The term “stick bomb” is used to describe a broad category of kinetic art. A stick bomb can be almost anything that is constructed from flat sticks that are woven together and held under pressure. When a key stick is removed, the entire structure flies apart. Designs range from simple, single-cell bombs that you can hold in your hand to massive chains and grids that are made of thousands of sticks.

In this project, I am going show you how to make a few classic stick bomb designs — so put on your safety glasses and let’s get started.

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Project Steps

Select Your Sticks

Stick bombs can be made from any flat material that has a lot of elastic spring to it. The most common materials are popsicle sticks and tongue depressors, but you can use anything from plastic rulers to 2x4s.

You want to select your materials based on the kind of stick bomb that you are making. Popsicle sticks are narrower and more springy than tongue depressors. This makes them more explosive — but also more unstable. So popsicle sticks are better suited for small projects. Tongue depressors are wider and more stable, which makes it easier to create larger projects.

Single Cell Stick Bombs

Single cell stick bombs are made from an arrangement of four to six sticks that are woven together into a single block. These sticks can be arranged in countless configurations. Some of the more popular designs are shown here.

To detonate these bombs, simply throw them onto the ground. They tend to separate most easily if they land on a corner.

You can also increase the force of the explosion by doubling some of the sticks. By using two sticks instead of one, you can greatly increase the amount of stored energy.

Combining Multiple Single Cell Bombs to Make a Multi-Cell Bomb

After you spend some time experimenting with single cell bombs, you will probably want to try combining them for bigger and more impressive explosions. The easiest way to do this is to build two single cell bombs side by side that share a single stick. They need to be in the opposite orientation from each other so that the forces of one counteract the other. Then carefully remove the joining stick. The remaining pieces should press against each other and hold themselves together. You can use this method to combine almost any two single cell bombs into a two cell bomb.

Some of the patterns can even be strung together in long multi-cell chains or grids that will detonate one right after another. These chain reaction bombs are discussed is more detail in the next few steps.

Chain Reaction Stick Bombs: The Ortho Weave

As mentioned in the previous step, multiple stick bombs can be connected together in such a way that when one cell detonates, the adjacent cells will also detonate. This process can be used to create long chains and grids of linked stick bombs. When the end cell is broken, the whole chain will detonate in sequence.

The simplest chain reaction bomb is a series of linked square bombs. This design is sometimes called an “ortho weave.” To make it, use the same procedure that you used to make the two cell square bomb, but continue adding cells until you have a long chain. To help avoid accidental detonation, use books or other heavy objects to hold the chain down as you go. This way if the section that you are working on explodes, you will not lose the whole chain. But keep in mind that the sticks can warp if they are pressed for too long. When you are done, pull out the end stick and watch the chain fly apart.

Chain Reaction Stick Bombs: The Cobra Weave

Probably the most popular chain reaction weave is the “cobra weave.” It is called the cobra weave because when it is detonated in the right direction, the chain lifts itself up off of the ground like a rearing snake. It is also one of the fastest and easiest weaves to assemble.

To make it, start by placing one stick on the ground at a 45 degree angle. Then place a second stick on top of it so that the sticks are perpendicular and intersect at the top third of each stick. Then place a third stick on top of the second so that they intersect at the bottom third of the two sticks. To lock the left end in place, take a fourth stick and weave it under the top end of the first stick, over the middle of the third stick and under the bottom end of the third.

Now just continue the pattern out on the right side. The next stick should go over the bottom end of third stick and under the first stick. Repeat this process until the chain reaches the desired length. The sticks should all intersect at the ends or the 1/3 point on the stick. To lock down the end of the chain, insert one last sick between the three end pieces. Alternatively, you could just place a heavy object on top of the end pieces. This weave can be easily curved by carefully bending a straight section of the chain. To detonate the chain, simply pull out the last piece that you added. The chain should lift up off the ground and travel like a wave until all the pieces have flown apart.

Chain Reaction Stick Bombs: Clever Levers

Interwoven sticks can store a surprising amount of energy. But you can get even more explosive force by adding rubber bands. The easiest way to do this is with a configuration that is called “clever levers.” Two sticks are placed on either side of a block. Then rubber bands are placed around the sticks on one side of the block. This pulls one end of the sticks together and the opposite end apart. To hold the sticks together, the free end can either be held in place by a weight or by placing the end of the sticks between another set of clever levers.

To make a chain reaction bomb out of clever levers, arrange them so that the free end (the side that wants to pull apart) of each lever is fit between the sticks of another clever lever. This can be continued in a long series to make a chain reaction bomb. More rubber bands can be added to increase the explosive force. Multiple clever levers can be fit inside an adjacent pair, allowing you to set off multiple chains in multiple directions. Additional props such as plastic cups and ping pong balls can be added on top of the lever for greater effect. When the lever detonates, these props will be thrown into the air, creating a much bigger visual display.

Chain Reaction Stick Bombs: The Herringbone Configuration

The chain reaction bombs discussed in the previous steps detonate extremely quickly (up to 100 feet per second/30 meters per second). This is very impressive, but the action is over very quickly. If you would like a longer lasting display, the herringbone configuration is another option. In this configuration, sticks are stacked so that they support the weight of the stick next to them. When the end support is removed, the sticks simply fall to the ground in series like a string of dominoes.

Because the sticks are not under pressure like a normal stick bomb, you have many more options when selecting the materials. You can use whatever you have lying around. You can even use much larger objects like 2×4’s and trash cans.

Additional Information on Stick Bombs

Now you are ready to build stick bombs for yourself. But it never hurts to look at the work of others for inspiration; you can find a lot of tutorials online for stick bomb designs.

If you want to see examples of large scale stick bomb displays, I highly recommend checking out the work of Tim Fort (The Kinetic King). Tim Fort pioneered this art and invented most of the designs that are popular today. He has also made some of the largest and most impressive stick bomb displays ever created, and has earned several Guinness world records for this. To see examples of his work, you can check out his YouTube channel.