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.

Supplies Needed:

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.

You can use plain 6″ craft sticks (here’s a good pack from Amazon), or 6″ colored craft sticks.

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


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  1. Angie May 13, 2013

    Gonna have to try this! Give David something fun to do while his brothers are gone! :)
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Paula Diekhoff Mar 13, 2020

      Hi, Sarah! Been following you for about 3 years and love your website. You will probably start to see an increase in subscriptions to your site. I just posted information about your site on my FB page and I already see people are sharing. Prayers for your continued health and for your continued cache of ideas/information!

  2. Jacob May 14, 2013

    This is totally awesome!

    1. Figment Sep 15, 2016

      This was great fun! I found anchoring the beginning of the chain to be pretty squirrely, and it kept falling apart on me. So, at step 2 I held the cross-brace with a binder clip. Worked like a charm.

  3. Vanessa @ See Vanessa Craft May 14, 2013

    How fun!! I'd love for you to link this up to Tot School Tuesday:

    1. Caitlyn Bixenmann May 22, 2018

      This thing is so awesome!

  4. Cassie @ May 14, 2013

    I am so going to do this!

  5. Cheryl May 14, 2013

    WOW! Now that is fun! I will need to do this with my kids :) Thanks for sharing! :D

  6. Kirstylee May 14, 2013

    This looks so cool! I cannot wait to tray this with my kids. Thanks for the detailed pictures.

  7. Ashley May 14, 2013

    This is so awesome! We will have to do it (probably over and over)! I would love for you to share at Mom's Library this week (opens this evening)!

  8. Keitha May 14, 2013

    Thanks for sharing such great instructions. We can't wait to try it.

  9. Sylvia May 17, 2013

    A friend just shared this on Pinterest. I got out our popsicle sticks to try it. But I cannot figure out how to set them up correctly! I get lost between the second and the third pictures. It seems impossible. Augh!

    1. Sarah May 17, 2013

      I'm sorry it's not working! We had trouble at the beginning. Are you using popsicle sticks or craft sticks? We found that the wide craft sticks work better. Also, you might try going to the post that I linked to at Mom Trusted and watching the instructional video. It was really helpful for us - but I had to keep pausing the video to make ours match the screen! I hope it works for you!

    2. Nadia Mar 23, 2014

      Same here, I can't figure how to get from the second to third picture. Looks great fun though.

  10. Christine May 18, 2013

    Love it! We had a hard time getting them to stay put at the beginning so we used a heavy book to hold them. Worked out very well!

    1. Sarah May 18, 2013

      The book on the end is a fantastic idea, Christine! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Corinne May 20, 2013

    About how many sticks did you use? I want to be sure to get enough...

    1. Sarah May 23, 2013

      We had about 250, and my boys are wanting to build a longer one! I just bought another box of 300. I'd say a box of 300 is good to start with, and if your family is really into it, you can add more later.

  12. Margaret Alexander May 23, 2013

    This is neat. I and my friend are sunday school teachers for 1 and 2nd graders. That would be good for the walls of Jericho. I'm going to show it to my friend and see what she says...Thanks we need all thehelp we can get...Praise the Lord.

    1. T Jan 16, 2016

      i also am preparing a sunday school lesson about jacobs ladder and this would be a good additional activity

  13. donovan May 27, 2013

    awsum im going to try it

  14. Angie Jun 5, 2013

    Pretty sure my GIRLS will love this!

  15. miguel Jul 14, 2013

    espectacular, hasta verlo no lo creí, voy a hacerlo con mis sobrinos, gracias por esta divertida e interesante idea, gracias.

  16. KylieM Jul 18, 2013

    ooo .. another one for Afters next week!

  17. Julie @White Lights on Wednesday Jul 22, 2013

    That's so cool. My kids are going to love this!

  18. Alison Jul 27, 2013

    O, that looks marvellous fun! My 4 yr old has a huge grin and very big eyes! Thank you for sharing!

  19. Cindy deRosier Aug 22, 2013

    I'm the Editorial Assistant for Fun Family Crafts and I wanted to let you know that we have featured your chain reaction project! You can see it here:

    Thanks for a wonderful idea!

  20. mommamov Aug 26, 2013

    My 5.5 year old just said, "They're gonna have to clean that up!"

    Can't wait to try it!

  21. jenskidsadventures Aug 30, 2013

    Love this! Something to build + something to break + something to trail all through the house = boy heaven! Can't wait to try it.

  22. Jackie Oct 3, 2013

    What a fun idea. My boys would love it! Thanks for sharing.

  23. Ashlyn Oct 5, 2013

    What a great idea . I will surely use this in my class for fun time. Thank you very much for the idea.

  24. Rainbow Rising Dec 18, 2013

    this is totally awesome!! got 2 try it!

  25. Tampa Balloon Guy Jan 25, 2014

    Do you think this would work with toothpicks? I would love to try it out but don't think the larger scale is really something I would have time or space to do.

  26. halpeti Mar 13, 2014

    very nice
    no harm to any one
    also very easy

  27. hative Apr 23, 2014

    I like the Chain Reaction Game with Popsicle Sticks. It's so clever. Featured you on Homemade Popsicle Stick Crafts.

  28. Andrea Lam May 3, 2014

    This was so cool totally going to try it out myself thanks for sharing !

  29. ezfix May 9, 2014

    That is awesome!! I am going to do it with my girls!!!

  30. Angel Jun 1, 2014

    Going to try this with my seven girly-girls. They are going to love this.

  31. Natalie Jun 30, 2014

    Tried this with my boys this morning, but we can't get it to work! It's the "locking stick" that gets us every time. In the How To video, the boy just zips through that part like it's no issue. But we have a pile of broken sticks to prove otherwise! We've tried both thick craft sticks and thin Popsicle sticks, and neither seemed to do the job. What are we doing wrong?!?

  32. Sarah Jul 1, 2014

    Made these (see link/addy below) all the time as a kid. This made me think instantly of them, and I am sure those who like this 'Cobra Weave' will like it as well. ;-)

  33. Amy Schleider Jul 6, 2014

    Even big girls love this :")

    1. Sarah Jul 6, 2014

      Definitely - I thought it was a blast!

  34. Sandy Zimmerman Jul 6, 2014

    Great idea about the diagonal stick at the top to keep them together!

    There is actually a kit/game you can buy that has sticks and a starter piece that makes it really easy to get started. Came out a couple of years ago. Called Stick Storm.

    They also have sets that have wall mounts and balloon additions. Really neat stuff!

  35. Tina Mansfield Aug 12, 2014

    This is awesome and I'm off to the shops to get sticks now!!

  36. nestor Sep 6, 2014

    1300+ Matches Chain Reaction Domino effect

  37. LORENA Jun 21, 2015

    Buenísimo lo trabajaré con mis alumnos.

  38. Faye Jan 27, 2018

    WOW! I love this for schoolagers.

  39. Sue Feb 23, 2018

    Your website is just super awesome. The ideas that are shared here have just opened up a whole new world of ideas for me to do with my DS. Thank you so much !!!

  40. Ireneline Uhrle Feb 19, 2019

    Thank so much for the good idea and i'm a 6th grader so I'm going to try that right now thanks

  41. moses Feb 11, 2020

    thanks i am going to use this in my rub goldberg

  42. Lutchie Mar 13, 2020

    When I was making a 1-10 addition family with popsicle sticks I glued into triangles, he made 2-d and 3-d figures with the finished triangles without my prompting. He will be 5 in June and it was his first time to see this shape made with popsicle sticks. I was amazed how he was processing the figures in his brain. I think I will build this chain reaction with him. Thank you so much for such great ideas.


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