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Name: Walter
Status: Student
Grade: 6-8
Location: TN
Country: United States
Date: May 2007


Question:
How strong is a toothpick? When using toothpicks as a building material, can you spread the weight over multiple toothpicks? And if so, how do you determine the amount of weight they would support?



Replies:
Sounds like someone working on a classic toothpick-structure problem! First, kudos to you for taking a step back and looking at its fundamental aspects.

Having made many structures out of toothpicks, the first piece of advice I would give you is not to assume that all toothpicks are created equally. A big determinant of strength is the grain of the wood, and some toothpicks are cut across the grain (and therefore much weaker). Discard these! Also, toothpicks can be square, round, or flat, each with a different strength. So I cannot really answer the question 'how strong is a toothpick' because they are all different. You can build 30cm long bridges that hold 1000x their own weight -- so if you design your structure right, it can be very strong.

Yes, you can design structures out of many toothpicks, although typically you need to glue them (or do something to hold them together). I recommend using cyanoacrylate glue (super glue), formulated for porous materials. The best way to design the structure depends on your application.

If you have a more specific question that I did not answer, please write back.

Hope this helps,
Burr Zimmerman



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