Exploding Popsicle Stick Bombs (Step-by-Step Tutorials)

A combination of science experiment and just plain fun, exploding popsicle stick bombs are a low-prep and cheap way to keep those kids entertained. With step-by-step tutorials for 4 different bomb designs ranging from easy to difficult, you’ll be tossing bombs with the best of them!

How to Make Popsicle Stick Bombs
Popsicle stick bombs, also known as stick grenades, are one of those old 90s summer time activities. Mom would give you a handful of popsicle sticks and tell you to get out of her hair, and you and your friends would form bombs on the grass, then explode them on the sidewalk. 

It’s time to let the next generation in on the secrets of our non-digital fun. This post has 4 classic popsicle stick bomb designs: the Cobra Weave, The Grenade, The Butterfly, and the Window/Flying Fish. They range from the simplest (the Butterfly) to the most difficult to put together (the Cobra Weave).

Why you want this activity: 

  • low-prep
  • cheap
  • engages kids for hours
  • teaches science concepts (kinetic and potential energy, tensegrity, tension)
  • can be done outside or inside
  • super fun!

What’s the science behind popsicle stick bombs?

Just in case you want to use this for your science fair project, here’s the physics behind how they work:

When you create a bomb, you will end up bending your popsicle sticks to lock them in place behind other popsicle sticks. The sticks will all want to return to their original, unbent state. This is called tension. Tension is a pulling force; in this case, the stick’s materials want to pull back into an unbent state. 

However, since you’ve locked the sticks in place, they can’t unbend. This means that the tension is stored as potential energy. Potential energy is stored energy — nothing’s happening right now, but the potential for it to happen is there. 

At this point, you’ve built what is called a pre-stressed structure, or a structure that can’t exist without the parts that make it being in a state of stress or tension. This is also a form of simple tensegrity. Tensegrity happens when you have individual pieces in a structure that are under tension, and the competing tensions keep the structure in place. The criss-crossed popsicle sticks lock each other into tense positions, holding each other in place and creating tensegrity.

Tensegrity Chair
A chair built using tensegrity principles. Image courtesy of Mike Shouts.

When you throw the sticks, the impact of the stick hitting the tabletop or floor releases that messes up that tensegrity and releases the potential energy that was holding the bomb together. The sticks’ tension is released, and they move outward changing their potential energy to kinetic energy (or the energy of movement). 

So, basically, the sticks have the potential to move but can’t until you jolt them into action. Then, all that stored energy can suddenly be used, and the sticks explode outward. It’s potential to kinetic energy in action. 

Now you know as much basic physics as some undergraduate students!

What do I need for popsicle stick grenades? 

That’s one of the beauties of this activity — all you need are popsicle sticks and a place to work!

I recommend the jumbo sticks, also known as tongue depressors.  They’re easier to bend into the correct shapes as they have more elasticity. You can certainly use standard popsicle sticks, but they are significantly harder to bend and keep in place. 

Feel free to use plain wooden sticks. We like the colored jumbo sticks*, as they lend just that much more fun to the activity.  

*This is an affiliate link. I receive a small commission if you purchase from this link.

The only other item you need for this is a squishy surface. I recommend carpet , a blanket, a pillow, or grass. Creating the bombs is so much easier when the surface you are working on has some give to it to help you slide those stick ends underneath the others without causing an accidental detonation! 

Popsicle Stick Bomb Tutorials

Here are your step-by-step tutorials, complete with photos and written instructions. Let’s get building!

The Butterfly

This gorgeous butterfly packs a powerful punch! This particular design is a beginner-level build.

Butterfly Tutorial

How to Make a Butterfly Popsicle Bomb

Start by crossing two sticks to make an X. Next, lay a single stick on top across the center.

Take another stick and slip it under the two ends of the X and over the center stick. 

Do the same on the other side. It helps to press down on the two edges of the X on the right. 

Yay! Look at that lovely butterfly – ready for throwing!

Exploding the butterfly

You’re going to throw your butterfly against a hard surface. Make sure to use enough force to release all that stored-up potential energy!

The Grenade

This classic design is also called the triangle bomb. This beginner-level bomb is made from four overlapping sticks, which fly into the air when you “detonate” it!

Grenade Tutorial

How to Make A Popsicle Stick Grenade

Start by overlapping the top of two sticks so that they form a V. 

Next, lay another stick from the bottom of one to the center of the other. 

Now, press down on the top and bottom of the figure (in mine, where the red intersects the orange, and where the red intersects the yellow). Slip the last stick underneath the stick on the left, over the middle stick, and then underneath the third stick. 

And that’s it! You’ve made the triangle bomb!

Exploding the grenade

Just through your grenade against a hard surface. You want to throw it with some force in order to jolt those sticks out of position and into the air!

The Flying Fish/Window

This tutorial is intermediate-level, but this flying fish looks pretty impressive! You can also quit just before the last step to make the window, another awesome design!

Flying Fish Tutorial

How to Make a Flying Fish Popsicle Bomb

Start by laying two sticks parallel. Lay another two sticks on top of them to form a square. 

Next, lay another stick on top across the middle. 

Now, lay another stick across the middle. This one is going to go under both side pieces and over the middle piece. 

You can stop here, if you like. This figure is called the Window, and it makes an excellent bomb. If you want to keep going, then push the top and bottom sticks towards the middle. Repeat that with the outside side sticks. 

Now, push on two opposing corners so that the figure moves into a diamond shape. 
That’s the flying fish! Can you see the fish in it? 

Exploding the flying fish/window

In order to use your bombs, just throw them at a hard surface. The harder you throw, the bigger the explosion. Do remember to make sure that there’s nobody in the blast area before you throw!

The Cobra Weave

This is the classic popsicle stick chain reaction bomb. It’s so well known they’ve done studies on how it works, and you’ll often see it in Intro to Physics courses!

Cobra Weave Tutorial

How to Make a Cobra Weave Exploding Chain Reaction

Start by laying two sticks across each other to create an x. I’ve used two different colors so you can see the structure clearly. 

Then, tuck another stick under the end of one stick, and over the top of the other. In my case, I’ve tucked the new stick (yellow) under the green stick and over the orange stick. 

Next, tuck another stick under the top end of one stick, and let it lay over the stick you just tucked in. In mine, I tucked the blue stick under the top of the green stick, and laid it over the yellow stick. 

Repeat the last two steps until your weave has reached the desired length. 

To finish off the weave, take one stick and lay it across the end. There will be three sticks sticking out at the end. Tuck your final stick under the two on the outside and over the one in the middle. 

Exploding the cobra weave

Remove the last piece at the end of the chain. If you’ve woven this correctly, that should release the tension in the sticks, and your weave should rise up in a wave like a slithering cobra before exploding all over the room!

In conclusion,

Popsicle stick bombs are a fantastic way to both learn about science and have a great time exploding stuff safely. With a handful of sticks and just a little time, you and your kids can have a blast (literally) while painlessly learning a little physics!

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