We’re exactly two weeks out from our upcoming third annual Maker Faire New York, taking place September 29 and 30 at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. Every single one of our amazing makers has a unique story and words of wisdom to share. Today we chat with a man on a mission, Stan Munro, creator of the astounding and ever-growing Toothpick World. Stan is out to re-create the world’s most famous buildings — using nothing but toothpicks and glue.
1. How did you get started building with toothpicks?
I started toothpicking over 30 years ago. An art teacher in 5th grade asked us to build something 10 inches tall that could hold the weight of an egg. Mine did that, then five textbooks, then my desk — I was hooked. It continued to be a hobby for the next 20 years, until a 3-month unemployment spell, when I just needed something to do. I never thought it would turn into a job (or a company), but now I’m just blown away. Shoulda been makin’ toothpick buildings 20 years ago.
2. You build all your models to the same 1:164 scale. Why this number?
That’s a good question. Most people don’t notice the obscure number, but I build all my models to a 1:164 scale, because in 2004, my wife’s favorite building was the Chrysler Building, and if this idea worked, we wanted it to fit in the TV room. It’s now in a museum in Spain, but she’s nagging me to build another one.
3. There are no shortage of famous buildings throughout the world. How do you choose which ones you want to model?
I call it “Toothpick World” because I plan on building all the great buildings of the world. Who decides what’s great? Well, nobody has that right. Luckily, I don’t have to waste time in committees deciding that. People write in to my website, I get suggestions from random people, my wife tells me (and suddenly it goes to the top of the list), and I have to have enough information to do it. If it’s an interesting building, or from a country/religion that’s not represented yet, I build it. It also depends on what’s going on in my life at the time. I only decided on La Sagrada Familia because I was in an RV outside Mayo Clinic waiting for my wife to get a double transplant. Talk about “therapy” (she’s doing great, by the way).
4. Do you use anything other than toothpicks and glue for your builds? What type of glue do you use?
I use toothpicks and glue — that’s it, but behind-the-scenes, I use a lot of masking tape to hold things in place while the glue dries. The glue doesn’t stick to the tape or any plastic surface. Simple things I tell teachers all the time. I also use a calculator, ruler, the internet (a lot!), cutting tools, clamps, vice grips, Dremel, drill, sander.
5. What are your top 3 favorite builds you’ve done?
My top 3 favorite buildings are:
#3 — Angkor Wat
#2 — La Sagrada Familia
#1 — “The Next One” (It’s always the next one.)
6. What’s the biggest challenge of building with toothpicks?
The biggest challenge with toothpicks is feasibility — can it be done? Right now I’m thinking the Akashi Keikyo Bridge cannot be done (and have it travel). At 6 feet tall and 40 feet long, not feasible. Great Wall of China (didn’t even bother to do the math). Then again, I never thought La Sagrada Familia was feasible, but I guess when you put your mind to something, anything’s possible.
7. Which models are you bringing to the Faire?
I’m hoping to bring a lot to the Faire, including my latest, the new Yankee Stadium; my tallest, Burj Khalifa (16 feet); my most difficult, La Sagrada Familia; plus the Empire State Building, the new One World Trade Center, Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, Petronas Towers, Statue of Liberty, and a bunch of others.
8. How did you hear about Maker Faire and why did you choose to participate as a maker?
I actually heard about Maker Faire years ago, but I was trying to renovate my Jeep for Burning Man when somebody said my toothpicks might be cool for Maker Faire. I was surprised to say the least.
9. I’m sure you’ve gotten no shortage of astounded responses. What are a couple of the your favorite reactions?
Reactions for Toothpick World have been everything from, “This is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen!” to “What a total waste of time!” And honestly, I can’t tell you which is my favorite. The last guy who said it was a complete “waste,” yeah, he was a car salesman — that’s funny!
10. Your work is testament that the seemingly impossible is possible. What advice do you have for young makers who are inspired by your work?
Do what you love — no matter how ridiculous. There was a time in the not-so-distant past where skateboarding, graffiti, and scrapbooking were obscure talents. I have a unique situation in my life that this toothpicking has worked out for me. I remember seeing a glass artist when I was a kid, and she said, “Do what you love.” I’m not sure if anyone still says that, but I do.
Come check out Stan’s creations in person at this year’s Maker Faire New York. We guarantee you won’t regret it, and will leave inspired and ready to make!