Papaya Picker




About: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home from discarded nylon fishnet and cement.

Papays are big fruit; heavy, and often high up.

After getting the picker fingers around the fruit, you pull the string to close the flexible "fingers".  Twist the fruit to break the stem, and lower the fruit to the ground. 

Although this design works, and the closing fingers are a neat mechanism to play with, you can find a stronger design with no moving parts on my other instructable;    The heavy-duty design has given me years of service with no problems. 


Step 1: Safety While Heat Forming PVC

We love plastics for what they do for us, but plastic manufacture and decay tend to pollute the environment and negatively affect our health.

Vinyl Chloride, one of the components of PVC, is carcinogenic. When it is locked up in the polymer, however, it is much safer to be around. In my years of experience working with PVC, I have not noticed any adverse effects on my health from being around it.

Always work in areas with good ventilation. If you do get caught in a cloud of smoke, hold your breath and move to clean air.

When heating PVC with a gas stove or propane torch, try not to let it burn. Smoke from burning PVC is bad. With experience one burns it less and less. Don't panic the first time you do burn some. It scorches, but doesn't immediately burst into flame. Move the material away from the flame and try again. Don't breathe the smoke. Smoke avoidance comes naturally for most people.

While heating PVC over a gas flame, keep the plastic an appropriate distance from the flame to avoid scorching the surface before the inside can warm up. It takes time for heat to travel to the center of the material being heated.

Keep the plastic moving, and keep an eye on the state of the plastic. When heated, the PVC material is flexible, like leather. Beyond this stage, you risk scorching it.

A word from James, the plastic engineer -- "Just a word of warning, PVC can handle some high heats but if it catches fire, you wont be able to put it out, it does not need oxygen to burn so don't do this inside".

I do work inside, but my house is made of cement and has good ventilation. MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE GOOD VENTILATION. PLAY WITH FIRE -- CAREFULLY.

Step 2: Cut the Fingers

I used light-weight and fairly thin-walled 2 inch diameter PVC pipe to make this picker.  You can just cut the fingers into the end of a 10 ft. long piece of pipe, or make the picker head independently, with a socket in the end for inserting a separate pole. That gives you some extra length.  In this picker I made the head separately. 

I made the saw cuts with a back saw from a miter box, my favorite saw for making straight cuts. 

The somewhat conical Styrofoam plug fits between the fingers to spread them apart.

Step 3: Insert the Styrofoam Spreader Plug

I chose to use a Styrofoam spreader plug, instead of heating the base of the fingers to spread them apart without a plug.  If you heat and spread the fingers, the curvature of the pipe tends to flatten out, creating a hinge line in the finger, which I consider to be weaker than the original curvature.  You can see what I mean in the next step, where the finger tips are bent inward. 

Step 4: Bend and Round the Finger Ends

In order to more firmly hold the papaya when you pull on it, so that it doesn't slip out the end of the conically splayed out fingers, the finger tips have to be bend in a little.  Do this with a propane torch, being careful not to burn the plastic. 

Heat the plastic until it becomes flexible, bend the finger tips, and wait for it to cool and rigidify again. 

I used aviation snips and a file to round off the finger tips.

I did a similar design for picking oranges years ago.  It was fun to use, but the fingers, which had flattened areas as joint hinges, tended to get caught in branches and break.  This papaya picker does not have flattened hinge lines and is holding up well.  Since there is no problem with branches, it should have good longevity.

Step 5: Drill the String Holes

The string has to go around the finger tips to pull them closed, and then continue down the length of the pipe.  That means it has to make a 90 degree turn at the end of the first finger tip.  It can do that, but friction is increased at the holes in the tip and you don't want the string to wear out.  Shape the holes to be string friendly.  I use an X-acto knife to round the hole edges. 

Step 6: Make the Pole Socket

If you chose to make the picker head separately, you now need to make a socket for the pole to fit into, if the piece of pipe did not already come with a socket.

To make the socket, heat the pole end of the picker head over a gas stove until it softens and then jam it over the end of the pole pipe.  Inserting the pole into the softened end of the picker head is easier if you trim the inside of the picker head pipe with a knife and the outside of the pole pipe with a file first. 

If you ever want to remove the picker head, you can hold the pole down with your foot and tap the head off with a block of wood and a hammer. 

You are all set now.  Go pick some fruit!

Step 7: This Is the Heavy-Duty Papaya Picker

This is the heavy-duty papaya picker design.  Check it out at:



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    27 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Do you have an instructable like this for grabbing avocados?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    You have probably seen net pickers with a simple loop of 1/4 inch rebar at the end to support the net. I improved on that by bending the rebar to have a sort of narrowed "finger" at the end of it, like a long nipple on a breast, perhaps. The avocado goes through the big hole and the reduced area slips over the stem, so the avocado can't flip out over the top of the net. It can't escape.

    I usually twist the rebar ends together before sticking them into an EMT electrical conduit pipe (thinner wall than water pipe). Then, I hammer the pipe down over the irregularities of the shape to lock it in place. That gives you a 10 ft. pole.

    If you use 1/2" pipe and you want the pole longer, you can telescope it inside some 3/4" pipe. Cut some (I usually do 3) fingers in the end of the 3/4" pipe and forge it down over the narrower pipe. Then use a hose clamp over the fingers to lock the pipes together by friction.

    Good luck.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Made mine using a heat gun which works great!
    Here is a picture of picking one of my high up papayas. This is a great tool.
    Even made some for my friends.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I made one following your instructions and it works GREAT. Bet I end up making 20 for friends. Many thanks for a very innovative solution to a problem I've had for several decades. The fingers on the wire baskets wrecked many fruit. Never again. Mahalo nui loa (Many thanks in Hawaiian)

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    He mea iki! (I looked it up in Google).

    Glad to be of service. I used to live over there many years ago. Many fond memories. Try this one. It's my favorite. The closing finger idea is fun, but the fingers can break. This heavy-duty design is more solid and has no moving parts.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I have picked a few papayas with it and it hasn't broken, yet. I did have problems with orange pickers with fingers before, though. They sometimes snagged on the stronger branches and broke while twisting. I wouldn't be surprised if this papay picker design had its limits, too.

    My strongest papaya picker is basically a 5 gallon plastic bucket rigidly mounted to the end of some 1 1/2, or 2 inch diameter thick walled PVC pipe. It has a fishnet bag mounted inside it to catch the papaya. You work it up under the papaya, and twist it around until the stem breaks, but it doesn't have a positive grab on the papaya like this design does. The fishnet may help by giving it a little extra friction on the fruit.

    Anyway, the closing fingers are cool, but yes, it could be stronger.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Plenty coconuts right outside my window, this is a great idea. It takes a lot of twists to get a coconut off, and this item looks like it could do the job. I have had to pay someone to take them down for me. At my job, they pose a safety hazard, and must be removed. Have a jamb cleat from a sailboat to hold the string tight while you are twisting.

    3 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    This probably won't work for coconuts.  You will break the PVC fingers.  What you need is a pipe handle (I use 3/4" EMT) with a sharp hook welded to the end.  The tip of the hook jabs into the husk as you pull on the pole.  Just keep pulling and the stem will break. 

    I used to make the hooks by forging out some 1/2" rebar, I think, to make a sharp point.  I used an acetylene torch for heating, a hammer and anvil.  After you forge the point, heat the rebar and bend the hook shape.   Weld the hook to the end of the pipe. 

    Anyway, the hook on a pole is the best coconut picking pole I have found.  After you impale the husk, you can even lower the coconut to the ground under control. 


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    So I guess after you get the hook into the coconut, you spin it to break the stem. They are real strong, not easy to snap just pulling.  I'm going to make one, have always wanted to be able to pick coconuts.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    No spinning necessary.  Just snag the coconut husk and pull.  You are stronger than the stem is.  Try not to puncture the hard inner nut with the hook, or you will get leaks.  Be careful of any other coconuts that may come loose also.


    9 years ago on Step 5

    you could use a hot nail to melt the edges so the string wont fray as fast.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    This is so great because when I would use my wire picker it wold often poke holes in papayas that were hanging close together so I would ruin 3 fruits to get just one. Thanks for a great solution!.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    This is great. I love all of your PVC instructables.


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 6

    A standard plumbing fitting would cost a little more, and maybe weigh a little more, but it would probably work.