The Atlatl and Dart Throwing Sequence

Below is a sequence drawing of the relationship of the dart to the spur of the atlatl during the throwing motion. Here, the launch is pictured from right to left.

How to Throw Atlatl - Atlatl Throwing Sequence
How to Throw with An Atlatl - Atlatl Throwing Sequence

At the start of the throw, the tip of the spur is inside the cup in the rear the dart. As the atlatl is pulled forward and levered upward, the spur rotates out of the cup in the rear of the dart and the dart is connected to the atlatl only because the atlatl is moving faster than the dart.

The rear of the dart actually slides across the top surface of the spur tip until that brisk, downward, wrist flick simultaneously, with great torque, pushes the dart away and the dart slides off the back of the spur.

This is why I have advised people making their first atlatl to:

  1. Think ball and socket as it relates to the tip of the spur and the cup of the dart. A sharp pointy spur is not a good thing. The tip of the spur should be dull and rounded. Small enough to fit inside the cup of the spur but blunt enough to easily rotate into and out of the cup without digging into the inside wall at the rear of the dart. When a sharp pointy spur tip digs into the wall of the dart, it can cause a misfire (hooking the shot) and split the dart open like a can opener.
  2. Trim excess wood beyond the end of the spur. The rear end of the dart needs to slide right off the end of the spur and not get slapped by any excess wood sticking out beyond the spur during that brisk downward wrist flick at the end of the throwing motion.

I would go so far as to advise that the top surface of the spur should be flat rather than rounded. If the spur is round, there is a possibility that the rear of the flexing dart may slide off one side or the other during the throwing motion. I actually have carved a groove in the top of my spurs to guide the rear of the dart straight off the back of the spur. This eliminates that one in ten misfire.

If you have any questions about atlatl or dart design, contact Ray Strischek.

Atlatl without Spur

The atlatl style shown is a spur-less atlatl (or “split and wedge”). Instead of a spur, a cord is stretched tight in a Y-shaped split at the end of the atlatl.

The darts used would have to have their butt ends amended. Instead of a cup or cone shape in the rear of the dart, the darts would need a shallow groove cut across the end to accomodate the stretched string. A groove too deep would hamper a smooth release of the dart butt from the stretched string during the throwing motion, much the same way a too long and narrow and sharply pointed spur digs into the inner wall of the dart butt during the throwing motion.

The advantage of the stretched string method is that the dart butt could be cut at a node leaving a solid dart butt less likely to be damaged over time, as is the case with spur-and-cone dart butts. The second advantage would be the ease of manufacture as opposed to the work that goes into carving or building up a good spur.

I can think of no real disadvantage unless we are talking about atlatls with dart rests. The purpose of a dart rest is that the dart rest holds the dart allowing the atlatlist to use all his or her fingers to control the atlatl during the throwing motion. I think that a deeper groove would have to be cut into the dart butt to prevent the dart from sliding forward and off the string while the atlatlist holds the atlatl and dart ready for the throw. As stated earlier, a deeper groove in the dart butt may cause the dart to get hung up on the string during the throwing motion. That said, I am curious enough to give the thing a try.

Mike Richardson, the author, is a well respected atlatl and dart researcher. He wrote a terrific Masters Thesis on the subject of the atlatl and dart.

The Split and Wedge Atlatl by Mike Richardson @ www.primitiveways.com

Atlatl Spur Designs

One of the most important parts of a good atlatl is its spur; the “hook” on the end; the thing that fits into the cup at the rear of the atlatl dart.  Think, “ball and socket.” During the throwing motion, the tip of the spur starts out in the cup of the dart and as the atlatl is levered, the dart rises and the cup of the dart rotates (or should) out of and on to the top of the spur.

When the atlatl is vertical in the air, the dart is sliding along the top back of the spur, connected to the spur only because the atlatl is at this point moving faster than the dart.

Anything that prevents the spur from smoothly rotating into and out of the cup of the spur and anything that prevents the dart from smoothly disengaging from the spur is a sure fire way to create a misfire.

The spur designs most likely to cause problems are:

1. A long, narrow, sharp, pointy spur tip.  Such a tip is likely to dig into the cup of the dart and tear the rear end of the dart open.  The tip of the spur needs to be rounded and blunt, again, think ball and socket.

bad spur design 1

2. A spur angled 45 degrees into the atlatl shaft with more atlatl shaft behind the spur. The extra wood behind the spur is likely to smack down on the dart just when the dart is about to disengage from the atlatl.  This act is usually accompanied by a loud “thwack!” noise.

bad spur design 3

I have seen many of this kind of atlatl spur designs and the reason is usually “ease of construction”, as it is always easier to drill a hole at an angle into the atlatl shaft and insert and glue in a peg to act as the spur than to fashion or carve a spur correctly into the end of the ataltl shaft.

3. A spur attached to the atlatl shaft using thick bindings.  Again, during the throwing motion, the spur rotates into and out of the cup of the dart. The rear of the dart then slides onto the top and back side of the spur. If binding is present on the back side of the spur, then the rear of the dart will slide into the binding.

bad spur design 2

4. A completely rounded spur.  The possibility exists that the dart butt will slide off one side or the other of such a spur during the throwing motion. The possibility increases if bone or antler or some other dense material is used as the spur.
A good design for a spur:

1. The tip of the spur should be rounded and blunt so that the spur can easily rotate into and out of the cup of the dart.  Think “ball and socket”.  This requires that the size of the spur tip must compliment the size of the cup in the rear of the dart.

2. There should be no atlatl shaft wood beyond the end of the spur.

good spur design 2


3. There should be no thick binding wrapped around the atlatl spur.

Good Spur Design 1

4. In my atlatl spurs, I carve a slot down the top back of the spur so that the butt of the dart will not slide off one side or the other of the spur during the throwing motion. Flattening the top back side of the spur serves the same purpose.

good spur design 3

5. The best atlatl spurs I have seen are rather small, and angled at 30 degrees or less relative to the atlatl shaft.

spur-1

Ray Strischek