Dave Mather Charles Forster and Toothpicks

    According to my Forest Products textbook (copyrighted in 1962), Charles Forster of Strong, Maine, is believed to be the first American to manufacture toothpicks. His first were handmade, but by 1860, he had to devise machines to keep up with the growing demand. A complete toothpick machine system would include a veneer lathe, six cutting machines, one drying oven, and one straightening and box filling machine. This system would require about 15 horsepower and the hourly output would be about 1,440,000 toothpicks. A standard cord of good wood yields about 6 - 9 million flat toothpicks.
    The preferred wood for toothpicks is White Birch because it is white, tasteless, strong enough, and straight grained. I read that about 4 million board feet were used annually in the U.S. They cannot use any red colored heartwood so the logs are reduced to "bolts" from 10-1/2" to 24" in length and 8" to 20" in diameter. The "bolts" must be clear and are reduced to about 3" cores after turning. They are turned to "ribbons" 1/20th" thick x 2-7/16" wide, which are then fed into a pointing machine that bevels the edges. (I measured the toothpicks we have at home and they are 2-9/16" long). The strips are then wound onto a spool and when the spool is full, the roll of veneer is slipped off and taken to a cutting machine. Approximately 154 toothpicks are punch-cut from each linear foot of veneer. Next they are dried for about 2 hours in a kiln and finally finished in a polishing drum filled with a small amount of powdered chalk or shaved paraffin which gets rid of any rough edges and gives them a bit of a glaze. Finally, they are boxed by machine and ready to go to market.


© 2002 by David Mather. All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.