Workshop Update 2014

Atlatl Ray’s been busy in the workshop.

[UPDATE: $80 Master Atlatls are done!]

$80 Master Atlatls

Contact me via my form if you’d like to buy one.

$80 Master Atlatls, Flexible and Weighted with dart rests, single finger hole style. Hardwood handles, hardwood flexible shafts, hardwood dart rests, oak spurs.

From bottom to top: Walnut handle with Osage flexible shaft. Next is Cherry Handle and Rose Wood flexible shaft. Middle is Elm handle with Rosewood Flexible Shaft. The top two are Walnut with Brazilian Cherry flexible shafts.

I am currently working on three of Walnut handle with Rosewood Flexible Shafts. I like Walnut and Cherry best. I like Rose Wood flexible shafts best. I have been using the same Walnut and Rose Wood atlatl for 10 years. Very dependable, very durable.

The weights are river smoothed cobbles and are lashed on (no glue) in such a way as to not slip. The rocks sit on a piece of leather and I wrap several winds of fake sinew around the stone and atlatl, leaving two feet of sinew dangling on both sides. I then use a repeated half hitch from stone to wood on both sides. This bunches the wrappings together making them even tighter than I can do by pulling with my hand. The weight I have on the atlatl I have been using for 10 years has never slipped. In fact, the bindings get tightened so much that on two occasions in the last 16 years the tightness gained from this method put so much pressure on the stone that it split the flexible shaft.

$40 Weighted, Flexible Atlatls — See pics below. A cross between beginner atlatls and master atlatls, a way to give someone an affordable opportunity to experience the flexible weighted atlatl.

$20 Beginner Atlatls — See pics below. A 1 inch diameter poplar shaft, oak dart rest and oak cross bar set at 5 1/2 inches from the front.  The spur is oak.  Atlatl is 22 inches long.

$20 Atlatl Darts —  See pics below. Approximately 7 feet long, with bamboo or river cane shafts, 3 feather tied on, not glued, water proof reinforced front and rear ends to  avoid splitting, and copper points also using water proof glue. All my darts have a 12 inch poplar foreshaft that holds the point and is permanently glued into the dart shaft. Upon request, I can make dart foreshafts that will hold a regular arrow insert so that a customer can buy hunting points from an archery store for use in hunting.

Beginner Atlatls
Beginner Atlatls
Fletching Style for Atlatl Darts
Fletching Style for Atlatl Darts
Beginner Atlatls
Beginner Atlatls
Atlatl Darts
Atlatl Darts

Until such time as such time as my son drags my 66 year old carcass kicking and screaming into the 21st Century all sales must be via check or money order.  Someday I will figure out pay pal but for now, while we still have one, lets use the US Post Office.

Please contact me via my form to let me know what you’re looking for…

Archaic Stems

This is a review by Ray Strischek of the book Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points, by Noel D. Justice, and the differences between Paleo, Archaic, and Woodland spear and arrow point styles.

Conventional intellectual shorthand reduces the differences between Paleo, Archaic, and Woodland eras as follows:

  • Paleo: 18,000 BC to 7,000 BC, HUNTING!!! and gathering.
  • Archaic: 7,000 BC to 1,000 BC, HUNTING and Gathering.
  • Woodland: 1,000 BC to 1,250 AD, Hunting and GATHERING!!!

Researchers believe that, in Paleo times, hunting was the all-consuming activity.  People gathered to add spice to the meal or to ward off starvation when hunting was poor.

In Archaic times, hunting anything that walked, crawled, swam, or flew was still a priority, but gathering became a close second with an increase in labor away from hunting and directed towards teasing or encouraging  more productivity from existing forage resources. People intentionally eliminated competitor plants wherever desired food stuffs grew — tree nuts, berries, edible green leafy things, seeds, or root plants. Some called this “horticulture.”

The Woodlands era (except in Buffalo country) saw hunting reduced to a level more or less subservient to gathering, which becomes actual “agriculture,” notably an increase of time spent away from hunting and instead directed towards the planting of corn, squash, and beans in North America.  People continued to gather tree nuts, berries, seeds, green leafy things, and root plants.

Some writers like to point out that the difference between Paleo and Archaic is the introduction in Archaic times of the celt and ground stone axe. They claim that pottery in the Woodland era separated it from its prior.

Other milestones include:

  1. Paleo:  All the mega fauna go extinct and people exploit quality flint.
  2. Archaic: Population increases cause restriction of movement, birth territorialism, and  increase dependency on local flint sources.
  3. Woodlands: Religious or spiritual groups (mound builders), regional centers of influence and trade networks, specialization of tasks (flint point-making and pottery) with outlying areas somewhat to completely isolated from the trade networks and completely dependent upon local flint sources. (Have and have nots.)

Stoneage Spear and Arrow Points by Noel D Justice is one of the better Bibles for the collector out there. It is meticulously and chronologically detailed and wonderfully illustrated.  Through those details and illustrations, the author makes the differences between Paleo, Archaic, and Woodland era points immediately and visually perceptible.

  1. Paleo:  Absolutely exquisite overall craftsmanship, addiction to high-quality flint from far afield and hardly a stem to be found. OK, Scottsbluff has a stem, but that’s about all and it is considered late Paleo, even “Paleo Archaic.” In Paleo, the hafting section of the point is most often a continuation of the point form.  It’s slightly modified (thinned out at the base and dulled on the edges) with the use of flutes or heavy abrasion.  Apparently, hunting the big boys left plenty of time for Paleo Americans to sit around honing their craft, because exquisite examples far and away outnumber the crude.
  2. Archaic:  All that time redirected away from hunting and spent gathering,  the increase of population that led to restricted movement and increased dependency on local flint sources seems to have had an effect on the quality of craftsmanship overall.  In no way can the overall level of craftsmanship in the Archaic hold a candle to the Paleo.  In the Archaic, stems on points becomes the norm:  square stems, rounded stems, ovate stems, diamond shaped stems, dove tail, turkey tail, beaver tail, side notched, corner notched and that bifurcate thing that looks all the world like a pair of balls dangling from the bottom of the blade.  In the Archaic, the hafting element of the point becomes a distinctly separate design entity from the blade.  This does not mean that there are no flashy, well executed points. There are, but they are the exception to the rule.
  3. Woodlands:  Craftsmanship gets even worse except in those regional centers (like Cahokia or Hopewell) where stability through agriculture creates specialization.  However, it appears that quality flint sources fall under the distribution and control of these regional centers and leave the outlying and smaller communities stuck with crappy chert. If you are not part of the trade network, if you have nothing to trade, you get nothing. You certainly do not have access to quality flint.  And apparently, the necessity to spend much more time away from hunting and directed to gathering just to hustle up the day’s meal leaves little time to master the art of flint knapping. Simply paging through Justice’s book, you can see the de-evolution of Woodland Era — a time of crude, lumpy, shapeless, and stylistically impoverished examples of workmanship. There were apparently no truly innovative adaptations of design.  Points appear as poor distant cousin of previous eras, something flint knapping expert Charles Spear of Peru, Indiana, would call “survival points, better than nothing.”

A Different Kind of Dart Rest

The dart rest is made of two pieces of rawhide or one big piece doubled over and held together with a wrapping of string or sinew part way to the ends. The dart is slip into between the two unwrapped ends which grip the dart just enough to hold it in place but not tight enough to prevent its release during the throwing motion. These atlatls are attributed to “Mike” but his last name is not given on the web site. Hell, Mike could be the dog. I left a comment on the web page with my email address. Hope I get a response.

From Baggis, on Flickr

On “Atl atl replicate study” by Jim Dunbar

This article explores various dart foreshaft/point assemblies and their ability to hold up (or not) being propelled by an atlatl into a palm tree. Of interest is the sticking of the foreshaft inside the dart shaft on humid days.  The purpose of the socket-ed foreshaft was to allow the dart shaft to slip off the foreshaft when it hit an animal so that the hunter could retrieve the fallen dart shaft and insert another foreshaft for another throw, thus be able to go on the hunt with a light load of only two or three dart shafts and a half dozen extra foreshafts.

“Atl atl replicate study” by Jim Dunbar

Carbon Tubing Atlatl Dart Construction

Saw this great Carbon Fiber Tube Dart How-To.

These instructions are good for anyone wanting to make a dart with arrow shafts made of carbon tubing. However, as followed, the dart will only be two arrow shafts long.  The instructions can be amended by the reader just by adding a third 1/2 section of carbon tubing to make a 6 foot or even 7 foot long dart.  I believe that would be a better construction.

Aluminum Atlatl Dart Construction

I saw this great Aluminum Dart How-To at Thud’s Cave.

These instructions are good for anyone wanting to make an aluminum dart out of aluminum arrows.  However, the dart made will be short.  To make a longer dart, the reader merely needs to use the same instructions and add a third half section of aluminum arrow shaft to make a 6 or even 7 foot long dart, which would be better for an adult.  The darts made following the instructions as written would be a good length for school age children ages 6 to 13.

Atlatl Dart Questions from a Reader

How did you settle on the 6’10” darts?

Ray here: I found out by trial and error that longer darts are easier to control as regards accuracy.  Its a matter of kinetic flexibility.  Shorter darts are springy, flex out, flex back in a hurry.  This means any slight change in throwing speed results in an immediate hyper reaction with dart flex.  Longer darts are less kinetic and tend to allow slight changes in throwing motion to have little effect in their flexing motion.

Aluminum and carbon darts are hyper kinetic compared to bamboo and river cane.  Bamboo is slightly more kinetic than river cane.

How do you match weight/lenght? I take a river cane about the right size, put duct tape on for fletching, put on a point and start throwing it. They are almost always too limber, so I start cutting them down little by little til they fly good, then I feather fletch. I guess that is what I meant by tuning.

Ray here: I choose dart shaft stock (bamboo or river cane) first by length, then by diameter at the base and rear end. Total length of the dart shaft is about 6 feet long with a foreshaft 12 inches long (with two inches of the foreshaft inside the cane), thus 6’10″” overall length.

I look for the base to be a little less than 5/8 of an inch in diameter (narrow enough that when string and glue is added it can still slide through the WAA’s maximum allowable diameter for the ISAC competition).  The rear end needs to be 3/8 of an inch in diameter.

If you start with a 7 foot or 8 foot length of bamboo or river cane, you can probably get exactly what you need for a 6 foot length.

River cane and bamboo grow naturally into a dart shaft that is thicker and heavier at one end than the other and therefore, after adding a 12 inch foreshaft and 1 1/2 long 1/4 inch diameter copper point, I don’t need to adjust the dart shaft for balance as mother nature has already done the work for me.

Bamboo and river cane are not cloned, therefore each is a little different.  I like my darts to be a little stiff. The way I check the dart for the right amount of stiffness is to hold the dart shaft horizontally chest high,  hold the narrow in of the dart in one hand, reach out about two feet with the other hand and wag the loose big end up and done briskly but not wildly.  If the loose end travels up and down between 12 to 18 inches, that’s what I want.  If it wags greater than 18 inches, its too limber.  If it wags less than 12 inches, its too stiff.

Mine are all under 5′- 6′. I have trouble matching them weight/lenght, I know this is important for consistancy. Mine all weigh 3-4 oz.

Ray here: I think I pretty much described how I choose dart lengths and diameters above. As far as matching, I may straighten 12 dart shafts (all the same length and diameter)  before I find 3 that are a matched set as far as stiffness and overall balance and weight are concerned. That is just the nature of beast. Seek and straighten and ye shall find. Out of the 12 dart shaft, if I am lucky, I will find 2 or 3 sets of 3 dart shafts that are well matched.  My darts are on average about 6 ounces in weight.

Also is there a picture of how you grip the atlatl with the hole in the handle?

Ray here: Check it out here:

Hand Grip for single hole atlatl
Hand Grip for single hole atlatl

“Tuning” an Atlatl Dart Shaft

One does not actually “tune” a dart shaft. Many people feel that a dart has a “spine” and that it is important to establish where the spine is and align the bi-face point and the fletchings to the spine.

First, the “spine”.  Think 2 X 4 board. A good carpenter will tell you to align the 2 X 4 stud “crown up” when laying out a wall, meaning, you hold one end of the board up to your eye, look down the board and determine which edge side is curving.  (All 2 X 4 boards curve a little.) The object of this game is to put the curve on the outside of the wall.

The same is true with river cane or bamboo darts. Try as you might, you can never get them perfectly straight. They will always curve a little.  This curve is the “spine” and you should always load the dart into your atlatl with the curved or spine side up. Most people use three feathers on their darts, sometimes with two of the same color and one different. The single different feather should be placed on the curved spine side of the dart so that you know right off the bat which way to load the dart onto your atlatl.   Likewise, the two bladed dart point should be attached so that blades are perpendicular to the “spine”, or so I am told.

Glue for Wood Atlatls and Bamboo Darts

photo from flickr user iamsalad -- thanks!

I use PC-7 glue to make my wood atlatls and bamboo or river cane darts. It helps to attach parts that need to be flexible … but eternally united — like where the handle of my atlatl meets its shaft or where the point of my dart meets its shaft.

PC-7 looks dark grey/green when it sets.  It comes in two cans; mix the two together on a piece of cardboard in equal amounts with a pop-sickle stick flatened at one end. You will need a roll of paper towels handy. The glue is a fudge consistency and does not run or shrink or expand. Dries hard but can be rasped and sanded like wood after it dries. Takes 12 hours to cure. If you come back to it after six hours it is firm enough (like rubber) to cut with a knife or have the excess removed with a scrapper.

I also use strips of duct tape to hold pieces of glued wood together until they are dried, rather than clamps. The roll of duct tape is 1/2 inches wide but you can tear 1/2 inch wide strips off easily enough.

I use the glue on both atlatls and darts…

If you look at my darts, you can see I use string covered with PC-7 glue to firm up the point attachment to the foreshaft, and the again at the receiving end of the dart where the foreshaft enters the dart, and at the end of the dart where spur of atlatl meets dart. Just wrap a strip of duct tape around the shaft where you want the glue to stop. Put the glue on, wrap the string around the glue, then using a folded paper towel, spin the glued shaft lightly into the paper towel to smooth everything up and remove the excess wet glue. PC-7 is absolutely waterproof and dries strong as a rock. Its like putting a cast on a broken arm.