizontal sticks. Your cubes should fit together pretty well. If you have to work them together a little bit, the tower will still work, it just won’t be as sturdy. If you have to force them to fit together, the tower will lose structural integrity. Glue the joints of the cubes together. Using the same wood glue used to assemble the other pieces, glue the joints of the cube together. Be generous with the glue to make a sturdier tower. If the squares have been properly constructed, they should fit together nicely. If the cubes don’t sit nicely on top of each other, you may consider making a new cube so they stack properly. Uneven stacked cubes will not be as sturdy. Clamp the joints of the cubes in place. Use clothespins or workbench clamps and attach the clips to hold the two cubes together. Clip them on in such a way that they hold the joints together, but are not touching the glue. Wait for everything to dry before removing the clamps and adding another cube to the tower. Repeat the process with another cube. Add another cube to the top of the tower making sure to alternate the direction of the diagonal cross beam for each level. Alternating the cross braces adds another level of structural integrity to the tower. Glue and clip each level to ensure strong bonding between the levels.<2> When you glue the last cube on top, your tower is finished!