How to make a catapult with popsicle sticks and rubber bands

This has been one of our favourite activities for ages, but we’ve never gotten round to filming it (although we did feature it alongside many of our other favourite STEM activity ideas in our free eBook).

So we are really excited to team up with Kathir from @sunnythoughtsco to finally share this idea here!

How to make an easy and powerful popsicle stick catapult

One of the reasons we like this lolly stick catapult craft so much is because it is so straightforward and quick. You can have your own homemade catapult or launcher in just a few minutes!

It’s also a great way to reuse and recycle leftover popsicle sticks and rubber bands (anyone else find they just seem to appear from nowhere?!).

Make sure you check out the video above to see how you can make your own rubber band and popsicle stick catapult – or if you prefer, read on for written instructions below!

What you’ll need to make your lolly stick launcher

To do this easy craft stick activity at home, all you need is:

  • At least 7 lolly sticks (craft sticks)
  • 5-7 rubber bands
  • a large bottle lid or small plastic spoon (if using a bottle lid, glue or tape are needed)

You can use a glue gun like Kathir does in the video, but there’s no need to if you don’t have one at home. Another kind of glue or tape will also work.

We recommend making sure you pull down on the stick itself and not the lid, as otherwise it’s likely to fall off pretty quickly!

How to make a popsicle stick catapult that shoots far

Here’s how to do this catapult craft at home:

  1. Stack about five lolly sticks on top of each other. Use two rubber bands to secure them together – one at each end. 

    making a popsicle stick catapult with rubber bands at home
  2. Now take two more lolly sticks and stack them together in the same way. This time, only secure one end with a rubber band. 
  3. Carefully pull the two sticks apart so you have enough room to put the bigger stack inside. It should now make a cross or ‘x’ shape.

     making a lolly stick launcher with rubber bands
  4. Use two more rubber bands in an x shape to secure the lolly sticks so that the inside stack can’t move. You now have a catapult. The highest end is where you will put your chosen missile. 
  5. Next, you can either glue or tape a bottle lid to the highest end of the catapult, or secure a small spoon to the catapult using more rubber bands. If you use a spoon, the handle should be at the lower end of the catapult. Leave a bit of space at the highest end for you to pull down and release your catapult. If you pull down on the bottle lid itself it’s more likely to fall off. 

    catapult stick launcher craft at home
  6. Now, try out your catapult. Put a missile in the holder (spoon or lid), holding the other end in place with one hand, push down and then release. Soft missiles like pom-poms or cotton wool balls work well and are safest. 

Other options: You can decorate your catapult with paint or felt tips. You can also experiment with using more than five sticks and explore what effect this has on how well the catapult works. 

Questions to get kids thinking

Here are some open-ended questions you can use with kids if you want to really make the most of this lolly stick activity as an educational opportunity:

  • How do you think the catapult works?
  • Do you think it would work better if you added more sticks to the stack, or took some away?
  • Does how you push down and release the catapult make a difference to how well it works?

A simple science explanation of how lolly stick catapults work

When you push down on the top of the catapult, potential energy from the bent sticks and rubber bands is stored up. When you let go, this is released as kinetic (movement) energy.

The bent popsicle stick can only go back to the shape it was in before, but it can’t travel any further because the wood fibres aren’t flexible enough, and the elastic bands are holding it in place. 

However, there is still lots of energy to be used up, so the movement energy transfers into the missile (your pom-pom or cotton wool ball). This sends the missile flying!

The pull of gravity on the missile means it comes back down to the ground and lands once the kinetic energy is used up. Gravity is the force which pulls objects towards the ground. It is always trying to get objects as close as possible to the centre of the earth.

Thanks to Kathir from @sunnythoughtsco for sharing this craft stick catapult activity with us! You can find more of her activities here.

If your kids had fun making a catapult out of popsicle sticks, we think they’ll also love building a cardboard pom pom run.

Looking for more eco-friendly activity ideas? Check out this article.