Find the Best Popsicle Sticks

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When it comes to building a model bridge from popsicle sticks, it pays to be picky. Not all popsicle sticks are equally good. In fact, in my experience of handling tens of thousands of popsicle sticks over the years, it can be tricky to find the best ones.

What makes good a popsicle stick?

  • Strength
  • Consistency
  • Easy to use
  • Cheap
  • Easy to find and buy

Those things are the primary things I think about in regards to popsicle sticks.

The nice thing about popsicle sticks is that they are a fairly consistent size and strength (when you filter out the worst of the worst). Compared to say, Balsa wood, where there is a lot of variability, popsicle sticks are inherently more consistent. But depending on how picky and strict you want to be, you can end up throwing out 1/2 to 2/3 of your sticks if you get a bad batch. Believe me, I’ve been extremely disappointed from some online retailers, but also big box stores such as Walmart.

The problem is that deformed popsicle sticks won’t be as strong as straight ones. If you don’t pay attention to what popsicle sticks you are putting on your bridge, you could end up with a weak bridge. What I’ve found is that most popsicle stick bridges break at the joints. Because this is a common weak link, you want to sort your popsicle sticks according to which ones will make good joints.

Examine the popsicle sticks

Simply looking at the popsicle sticks will give you a good idea on which ones are good and bad. I normally start sorting the popsicle sticks into two or three piles. The best of the best into one pile, the okay ones into another, and the throw outs into the third pile. Often I’ll actually keep the throw aways for other purposes, just not bridge building.

You want to eliminate popsicle sticks that are bent, twisted, or have knots. Twisted popsicle sticks are a big problem because they don’t glue flat to each other. This creates a much weaker joint. Some popsicle sticks are cupped, with a convex side and a concave side down their entire length. These are just as bad as twisted popsicle sticks for the same reason.

Bad Characteristics:

  • Knots
  • Twisted
  • Bent
  • Cupped
  • Waxed
  • Bad grain structure

For model building purposes, we do not want popsicle sticks with wax on them. Some food grade sticks come pre-waxed. This creates weak joints because the glue does not stick very well to the wax. Since weak joints are already our biggest concern, the last thing we want to do is use popsicle sticks with wax.

How can you tell if there is wax on the sticks? Unfortunately I don’t have any examples to take photos because I don’t purchase any, but you can hold the stick under a light and turn it to try and get the light to create a glare off the sticks. The wax will create a visible sheen or gloss effect on the stick.

Grain Structure

The grain structure on popsicle sticks can be hard to see. But if you really want the absolute best sticks, you need to consider the grain. You want the grain to be parallel to the stick, and not on a diagonal. This is especially important for popsicle sticks that will be in tension.

I mentioned above that I make two piles of popsicle sticks: a “bad” pile and a “good” pile. And if I want the bridge to be extremely strong, I split the “good” pile into two new piles. In this second round of sorting, I will examine the grain structure of each popsicle stick, and make sure that each one is perfectly straight. The extra time taken ensures I will have the best of the best popsicle sticks.

Fixing bad popsicle sticks

If you are concerned about wasting popsicle sticks, or frustrated that you have to disregard so many because they won’t make good joints, there is another option: fixing them.

However, keep in mind that if you are building a bridge for a school project, there might be a rule against modifying the popsicle sticks. You might want to get clarity on if this option counts as modifying. Sometimes cutting the popsicle sticks is what counts, and this option is all about sanding them and might be considered an approved action.

You can sand the popsicle sticks flat, at least where the sticks will be glued together. There isn’t a need or benefit to sanding where there will be no glue. This can help with bent, warped, waxed, and to some extent twisted sticks. There is no fixing sticks with weak grain or knots.

I find using 120 grit sandpaper works well. I put the sandpaper flat on a table against the edge, and then carefully rub the popsicle stick across the sand paper while putting a moderate amount of pressure. You can flip the stick over to do both sides. Sometimes you need to do the top, bottom, front and back of each stick depending on how it will be used in the bridge. Wherever it will have glue on it is where you want to sand it flat.

Another pro tip I like to do is to NOT sand the stick smooth. I try and leave some sanding marks in the wood. This actually helps create even more surface area for the glue to stick to.

How much does a popsicle stick weigh?

I found the average weight of a popsicle stick to be 1.49 grams. To find this average, I weighed 71 popsicle sticks picked randomly from my box of 1000 and weighed them with my gram scale.

25 thoughts on “Find the Best Popsicle Sticks”

  1. As a parent whose kid doesn’t remember or take notes on “the” project your website was a life saver!!! The classroom instructions had the basics but I needed much more information
    I find out today how well our bridge went.
    Thank you for putting the information on the internet.


  2. i need blueprints that i can print out or something cause i have a school project and it has to be 14 inches and can suport up to 110 pounds help please

    • That’s a hard design. Here is a bridge I built using only 40 popsicle sticks. But it was only 13 inches long, and held 90 pounds over a span of 12 inches. You could use a similar design but make it slightly longer.

  3. Please Help Me, its Urgent!!!
    I am building a popsicle stick bridge for a science fair. Requirements: The bridge must be 90 cm long, 7-9 cm wide, and no taller than 15 cm. It also needs to be less than 200 grams. What design would you recommend for this bridge? I’ve tried some but they don’t seem to be strong enough to hold 100 lbs or more. I would really appreciate your help, thanks.

    • If you use a basic truss, such as the Warren, Pratt or Howe, you will be set up for success. The next key is figuring out where you need to reinforce the bridge in order to hold that weight. If you plug your design into the Bridge Designer ( it will help you see which parts of the bridge will be holding the most weight.

      • Alec
        hi the bridge designer website you mentioned above is no avaliable any more can you direct me to another one please.
        thanks heaps

          • The link to the virtual bridge builder has an unsupported plug-in. Is there an up-to-date virtual bridge builder you recommend? I will be working with students on Chromebooks to design popsicle bridges in a couple of weeks.

  4. How much is the width of the popsicle stick? Well, if you dont know the answer, could you tell me how much popsicle sticks that I need if I am going to glue on a 30×30 cm cardboard?

  5. Garrett,
    I am a teacher in a rural school district in WI and one of the classes I teach is called ¨Cardinal Innovation¨, essentially a Makerspace. We were starting a class challenge the week before schools were closed, due to Covid 19, and the class challenge was a bridge building contest. Bridges had to be able to span a 15 inch opening between tables, width was up to one popsicle stick length, and height was no more than 12 inches tall. Now, I will be sending the materials home to each student in my two classes for them to complete as an individual project (we were originally doing in teams). My question for you is which size of popsicle stick do you prefer or suggest to use? The narrow 4 3/8¨ x 3/8¨ stick or the wider 6¨x 3/4¨ stick. I have enough of each size to send home either size to each student. I could send one section the longer wider sticks and the other class the narrow shorter sticks and then do a comparison between the classes. Thoughts?
    Pete Lowery
    MS Math & Cardinal Innovation
    Necedah, WI

    • Hi Pete,

      I’ve actually only used the more narrow sticks when building model bridges. I think this is mainly because I like how they look compared to the jumbo sized ones.

      I’m not sure if you are eventually planning to test the strength of their bridges, but if so the larger sticks will have a distinct advantage because they have more surface area for the glued joints.

      But other than that, I think either option would be just fine. I actually like your idea to send different sizes to each class in order to compare.

      Best of luck, and thank you for your investment into the students!


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