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How to Make a Structure Out of Toothpicks

Updated July 20, 2017

There is no escaping the attraction of a well-constructed toothpick structure. Competitions are even held to see who can create the most wonderful toothpick creations. Although you may not be a competitor, you may need to make a toothpick structure as a school project or want to do it for fun. Stan Munro, the creator of Toothpick City I and II says, "Toothpicks and glue are a pretty strong combination (much stronger than cardboard)," making toothpicks a good choice for model-building.

Plan the structure you want to make by sketching your idea on a piece of paper. Keep in mind any "rules" you need to follow if it is for a class project or a competition. Your creation can be as simple or complicated as you wish. Time, and the dimensions of a toothpick, are your only constraints. Finishing a structure can take as little as a day, several months, or even years.

Choose the toothpicks that will best fit your project. They come in flat, square, round, coloured, frilled, and plastic. Flat and square toothpicks have the most surface area at the glue points. The frilled kind you get in cocktails can be used for decoration, but are not the best for building. Plastic toothpicks can be difficult to glue and may best be left to the experienced hobbyist. Round and coloured wood picks may be used as an aesthetic choice.

Choose the glue you will use. Although it is tempting to use instant-dry glue for your project, it dries so quickly that it doesn't really bond with your wood. Other glues may be too heavy, or just plain overkill for use with toothpicks. According to ScienceNet, "The best glues for this project are white glue or wood glue." Stan Munro, who is arguably the most prominent toothpick model builder in the world, chooses white glue.

Build your structure, one side at a time, on a flat surface covered with a piece of waxed paper. You can make drawings of your sides and slide them under the waxed paper as templates for your dimensions. You may need to use a craft knife to trim toothpicks to fit. Leave the sides to dry for at least 35 minutes. For maximum strength, let the sides dry for 24 hours

Erect your dried sides on a stiff cardboard base by gluing the cross pieces in place. These may be walls that are at right angles or bridge struts and platforms. Twist ties and rubber bands can help hold joints together while they dry. Just as in a life-size building, first get your main structural supports into place by gluing them. Once your construction is stable and strong, you may add more decorative elements.

Tip

"School Glue" is not the same as white glue and should not be chosen for this project. If this is your first try at building with toothpicks, give yourself plenty of time to finish your project. For curved elements, try using an appropriately sized bowl as your gluing base instead of a flat table.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Toothpicks
  • Glue
  • Waxed paper
  • Craft knife
  • Cardboard
  • Twist ties
  • Rubber bands
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About the Author

Pam Raymer-Lea is based in Los Angeles. She holds a M.F.A. in film and television, a master's degree in education and a B.S. in fine art. Raymer-Lea has taught a variety of subjects including filmmaking, writing, art, art history and science. She is a jewelry maker and is skilled in a variety of crafts ranging from glass blowing to home improvement.