Popsicle Stick Wall: What to do with 5,000 Popsicle Sticks

I was approached by a startup who wanted a cool handmade installation to use as the backdrop for a conference booth. They insisted that it be made out of variously colored popsicle sticks, that it be easy to transport & break down, and that the total weight be under 25lbs, with a small budget and an 8 day turnaround. In hindsight, there are a lot of things I would have done differently (ie. using larger, thinner wood; finding a way to break the panels down even smaller; an easier applicable wood stain, etc). Given the constraints this is what I came up with.

Materials & Tools:

- 4 boxes of 1,000 Woodsies craft sticks
- 4 × 8'x4'x0.25" plywood panels
- 5 various wood stain colors
- Fast drying polyurethane spray
- 5 small paint trays
- Foam brush or sponge
- Latex or rubber gloves
- 3+ hot glue guns
- Extra glue gun sticks
- Scrap cardboard
- White acrylic paint
- Newspaper

Step 1: Design & Plan

Since this was being used for a conference booth backdrop, I had to make sure it was easy to teardown and light enough to transport. Four 8'x4' wood panels would fit perfectly in the 20' conference booth. I had a few popsicle sticks lying around, measured them, and estimated how many boxes I would need to buy.

I experimented with a few different ways of layering the sticks: overlapping, touching, or touching with the ends cut off. I wound up overlapping the sticks to save on the time it would take to cut the sticks down, and so that no plywood was visible underneath the sticks.

Step 2: Staining

I experimented with a few different types of stain, sprays, paints, and finishes. I landed on using small cans of wood stain from the hardware store, and a fast drying polyurethane finish to spray on the final product. I started by tediously foam brushing the stain on each popsicle stick, but quickly moved to dipping bunches of the sticks into the can and brushing any missed spots with the foam brush. Also if your paint tray is small enough, you can pour the stain into the basin and bathe the sticks in the stain. 

Wear gloves. This stuff will get everywhere and takes weeks to come out from under your finger nails.

Do this in a well-ventillated area. You will get loopy and dizzy.

Let the sticks dry on some scrap cardboard for a few minutes before storing them in small paper bags, to prevent them from all sticking together. 

Step 3: Gluing

Spread a handful of each color stick out, and start in the middle of your plywood board. Warm up your hot glue guns and begin laying down your sticks. Alter the colors and spacing randomly, so that it appears as natural as a wood floor or a brick wall.

Glue will get everywhere, and you will likely burn your fingers. Try not to let the glue drip out too much from underneath the popsicle sticks, it's not very fun to remove when it's hot or after it's dried.

I let the sticks go all the way past the edges of the board, so that there was no plywood showing underneath, and so the boards would overlap with each other more naturally. Don't extend this too much, or the sticks will pop off.

Invite a few friends over and give them lots of pizza and beer to help you out. This will take the majority of the time.

Step 4: Cardboard Letters

This step is optional, if you want a logo to hang over your wall. Trace and cut out your typography onto flat scrap cardboard. It's best if the letters connect, but for any letters that don't connect, you can connect them at the back with popsicle sticks.

Paint the letters with a couple layers of white acrylic paint. Hang using fishing wire, string, or glue the letters to the front of the wall.

Step 5: Finish & Dry

Let the wall dry for another day or so before finishing it off with a fast drying polyurethane spray. This will help the stain to not bleed, and gives it a nice matte finish.

Everything you own will be covered in wood stain. Cross your fingers that your landlord won't notice.