Building Popsicle stick bridges can land you a pretty good size cash prize if you happen to win a Popsicle stick bridge building competition. But this prize will not come without preparation and practice. It takes skill to create the strongest Popsicle bridge in the competition. Just like a scientist or inventor, you may need to create several different versions before you arrive at your very best bridge that you want to enter in the competition.
The materials you purchase in preparation of your bridge-building adventure needs to be of the very best quality. After you have purchased a large box of Popsicle sticks, you need to sort out the sticks that are usable and the sticks that are not. You want sticks that are straight. Any sticks that are bent, twisted or otherwise deformed will weaken your structure. For added strength, also look at the grain of the Popsicle stick. This may be hard to notice at first, but just look for lines running throughout the wood. You want these lines to be parallel to the stick. You don't want the lines to run diagonally or crooked in any way. As for the glue, you want a wood glue that is lightweight, strong and thin enough to seep into the wood grain.
For a competition or other project, the rules will state what type of load will be applied and how. If you know the type of load and how it will be applied to your bridge, you can build appropriately. If you know that the load will be applied to the center of the bridge in a steadily increasing manner, you know that you need to build a bridge that is strong in the center and that can withstand steady pressure. If, on the other hand, the load is applied on one side of the bridge and comes suddenly, then you will need to build a bridge that provides extra support on the sides and that is able to withstand a shock.
Once you know the type of load that will be applied to your bridge, you can work on a design for how the bridge will support that load and how well. For this, look to real-world bridges that have withstood the test of time to see how they are built to give you an idea for what you need to accomplish with your Popsicle sticks. If your bridge has tall sides, you want to use lateral bracing that will keep the sides together. Lateral bracing involves placing sticks connecting the sides together at the very top of the bridge so the sides do not bow outwards. How the load is applied will also determine the type of joints you use. Lap joints are ideal for loads applied to the top. Lap joints are where you place one stick on top of another and you glue the tips of the top stick to the base sticks. A well-constructed bridge is able to withstand a surprising amount of weight. NBC Los Angeles reports that one bridge in a competition was able to withstand a load of 3,000 pounds!
Once you have finished building your bridge, how you store the bridge prior to your competition official testing is important to prevent the structure from weakening. Allow your bridge to dry in a warm area so the glue has time to seep into the wood grain before solidifying. Store the bridge in a closed container in an area with low humidity. Moisture can weaken your bridge, so add some dried grains of rice or some silica gel packets to keep the humidity level down inside the closed container.
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