10,000 Toothpick Voyage

6 October 2008 By Matt Gomez

Give a man enough toothpicks and he can accomplish anything.

There’s a line you won’t find in any run-of-the-mill success manual, but you may feel that way if you ever meet San Francisco-based artist Steven J. Backman.

Backman has been making art with toothpicks for nearly 35 years, and now, years after meticulously creating a yacht made of 10,000 toothpicks, he has his sights set on the yachting industry.

Yes – you read that correctly. He made a yacht out of 10,000 toothpicks and a lot of glue. But he doesn't want to stop there. [CLICK HERE for video of the toothpick yacht on the water]

“I’d love to have people commission me to do replicas of their own yachts,” he says. “I think there’s quite a market for this kind of work.”

Backman is well known, especially in San Francisco, as the “toothpick artist” and has a website devoted to his work ( He has sculpted, using only toothpicks and glue, the likenesses of some very well-known public figures, such as President George W. Bush, Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey and Queen Elizabeth II.

One more weapon in the artist’s quiver: patience. Lots and lots of patience.

“Really, ninety percent of this is patience,” Backman says. “Most people would sit down for thirty minutes to work on a model, then give up. I spend thousands of hours working on these projects. It may be monotonous and boring to some, but not for me. It’s my art. My brother says I have ‘patience of steel.’”

Backman took six months of full-time work in 1994 to complete the yacht, which he calls “Toothpick Voyage.” It took 10,000 toothpicks to complete the job, but he was willing to use however many toothpicks it would take to achieve perfection.

“I actually count the toothpicks as I go along,” Backman says. “That is the fascination for many people. It may seem obsessive, but it’s a challenge to create a piece that is expressive of a figure, such as a yacht, but also very exact in its completion.”

And it floats. It really floats. [CLICK HERE for video of "Toothpick Voyage" in action]

The yacht is covered in fiberglass resin, so it is waterproof and works well on the water (he's tested it many times on lakes). The maritime masterpiece weighs more than 14 pounds and runs on two six-volt electric motors and two sealed rechargeable batteries. The impressive boat has a dual rudder system, an electronic speed control unit and a two-channel radio controlled system.

"There are a couple of yachts on San Francisco Bay that I used for the initial idea, but this final version is all from my mind," Backman says. "I designed it so that the yacht has a V-shaped bottom, but as you look toward the back, it is tapered so the water does not splash on the yacht when it travels in reverse. Crew would appreciate that, wouldn't they?"

The yacht was designed to cut through water with minimum drag, he says, and it has never broken down, even after 14 years of testing. If it does break, the yacht is insured for $25,000.

Though he has made many large scale art pieces, including a 13-foot-long replica of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (30,000 toothpicks over two-and-a-half years) and a model of New York City's Empire State Building (7,740 toothpicks), the yacht remains his "pride and joy."

“If someone offered me a million bucks for it, I still wouldn’t sell it,” he says. “Well, maybe…”

Any engineers willing to tackle this kind of project? Any talented crew who have other artistic interests to share? Let us know. Leave your comments below and share your talents with the community on

CLICK HERE for video of Toothpick Voyage.