New Atlatls Coming Soon!

If you’re looking to buy an atlatl, please bookmark this site and our Etsy site.   Last year’s inventory sold quick!

Ray’s been freezing his fingertips off working in the woodshop through the recent Snowmageddons and Snowpocalypses and we’re gearing up to sell off another volley of Ray Strischek atlatls and bamboo river cane atlatl darts very soon … just in time to practice up for Flint Ridge and all the other events this coming summer.  (Although it’s looking like a new Ice Age is upon us … perfect for the atlatlist!)

Also, if you’re looking for a custom atlatl, please feel free to let us know by using our contact form on this site.   We’ve done it before and we could be persuaded to do it again!

Live flame! The secret to quickly straightening bamboo / river cane for atlatl darts

Sometimes I could just kick myself when I think how long it takes me to try new things out. For all the experimentation in atlatl and dart making I have done over the years, straightening cane has always been a loathsome chore of my own making. But now, thanks to trying out the propane cook stove, straightening is quick and easy-peasy!

Sometimes I could just kick myself when I think how long it takes me to try new things out.  For all the experimentation in atlatl and dart making I have done over the years, straightening cane has always been a loathsome chore of my own making. But now, thanks to trying out the propane cook stove, straightening is quick and easy-peasy!

I’ll tell you how, below … but if you don’t want to bother — please do buy some of my fine, home made river cane atlatl darts over at Etsy.com!

My old (SLOW) method of straightening bamboo / river cane for atlatl darts

For years I have used my electric kitchen stove top and hot plates. The problem I have with hot plates and even electric stove tops is the amount of time I spend heating up the cane.  It normally takes me about 20 minutes to straighten a piece of cane (river cane or bamboo) and 90 percent of the time is spent waiting for the cane to heat up.  Recently, my son Cory bought me a hot air gun to replace the plate.  It was as effective as a hot plate but not any faster.

My new (FAST) method of straightening bamboo / river cane for atlatl darts

I have (all these many years) put off using real fire (from a propane camp stove) out of fear of burning or scorching the cane.

However, today I became impatient because my shop is without heat.  It’s cold this time of year and this week’s “snowmageddon” made the experience particularly frigid.  I just don’t enjoy standing around waiting for the cane to heat up.  And being impatient is the quickest way I know of breaking cane.  Luckily, I’ve found impatience is also one of the greatest forces in finding new solutions!

So, out of impatience, I got out my propane stove, fired it up and was immediately tickled pink at how fast the cane sweated up. You see, when heated, cane sweats. The surface takes on a wet shine because cane has silicone in it. Heat applied to the cane causes the silicone to melt onto the surface — wet, sticky stuff.  Sweating is also a sign that the cane is hot enough to bend.

To avoid scorching I held the cane about an inch above the flame and spun it back and forth rapidly through the heat. The cane heated FAST!  I was able to straighten 6-foot lengths in about 5 minutes instead of the usual 20 minutes!

Here’s exactly how I straighten cane for atlatl darts:

  1. Employ lesson you’ve ever learned about fire safety for the following steps, including, “STOP > DROP > AND ROLL!”
  2. Dry the cane. (about 4 -6 weeks, the green turns to yellow).
  3. Set the propane stove on a sturdy table or work bench. Park a half-round log in front of the stove. You will use the half-round to roll the cane back and forth on.
  4. Put on a pair of cheap, thick leather gloves.
  5. With the gloves on, fire up the stove, and start heating up the cane. Remember to spin the cane and move it back and forth through the heat rapidly. When it starts to sweat and the surface is shiny, push the cane down onto the half round (node) or push down and slide it back and forth (section between the nodes).

Types of cane bends

To be honest,  I normally straighten the node areas first because if anything bad happens, like breaking the cane at the node, I would rather have that happen before I have invested a lot of straitening time in the piece.  As you will discover, cane can grow relatively straight (really rare), or in a general curve (maybe 20 percent  of the time) or it can grow zig zag from node to node (most common) with curvy sections between nodes (happens a lot) and even twisted sections between nodes (sadly, not all that rare).  Its the thin end of the cane piece that is most likely to break and the second most common hard spot is the mutant node. Nearly every cane piece I have ever tried to straighten has at least one mutant node where all things are crooked and twisted and fragile, and seemingly impossible to straighten out.

Remember, push down gently, push a little farther than necessary as the cane will spring back a little. When straightening out those sections between the nodes, push down and slide the section back and forth across the top of the half round briskly several times.

“Twisted” cane

There is no way to untwist a twisted cane. The best you can do is straighten it in line with the rest of the cane shaft.  When I think I am done with straightening, I look down the length of the shaft and see how wrong I am. Always, there is this or that section or node that needs a tweak, sometimes two or three tweaks. This is (sad to say) normal.

Straighten your cane crown side up

Remember, perfectly straight is the wistful goal, straight enough to fly right is the achievable reality. No matter how hard you try (and trying too hard usually results in broken shafts) you may never get perfectly straight but you will get close enough. Just remember, “crown side up.” If you have a slight bend in the shaft, be sure you throw the dart with the bent side up.

Atlatl Dart “Cups” or “Nocks”

Question from a reader:

In all of the pics I’ve seen of darts around the net – I have not seen a pic of the nock end as seen from behind…Usually you see the feathers and the shaft sticks a little further out and is cropped by the edge of the photo…

Question from a reader:

In all of the pics I’ve seen of darts around the net – I have not seen a pic of the nock end as seen from behind…Usually you see the feathers and the shaft sticks a little further out and is cropped by the edge of the photo…

The atlatl has a point which is used to hold the dart and project it…sooo the question is – how do you construct the very end of the nock? Do you leave it flat and the way you hold the dart keeps it in place by compression? Do you cup the end so it has a little better hold?

Here is a picture of an atlatl dart cup:

Atlatl Dart Cup

And here is a picture of an atlatl spur:

atlatl spur

And this is this is what happens when an atlatl spur and a dart cup get together:

Cupping an atlatl dart

Atlatl dart cupping

This atlatl and dart were made for each other … when I stand the spear straight up, the atlatl hangs perfectly in the cup:

Atlatl and dart

Atlatl darts have a hole in the end of the dart into which the spur tip of the atlatl is inserted. It’s not a tight fit. A good spur tip is rounded, not pointed. Think, “ball and socket,” like a knee or an elbow.

The idea is for the top of the spur to easily rotate into and out of the cup (the hole in the rear of the dart).

The cup on aluminum darts is just a regular arrow insert, just like the one in front of the dart that a field point is screwed into. The hole in the end of the arrow insert is just big enough to allow the narrow rounded tip of the atlatl spur to sit just a little ways inside.

The way I make my cup in bamboo and river cane darts is to cut the cane shaft off at a node. River Cane and Bamboo is hollow except at the nodes which are solid dividers between cane sections. After I cut the node, I use a 2-inch-wide spade bit which has a V-shaped starter tip about 1/4-inch-wide at its widest point. I then push the tip of spade bit into the center of the node divider at the end of the cane shaft and start hand twisting the spade bit until I have made a cone shaped “cup” in the end of the dart about 1/4-inch deep by 1/4-inch wide at the widest point.

Important point: Before doing the “cup,” I reinforce the rear end of the dart by using PC-7 glue and wrapping string around the dart for about 1 1/2 inches in from and to the rear of the dart. Wrap a strip of duct tape or any tape about 1 1/2 inches from the rear of the dart. Put PC-7 glue on between the duct tape and the rear of the dart. Wrap string around and into the glue. Put more glue on. Then spin the glued area into a folded paper towel to smooth thing out. Remove the tape in about six hours. In about 12 hours, you can make the cup with the spade bit.

Other people I know make the cup by twisting a knife point or a Phillip’s screwdriver into the rear of the cane shaft. Whatever works is fine by me!! The purpose is to make a cone shaped “cup” in the end of the dart that the tip of the atlatl spur can ball and socket into and out of.

It is therefore necessary to give some consideration to the coordinating the size of the cup hole and the size of the tip of the atlatl spur.

I use a “Y” shaped dart rest on the front of my atlatl which has rough leather strips glued into the “V” of the “Y” which keeps the dart from slipping off the spur. No finger(s) needed to hold the dart in place on the atlatl. I hold the atlatl, the atlatl holds the dart, we don’t get in each other’s way.

For people who don’t use a dart rest, it is necessary to devote one or more fingers to holding and pushing the dart back on to the atlatl spur, and devote the rest of the fingers and hand to holding the atlatl handle, prior to the throwing motion. A lot of bad throws happen because people hold onto the dart too long or fumble around trying to re-grip the atlatl handle in the middle of the throw. Think fumble, wobble, oops.

Some atlatlists use a “U” shaped dart rest that requires one finger to hold the dart in place. Many times I see people just hang their finger over the top of the dart shaft like a saddle blanket and when they start the throwing motion, the finger stays too long and the dart bends at the finger which finally releases with a “sproingy sproing” reaction that causes the dart to everywhere except to the target.

The trick with atlatls that do not have a dart rest is to pinch the dart between the tips of the thumb and one finger and release at the very start of the throwing motion. The trick with the U-shaped dart rest is to not drape the finger over the dart like a saddle blanket but to just hold the dart in place with the tippy tip of the finger tip and get that finger out of there at the very start of the throwing motion.

When it comes to using bamboo or river cane darts I frown on sharp pointy atlatl spurs or long narrow spur tips that dig into the inside of the dart wall (sharp pointy spur tips) or otherwise do not easily rotate into and out of the cup (long narrow spur tips) as these sharp pointy/long narrow spur tips get trapped inside the dart shaft and cause misfires and/or otherwise rip the rear end of the dart apart.

The only time I have seen sharp pointy or long narrow spur tips work at all is with solid wood darts for which the cup is just a very shallow indentation at the rear of the dart and the wood is tough enough to resist the digging of the sharp pointy spur tip.

I hope this information is helpful to you in making your first atlatl.

How to Cast a Dart with an Atlatl

(Video is best at full-screen with volume up all the way.  Watch with amazement as Ray nails an old tree stump … Instructions assume you are right handed. Reverse instructions as appropriate if you are left handed.)

throwing

1. Stand up straight and tall, facing the target, feet spread shoulders width apart, left foot slightly in front of the right, left toes pointing at the target.

2. Hold the atlatl and dart horizontally close to and just slightly above your head, with the handle of the atlatl slightly behind your ear.

3. Aim the whole dart (not just the point) at an imaginary vertical line running up and down through the center of the target.

4. Raise the point end of the dart up at an angle appropriate to the amount of travel and drop the dart will experience over the distance to the target, due to your force of cast. You will need to cast (throw your elbow) into that angle.

5. Prepare to cast. Your right elbow should be as high as your shoulder. Your right elbow will need to stay as high as your shoulder all the way through the cast.

6. Rock back slightly, draw the atlatl and dart back slightly. Step off with your left foot, move your entire body forward. Pull the atlatl and dart forward, then start pushing and levering the atlatl upward and forward and keep your elbow above your shoulder as you go. Gather momentum as you go. At the end of the cast with your elbow still above your shoulder, quickly flick your wrist until the dart separates from the atlatl.

(Think: pull, push/lever, and flick)

What not to do:

1. Don’t bend over at the waist during the cast.

2. Don’t drop your elbow below your shoulder during the cast.

(Image from John Wittaker’s “Coaching the Atlatl”)

Hang your darts on antler pegs!

Cory (Ray’s son) here …

I just moved into a new apartment in DC and I thought it would look pretty cool to hang up my darts on the wall in my new office.  First way I thought to do it was to make some hangers out of antlers.  (I don’t hunt or anything but my dad is always finding antlers in the woods and I’m visiting him for Thanksgiving, so…)

Only problem is, I have no idea how to get the antlers onto a screw without ruining them.  So, I asked Atlatl Ray and he said:

The best way to mount the antlers to the wall is to screw and glue a 3-inch diameter disk of wood to the base of the antler and then use screws to mount the wood disk to the wall beam.

Don’t forget to pre-drill holes in the wood disk using a drill bit slightly smaller than the screw diameter to avoid splitting the wood.

We’ll see how that goes.  I’ll be sure to post pics when I get it figured out.  If you have any cool ideas for hanging 7-foot atlatl darts up in your home, please feel free to comment on this post.

Cool Site: Atlatl Dart from Found Materials

timothy-moyers-dart

I just found this site by Timothy Moyers, an artist from Warren, Ohio, who makes darts from wooden dowel rods with copper tubes coupling them together.  His fore-shafts  are larger than the dart shaft.  This is almost exactly the opposite of what everybody else is doing in the today’s atlatl world.  But, oh my, they are pretty to look at.  It’s like he never went to an atlatl event to see how anyone else does but just sat at home alone and figured out a way to do it all on his own.  I truly admire his work.

“How to make a good dart with easily found materials” at atlatl.timothymoyers.com

How to Make Atlatl Darts Part 3: Fletching

For fetching fletching, use pretty colors.

how_to-dart-1

I use three feathers about 8 inches long by 1 inch wide.  (Available at threeriversarchery.com).  I cut about 3/4 of an inch of feather away from each end of the quill.  For this trick you will need two lengths of fake sinew (heavily waxed nylon string) (Available at threeriversarchery.com). One length is 3 feet. The other length is six feet.

I then place the dart shaft on a stool and sit on it.  I tie the front ends of the feathers on using one end of the 6 foot length. I temporarily tape the short end of this 6 foot length two the dart shaft so it wont get in my way.  Now then, holding the rest of the 6 foot length in one hand, I spin the dart and spread the feathers apart every 3/8 of an inch and wrap the string as I go. Spin dart, spread feather, wrap string.  Spin dart, spread feather, wrap string, until I get to the end.  I then wrap the naked quill end with the remainder of the fake sinew and tie it off, leaving about a inch of fake sinew sticking out.  I then set the loose end of this fake sinew on fire with a lighter and blow it out when it has melted back to the shaft.

With the 3 foot section of the fake sinew, I wrap the front ends of the naked quill, tie it off, and melt the loose ends back to the shaft.

In this manner, no glue is needed for fletching, which makes re-fletching the dart later much less of a hassle.  I generally re-fletch my darts once a year. River Cane and Bamboo darts last about 3 years but some of my aluminum darts have been with me for 10 years now.

How To Make Atlatl Darts Part 2: Points

Get to the point!

how_to-dart-2

Assuming you have already straightened a cane dart shaft or are using an aluminum or carbon dart shaft, its time to put a point on it.

For the aluminum or carbon dart shaft, use a standard size archery arrow insert for the size of aluminum or carbon shaft you are using. The best way to make sure you have the right sized insert is to physically haul your dart shaft down to the archery store and buy the insert that fits. Use the heaviest field point you can find. threeriversarchery.com sells 250 grain field points which are the best and largest I have been able to locate.

Option one, see picture below, is to use an aluminum gutter nail. I glue these nails in using PC-7 glue which is an epoxy glue that comes in two cans. Mix even amounts of from each can on a piece of cardboard.  It has a fudge like consistency that does not run and when dried (24 hours), it can be sanded.

Allan Bagg makes copper points by swagging copper tubes into bullet like points to fit any outside diameter dart shaft you might have. These points slide right onto the shaft and can be glued using any epoxy or hot glue.  I use PC-7. The points cost $3.00 each.

Option three, the foreshaft option:  For my cane darts (bamboo or river cane), I make a 12 inch foreshaft using 1/2 inch diameter Poplar dowel rods. Into one end I drill (using 1/4 inch drill bit) a hole about 3/4 inch deep to receive a point made from a 1/4 inch diameter copper rod. I then shape this end of the foreshaft into a cone shape using a rasp and sandpaper.  One end of the copper rod is cold flattened via hammer and cut to a point using a cold chisel and file. The still round end of the point is then glued (PC-7 glue) into the foreshaft.

More glue is then spread onto the foreshaft for about two inches from the point. I then wrap string around the glue, put more glue on the string, and then, using a folded paper towel, spin the foreshaft lightly onto the paper towel to smooth out the glue.

At this point, you now have a pointed foreshaft that needs to be fitted into the dart shaft. Using a 3/8 inch drill bit, I drill a hole about 1 1/2 inches deep into the fat end of  dart shaft. I do this by hand, holding onto the dart shaft with one hand and drilling with the other. The dart shaft can spin in my hand if I hold on loosely as I drill. If I am going in straight and clean, the dart shaft will spin accordingly.  If I am off the dart shaft will spin wildly. Its a cheap thrill.

After this, I rasp 1 1/2 inches the butt end of the 1/2 inch diameter foreshaft down to 3/8 inch diameter and glue it up (PC-7 glue) and slide it into the dart shaft, again using the folded paper towel to smooth things up and wipe away any excess glue. Let dry for 24 hours.