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Constructing Popsicle Beams

Four 2 X 3 Popsicle Columns

In the last post I made some recommendations for tools and parts for electronics experimentation.  I will do the same for popsicle construction, but there is a lot less to recommend.

Elmer’s Glue-All – Available almost everywhere.  Because it is very important to the results of your project, I recommend using  the “name brand” and the costs are not that much different.  There are lots of unknowns as we grope our way through building with these sticks… Glue does not need to be another variable.  I paid approximately $2.00 for a 4 fl. oz. (118 mL) bottle.

Popsicle sticks:  Again these are available many places.  A web search for “craft sticks” will provide many hits.  I am using the standard 4 1/2″ X 3/8″ (114 mm X 9.5 mm) sticks. I was buying bags of 150 of them, but I decided on the last purchase to buy a box of 1000.  The cost was less than $5.00 for the 1000.

Next you will need clamps to hold things together while the glue dries.  I use the medium size binder-clips (1 1/4″ or 3.17 cm) as seen in the pictures below.  These are less than $2.00 for a box of 12.  I bought 2 boxes.  Again these are available many places.   I bought all my supplies at the local Walmart.

There are not too many hobbies and crafts where you can learn as much and pass enjoyable time as cheaply as I have found this to be.   Now on to some details, some existing problems, and some future problems.

Whenever you start building something, especially something that requires symmetry it is very important to be consistent.  The best way to be consistent is to build a fixture.  This eliminates measurement errors and makes a job that would require continuous thinking of details to become a “no-brainer”  Even skilled craftsmen build fixtures if they know they will be doing repeat work.

The first picture on this post is part of the four beams that were to become the main columns of my test tower.  There are several things to point out about these. The first one I want talk about is that if you look at the bottom assembly, you will notice that I have one stick longer than the other one.  That did lead to some problems later in the final assembly.  The other 3 columns are are more consistent.  They were built after I constructed my fixture.  The second thing to point out is this forms very strong overlap joints and it simply “plugs in” to extend the beam.

The fixture I used to build the beams.

To build the fixture I used a cheap plastic cutting board. This permits easy clean-up of the excess glue. I first placed a stick at a diagonal on the board and drilled two small holes on one side of the stick. The pegs are actually push-pins. I used a pair of vise-gripe pliers to crush the plastic top and used the metal pin. Small finishing head brads would also probably do the job. However, do note that the diameter of the pin needs to be less than the thickness of the sticks. After getting the first two pins in place, place the stick on edge and drill two more holes for two more pins to hold the stick in position. It is very important that this 2nd set of pins is directly across from the 1st set of pins. One set of these pins will set the overlap distance for the sticks to be glued. After these 4 pins are in place, drill the hole for the 5th pin. This will be at the “nose” of the stick and will set the overlap for the glue joint. I set mine at 5/8″ (15.9 mm). Nothing in this has to be exact except that the two side pins at the overlap end of the stick need to be the same distance from the end of the stick and the pin at the end needs to be centered on the stick.

To use the fixture simply place a stick in the fixture, put glue on two other sticks and push each stick up against the stop pin.   I use a 4th stick at the other end.  There is no glue on this stick and it is simply a spacer.

Clamping the glued joint.

I then place a binder clip over the glued joint.  In the picture I placed the spacer stick at an angle to show I have not applied any glue to that end.  However, in practice I also clamp that end.  I then lift the assembly out of the fixture using the binder clips for my lifting points. This is why it was very important that the pegs used in the fixture have a diameter less than the thickness of the  sticks.

Gluing the other end of the single stick.

I then turn the whole assembly around and place it back in the fixture and repeat the process for the other end of the single stick.  After removing the assembly from the fixture I do one final check to make sure the sticks are still aligned on the bottom side by placing the whole assembly back on the cutting board off, but not on the pins.  Then I set the assembly off to the side to dry.

On the current version of this I am building very long columns, so I took two of these assemblies and glued them to the ends of a single stick placed in the fixture.  That is giving me columns about 31″ (78.7 cm) long.

This  post is becoming very long so I will just summarise the future problems I have to work through.   First, there is a major problem with gluing sticks to the narrow side of the other sticks.   I am considering using some string, probably unwaxed dental floss, to these joints and then applying glue on top of the string.   The next big problem is figuring out how to make the whole pulley assembly at the top of the crane and the hook end.  It would be helpful if both of these assemblies have multiple pulleys to reduce the compression force from the hoist “rope” running down the center of the boom.  The final problem will be coming up with the winding drums and tie-off point for these.   My goal for now is to use nothing but popsicle sticks except dowel rod for the actual axles.   I took on a big one for this “simple” project!  I am having fun… this is the most creative thing I have done in a long long time.


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