Wooden coffee stirrers can be assembled into a nice star, with nothing but their own friction to hold it together. Amaze your friends and beautify your world!

What you will need

If you're enjoying a cup of coffee in a nice coffee shop, then you already have the two things you will need:

  • Five coffee stirrers, and
  • About five minutes.

The stirrers I'm talking about here are the wooden ones, reminiscent of popsicle sticks, and just as sturdy, but longer and thinner. Peet's has them, but maybe Starbuck's does too. Some places have stingy fragile slats of wood, which can work, but are unsatisfying. Actual popsicle sticks are too short and stiff. The plastic micro-straws are completely unworkable because they are too slippery.

Once you have your five stirrers in hand, you can make a star. It requires a little dexterity to get the sticks to go where you want, and the friction that holds the star together will also work against you as you put the stirrers in place, but it's worth it. Working flat on a tabletop may help.

As you work, pay close attention to the over and under of the stirrers crossing each other. The star will only hold together if these are right. The basket weave of these crossings is the key to the whole thing.

Here are the steps:

Four steps to a stirrer star

  1. Start with two sticks angled together to make one point of the star. The exact angle doesn't matter, because you'll be able to adjust everything after the star is done.
  2. Add a third stick crossing the other two. Each of the three stirrers should go over one and under one.
  3. The fourth stick makes the star shape. Make sure the crossing at the apex is correct: it shouldn't hold the whole star together yet, though if you grip the star at that crossing, the star will hold.
  4. The last stirrer is the hardest. I find it easiest to slide it in lengthwise, worming it over and under the first four sticks, easing it into position. Sometimes it helps to hold the star with both hands, and push the fifth stick with your belly, with your fingers guiding its leading tip.

When you are done, the star should be quite secure, with each stirrer positioned firmly against the other four. You should be able to hold the whole star in the air by holding just the end of one stirrer.

If the stirrers are all in the proper positions, but the star doesn't hold together, make sure the overs and unders are correct. Each stirrer should go over, under, over, under (or vice-versa). The alternating of over and under flexes the stirrer, which applies the pressure on its neighbors, which holds the star together.

The shape of the star will probably be at least a little out of whack. Try to nudge the stirrers into good symmetric alignment. As you adjust, watch out for the ends of the stirrer slipping off each other (the points of the stars opening). The star can survive with one of its points opened, but two open points will be the end of your star.

What next?

Now that you've made your star, you can try making fancier ones:

Fancier stars

The first two are just like the star described above, but with six and seven stirrers instead of five. These are not that difficult to create, and can even be made by opening up a five-stirrer star to add the other sticks.

The third also has seven stirrers, but uses a different weaving pattern (under, over, over, under, under, over) because the original pattern would require the stirrer to flex too sharply too many times. This one is tough to build, and even tougher to get to look nice, because seven sticks tends to look like a mish-mash instead of a nice symmetric star unless everything is just right.

Other ideas:

  • Make stars and leave them on the counter at your coffee shop. I used to do this at one shop, and one day the coffee-meister said, "So you're the one who's been doing that!"
  • Try another five-minute project: making business card cubes.
  • Read my blog, where other similar topics are occasionally discussed.

Colophon

The figures here were created with a PostScript program (stirstar.ps), exported to a high-resolution PNG file, then cropped and re-sampled with the Gimp.

Comments

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Fred Kiesche 8:30 PM on 19 Dec 2003

Far out! Almost as much fun as the business cards! I put a link into my blog.

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Ron Blitzer 3:17 PM on 26 Feb 2004

Fred:

I have 75 million wood coffee stir sticks...any ideas what to do with them. We made them for a customer and they don't want them....

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Joseph Wu 4:23 PM on 23 Apr 2004

We used to make these out of toothpicks. My father remembers them from his childhood, over 55 years ago...

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Kathy 4:30 PM on 4 May 2004

For Ron, contact you local Girl Scout or Boy Scout Council. They will have a craft use for the wooden coffee stir sticks.

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marina p 11:38 PM on 5 May 2004

Wow. I never realized people had so much time on their hands...

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Marcos 5:44 PM on 6 Aug 2004

Beautiful! I will do some, if I can find the correct stirrers in my city.

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Zeev Rotshtein 10:47 AM on 11 Sep 2004

WOW!!! magnificent. Can you post instructions for some more business card shapes?

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Robin 11:52 PM on 20 Oct 2004

The link I added is our Freecycle site where people list things that they give away, or others take the offers. I have seen quite a few asking for craft items. If you are not in our area, there are 35 or so other organizations that would love to see or even exchange craft patterns or supplies! You can also go to: www.freecycle.com to see if your city is listed. It's a wonderful service! Thank you for your great ideas (I have a HUGE box of popsicle sticks, maybe I can use them to make something similiar!) Take care, Robin from Toledo, OH

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Jim H. maynard 3:06 PM on 19 Nov 2004

Dear Ron Blitzer,
I would like to buy, or receive a couple of hundred, or even a couple of thousand of the coffee type stir stick. (51/2" x1/4" x1/16"), or so. Please contact me via the e mail address I have posted. thanks, Jim Maynard, lecture demonstrator, UW-Madison

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Jack Pattison 12:43 PM on 7 Dec 2004

this is cool, i love the way you guys save the planet by finding new and exciting ways of using product that has reached then end of its prodect life-cycle and would otherwise be tossed in the bin. This is sustainability at its finest. Word up coffee stiring ragamuffins!

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Maria 1:24 PM on 7 Jul 2005

This was great time invested at work. Thanks if you know of any other sights that have more free origami please let me know where I can search. Thanks

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Dana 1:09 PM on 18 Jan 2006

These are cute!

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John Parrott 2:06 PM on 18 Feb 2006

Oh my goodness... I'm reading this and feel like I'm reading my own story. When I was yonger my uncle made a little square weave of popsickle sticks for me. 2 years ago I had an idea to make a 5 point star, and wondered if it would work... on paper it worked but popsickle sticks were too short and fat. i found some cofee stirs at starbucks and tried the fivepoint star and whala, it worked. I later made a 6 7 9 10 and 13 point star in diferent ways. I even ordered a case of 10,000 stirs so I can get more creative. I even would leave the stars at starbucks for the employees... I guess I'm not alone in this world. By the way, I have never heard at all of making coffee stirs stars before.

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gonaners16 1:25 AM on 18 Jun 2006

coolio! *runs to coffee shop* *grabs box of several thousand straws, and runs past shouting owner...*

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Vincent 7:42 PM on 25 Jul 2006

i made those when i was little, but just a 5 corners star.

let me c if i can find u illustrations of making 3-D wind mills using 3 x isso. triangles interlocks together.

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Ambrose B. 2:54 AM on 6 Feb 2007

Somewhere in California, there is a guy who makes an odd shaped thing out of 5 coffee stirrers, it's called the hand of God; 5 sticks, 3 forming a arrow head pointing down, and two more weaving across the top. It looks like a hand, anyone know what this is supposed to mean?

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Marie Munoz 2:21 PM on 17 Apr 2007

Ron Blitzer we can use some wood the coffee type stir stick (500 OR SO) PLEASE EMAIL ME IF YOU STILL HAVE THEM

THANK YOU

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Louis Theran 11:48 AM on 25 Nov 2008

There is a reason that the last stick is hard to put in. Your popsicle stars are closely related to (polar duals of) so-called plane tensegrity structures. What's giving the star its rigidity is a "self-stress space" induced by the weaving pattern. Basically, in that specific position, the up and down forces cancel each other out, making the star flat and rigid.

At step 3, you have something that is minimal with this property (it's basically equivalent to making something out of 4 rubber bands and two sticks where you have the sticks making the diagonals of a square and the rubber bands making the sides). The last stick adds some extra redundancy to this, which means that you need to bend it to fit it in.

I had no idea these were a hobby.

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sarah 5:44 PM on 11 Jul 2009

im only twelve but every weekend i play a card game called magic. when you open a boster you get a token this week a guy collected them and said im going to make a menger box i asked what it was then he made one for my brother and i. 6am the next morning i made two and put them together

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Trent 4:54 PM on 28 Jul 2009

Ron Blitzer, I can use some wood the coffee type stir stick (a few thousand or so) if they are thin (1/16" orless). PLEASE EMAIL ME IF YOU STILL HAVE THEM. I would be happy to pay cost and shipping.

Regards,
Trent

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DeeJay 10:44 PM on 24 Sep 2016

The five pointed star could be used for a sobriety test. The 7 stick/7 point star kicked my butt for hours---lesson learned: Not a project to try when simply sleepless. Months later, with sufficient sleep, the 7 is doable, but I had to cheat: I used a 'pencil grip' thingee to stabilize the points of the star as I worked. Tape can work, but I like the soft little pencil grip (gel like, vs. foam) because I can see through it and it holds just enough. I'd like to glue the stars sufficiently to prevent 'SPROING!' and make 'em usable for Christmas beyond one season; won't be using glitter or gold paint unless it's necessary to camouflage glue or goofs. D'ya think glue on the 'points alone (vs the middle) would be adequate?? I'm pondering putting a box of Stars in my carry-on bag for a flight, Christmas season. Token gifts to Family, as the flight alone is a budget buster. Thoughts??

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DeeJay 10:47 PM on 24 Sep 2016

PS: having the points somewhat supported by the little pencil grips makes it somewhat easier to fiddle with the center to attempt to make a hexagon that is Even. Being 59, I need all the physical advantage I can come up with! ;-)

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