Chopstick Vase

Make a container that really sticks out
  • Click through our slideshow for instructions on how to turn chopsticks into a vase.

    Lori Eanes

  • What You'll Need

    • Necktie
    • Pins
    • Sewing chalk
    • Tape measure and/or ruler
    • Cutting wheel and mat or sewing scissors
    • Sewing machine or needle and thread
    • Iron and ironing board
    • Button or snap

    Lori Eanes

  • Step 1: Measure the circumference of your jar. If it has any sticky labeling, use Goo Gone to rub it off. 

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 2: If your collection of chopsticks is dirty, wash them and let them dry completely. Then lay them out in a row and measure out the length of your jar's circumference. This will give you a good idea of exactly how many you need. Check them over and weed out ones that are too bent, splintered, long, or short—but don't be too picky. Some variation (especially in length) is normal.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 3: Sand each stick smooth, especially at the bottom, where it was broken apart from its mate.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 4: The sticks will be slightly different hues, and it is nice to accentuate this by dying some of them a darker shade. The easiest way to do that is to use different shades of wood finish, but I wanted to experiment with a more natural method, so I soaked about a third of them in coffee for about 15 minutes.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 5: To get a deep variation in color, you need to let the coffee-stained chopsticks dry out (a process you can speed up by putting them in the oven on warm) and then put them back in the coffee to soak for another 15 minutes. After I did this for a day or two, there was a nice difference between dyed and undyed chopsticks.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 6: Brush all of the sticks with wood finish. I used polyurethane gloss, which gave the vase a nice, shiny glow, but there are more environmentally friendly alternatives that I'm curious to try next time.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 7: Your sticks will need a few hours to dry, at least. I used part of an old dish rack and a plastic cookie container to position them.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 8: Mix a bit of the epoxy (it dries fast, so only do a little at a time) and dab some on the sides at the bottom of the first chopstick, where it will touch the chopsticks next to it, and on a spot about 1½ up on the side that will lay against the jar. Leave the upper half of the sticks free so you will be able to reposition them a bit.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 9: Put a rubber band around the jar to hold the chopsticks in place and slip the first stick in. Glue and position the rest of the sticks one at a time. As you go along, keep pressing the sticks together at the bottom of the vase and readjusting them—they do slip around a little. It doesn't have to be perfect, though. The twine that you tie on in Steps 11 and 12 will literally help it all come together.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 10: Once you've attached the last chopstick, let the vase sit and dry for at least 30 minutes. Check to make sure your rubber band is loose and not accidentally glued on.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 11: Remove the rubber band and wrap the twine around the bottom of the vase, pulling as tightly as you can. Tie a knot and snip off the excess twine.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 12: Wrap the twine around the top of the vase, again pulling tightly, tying a knot, and snipping off the excess twine.

    Wendy Becktold

  • Step 13: Find a good spot to put your chopstick vase. Sit back and admire.

    Lori Eanes

Sometimes I wonder whether repurposing broken or used-up things that most people would just throw out really makes a difference environmentally.

I talked it over with Bryan Parks, a designer and entrepreneur in Eugene, Oregon, who sells folding baskets and other items that he makes out of disposable chopsticks he collects from restaurants. When Parks was studying in China in the early 2000s, the ubiquitous single-use eating utensils started to really bug him. He became obsessed with gathering them (sometimes straight from the gutter) and seeing what he could make: lampshades, CD racks, bowls, even a table.

Since then, he estimates, he’s salvaged nearly 3 million chopsticks. An impressive number, for sure, but his efforts have had no impact on global production or on the deforestation that results. (China alone  uses about 80 billion chopsticks a year, according to the chairman of the country’s Jilin Forest Industry Group.)

However, Parks has created an environmentally and financially sustainable business with a product that doesn’t exploit new resources. This inspired me to try out some chopstick art myself. I hit up a Southeast Asian restaurant after a busy lunch hour, came home, and rigorously cleaned the greasy loot. I sanded the sticks smooth, applied a polyurethane gloss, and then glued them neatly to a glass jar. I put my wooden vase near the door to remind myself to bring a reusable pair of chopsticks when I head out for sushi. 

Difficulty Level: 3

Construction time: 4 hours

It takes time to spruce up the chopsticks. Inspired by Sherry Berger’s project at bit.ly/chopstickvase.

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