Introduction: Popcorn Fork Is Cheater Chopsticks
A popcorn fork lets you eat snacks without getting your hands messy, but the commercially-available model has fragile tines, and it has limited uses. Make my sturdy popcorn fork yourself and use it for everyday snacking and also to enjoy traditional cooked Asian dishes without fumbling with conventional chopsticks. My design is durable, inexpensive, easy and quick to build, and it also makes a novel gift. All accompanying images were made on a flatbed scanner.
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Step 1: Components and Tools
Components and Tools
Pair of plastic chopsticks, approximately 10-3/4 inches long (sold by the pack at kitchen-gadget stores); package may say "Elephant Tusk," but they're made of plastic). One face on each stick usually is decorated, and I will refer to it as the "painted face." Sticks have square cross-section butt ends that taper to tips having round cross-section.
One plastic-coated wire spring binder clip (hardware and office supply stores)
One nylon screw, 6-32, one half inch long or longer (hardware)
TOOLS: Pair small combo pliers and pair long-nose pliers. Small bench vise. Leather, rubber or fabric padding for pliers and vise jaws. Drill and bits 7/64 (0.109) inches dia and 3/32 (0.094) inches dia. Tap, 6-32. Small round file (rattail) (or sandpaper wrapped around dowel). Small flat file (or sandpaper folded over a flat stick). Sandpaper: coarse and fine. Alternatively, an electric rotary hobby tool with sanding disks, drums and grinding wheels makes quick work of the shaping tasks.
Step 2: Modify the Spring Clip
Modify the spring clip, shown from two angles in the left view. Clip has two square-ish tabs that grip paper and two oval loops that are squeezed with the fingers. Middle view, clip off each oval loop leaving 3/4-inch length of wire. Right view, carefully straighten the bends while minimizing damage to the plastic coating and without leaving any wiggles in the wire, and keep the remainging corner square. Smooth the ends of the clipped wires.
Step 3: Modify the Chopsticks
Shape the tips: Use file or sandpaper to round over the tip on the "painted face," and create a depression in its opposite side. The depression should be about the size that would grip a US one-cent coin, with the depth of the depression stopping no more than halfway through the diameter of the stick tip. Complete one tip and transfer its shape to the second with pencil so the two will be similar. Smooth any sharp corners or edges with fine sandpaper.
Create nonslip grips: On the "painted face" of each stick, beginning 4-1/4 inches from the butt end and continuing to 6 inches from the butt end, roughen the slick plastic surface. Run coarse sandpaper crosswise to create a gripping surface, or use the edge of a file to cut a series of shallow grooves across the surface, diagonally to the long axis of the stick in both directions, to create a knurled pattern.
Step 4: Drill Holes, Tap Hole
Drill holes: When drilling, gently mark spot with center punch or sharpened nail, first drill through using a small drill bit, then drill hole to specified diameter. On the "painted face" of one stick, measure 1/4 inch from its butt end and drill through 3/32 inch diameter (for a tight fit), and tap for 6-32 plastic screw. Measure 1/2 inch from the butt end of both sticks and drill through 7/64 inch diameter, crosswise to the "painted faces." Best to chuck both sticks in the vise, one atop the other, and drill through both sticks at the same time.
Step 5: Groove Sticks to Accept Coil Spring
Cut grooves in the sticks to accept the coil spring: Temporarily assemble the fork by putting the straightened wires of the spring clip through the side holes of the sticks, with the "painted faces" of the sticks away from each other. Mark the location where the coil spring touches each stick and disassemble the fork. Chuck the two sticks side-by-side in the vise with the butt ends sticking out out enough so a rounded groove can be cut across the marked sides of both sticks. The groove should not be deeper than half the diameter of the wire from which the spring clip is fashioned, as measured when including the plastic coating. The curve of the groove should be slightly larger than the curve of the coil spring's outside diameter. Temporarily reassemble the fork to ensure that the coil spring falls in the rounded grooves, and if it does not, disassemble the fork and re-shape the grooves. The dimensions of the spring clips are not consistent, so once the grooves are cut in a pair of sticks to fit a particular clip, that clip needs to be used with those sticks.
Step 6: Assemble the Fork
With the fork disassembled, screw the plastic screw through the threaded hole in one stick, with the screw head opposite from the "painted face," until the screw head almost reaches the stick. Lay the other stick on a flat surface with its "painted face" down, and lay the spring coil in that stick's curved groove. Lay the curved groove of the stick having the plastic screw onto the coil spring and turn the plastic screw until it will limit the tips of the sticks from opening more than about one inch apart once the fork is finally assembled. Snip off the excess tip of the screw and sand the resulting tip smooth. Ideally, the tip of the screw will eventually be recessed a little within its stick.
Slide the straight ends of the spring clip through the holes in the sides of the sticks, all the way to the remaining square corner, then bend each wire end so that it lies alongside its stick. Gently squeeze the wire bends tight, making sure that all corners in the wire are square so the stick tips will meet. Adjust the screw to limit the opening of the tips to about one inch.
Your fork can withstand hot water but should not be put in an automatic dishwasher.
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