Build an exploding chain reaction by weaving together craft sticks!
Creating a chain reaction is a SUPER fun boredom buster, and it’s also a great science lesson. You’ll be using tension to create elastic potential energy as you bend the sticks and weave them together. As you create this chain, you’ll be holding down the end you’re working on so that the sticks don’t go flying away from the tension.
Release the chain, and you’ll see potential energy transferred to kinetic energy in a super impressive way!
This post was originally published in May 2013 and updated in August 2023.
Craft sticks! And that’s it. I would recommend having at least 75 sticks. 150+ is even more fun.
I would recommend using wide craft sticks instead of popsicle sticks. Popsicle sticks just don’t flex enough for this project.
We usually buy ours at Walmart or Hobby Lobby.
The chain stays together as long as you hold down the end that you are building onto. Release the end and the sticks fly away!
It’s so fun to watch! You’ll definitely want to video your chain reactions. It’s really fun to play the video in reverse and watch the sticks all go back together!
The photo below was our original chain reaction in 2013! That kid is now an adult!
There is a video of our chain reaction in action at the end of the post!
This chain reaction is usually called the cobra weave.
Here’s how to build the cobra weave:
This is not a complex design, but you may find it a little tricky at first! We had to practice for awhile before building successful chains. Getting the first few sticks in place is the hard part. Once you’ve got it down, you’ll be able to build a long chain easily!
I have built many chains and never had one explode in process. Unlike domino chains, you won’t accidentally knock the whole thing over before you’re ready! Just make sure that your sticks have enough overlap as you build the chain.
Step 1: Arrange 4 craft sticks into this pattern. Make them look exactly like this.
Step 2: Add another stick to the top to secure the end. This stick must go diagonally across to hold down the ends of the top horizontal stick and the right vertical stick. If it won’t hold them both down, slide those two sticks out farther until they are successfully held down by the stick you added.
Step 3: Build the chain by adding craft sticks, one at a time to each side. Each stick should go over one stick, and under one stick.
You ca see that last stick that my son has his fingers on. It went over the last stick, and then under the end of a stick.
Next, we would add on on the left side. It would go over the one my son has his fingers on, and then under the end of the next one.
Once you’ve gotten good at building the cobra weave, you can add turns to your chain. You can also add things for the sticks to knock down. For example, it’s fun to end your chain reaction by knocking down a huge tower of plastic cups!
I would recommend this project for ages 8 and up, depending on the kid. Some kids may need to be closer to 10 before their hands can manage this project. If you’re willing to do the building yourself, any age would love watching it explode! You can be the coolest mom on the block this summer with this project!
And now, here’s a video of our largest chain in action:
Update: We have added a new post with two more chain reactions! One with rubber bands that adds even more power, and one that is perfect for younger kids. You can find them here –> Simple Chain Reactions