Rosewood Blanks?

rosewood grain

Getting started on a batch of atlatls and in search of a good source on Rosewood blanks for the shafts.

Have any ideas on a good place to buy exotic woods?

Please leave a comment on this post or contact me directly.

UPDATE:

Well, I haven’t gotten any leads but someone did ask me about what kind of Rosewood I prefer…

What I use for my flexible weighted atlatls is South American rosewood. You can find it in Woodcraft magazine or online.

Folks sell a large variety of woods that are good for flexible atlatls including Purple and Yellow Heart, Bulbinga, Bocote, and so on. The key for a good flexible atlatl shaft is any wood described as hard, heavy, dense, and tight-grained.

Unfortunately, Woodcraft’s prices for rosewood have gone up so much that I don’t want to buy from them anymore. This is a shame because I really love that wood.

Osage Orange is a good wood but good luck finding any for sale. I hope to write more about Osage Orange and atlatls later…

The way I make my atlatls is via a handle 10 inches long that has a 3/4 inch diameter single finger hole centered at 5 1/2 inches from the front end. The rear end of the handle has a 3 inch long slope of about 30 degrees onto which I clue a 1 inch wide by 1/4 inch thick by 18 inches long slat of wood. I like rosewood the best for the slat as it is one tough, hard, heavy, dense, and tight grained hunk of wood. I build up the rear end of the slat by gluing on a 2 inch long piece on the bottom and a 1 inch piece of the same slat wood. Later I will use a 1/2 bastard file to carve a groove 1/2 deep at a 30 degree angle into this built up end in which to glue a 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inch long rounded ended dowel rod that serves as the spur.

I will then rasp the rear 2/3 of the slat down gradually towards the rear to about 1/8 of a inch thick to make the slat flexible and round off the edges and sand it all nice and smooth starting with 40 grit, 80 grit, 100 grit, 150 grit, and finally 220 grit sand paper.

See pics of my atlatls here…

Woodcraft sells their wood in pre-cut, pre-planed sections so you can get pieces that are 1/4 thick by 3 inches wide, by 24 inches long which you can then rip to 1 inch wide pieces for the flexible shaft part, and have enough left over after cutting them down to 18 inches long to make the build up part on the rear to hold the spur.

Oh, yeah, and for glue…

Hope this helps you.

An Atlatl Maker’s Birthday Wishes

My son, Cory, just got back from a vacation in Central America.  I begged him to get me a few cords of exotic woods while he was there but, alas, no such luck.  Guess I’ll have to suffice myself with some of the beautiful Osage Orange that grows almost as fence posting here in Athens County, Ohio.

And, with my birthday coming up, I know exactly the perfect gift to help me cut it up!

A portable sawmill!  Just what I never knew I always wanted!

Imagine how many atlatl stocks I could make in just fifteen minutes!

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.

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.

How To Make Atlatl Darts Part 1: The Shaft

Here’s the first in a series of guides on how to build the perfect atlatl dart for you. I discuss dart material choices including bamboo and river cane, wood, aluminum, and others. This one should get you started choosing a basis for your spears. In the next series I’ll cover points, followed by fletching.

atlatl-dart

Dart Material Choices

The truth about atlatl darts, historically, is that wherever people were, they used whatever material was available to make darts. The archeological record has atlatl darts being made from bones spliced together, wood, weeds (like horse weed), reeds, bamboo, and river cane. These darts, as near as the material used would allow in the hands of their makers were anywhere from four to thirteen feet in length, with and without feathers.

In order to function, an atlatl dart needs to be flexible. A completely rigid dart when launched with an atlatl will go instantly vertical and fall back to earth the same way. When one starts the throwing motion with the atlatl, the flexible atlatl dart bends/flexes. In doing so, the dart is storing kinetic energy that will help self propel the dart in addition to the force of throw provided by the human muscles operating the atlatl.

A good dart has three aspects:

  1. A good dart has its balance point forward of center. (The more forward of center the balance point of the dart is, the quicker the point end of the dart will drop in flight.)
  2. A good dart is constructed in such a way as to confine the flexing of the dart to the rear two/thirds of the dart’s length.
  3. The forward one/third of the dart should be less flexible than the rear two/thirds of the dart.

The best material I have found for making good atlatl darts is river cane and bamboo. River cane, which grew abundantly nearly everywhere near and south of the Ohio River, and west all the way to California, was a much-used material in the Americas. River cane and bamboo are both thicker and less flexible at the base end, and thus both have a balance point that is naturally forward of center. Both are relatively easy to straighten using dry heat (using the coals of a fire in prehistoric times or a hot plate in modern times).

Straightening Cane

bamboo

When I straighten cane (slang for either bamboo or river cane), I use a hot plate and a pair of leather gloves. Starting at the nodes, I hold the cane about a half-inch above the hot plate on full heat and slowly spin the cane for about 20 seconds, watching the cane sweat outward along the cane shaft from the source of the heat. Then I pull down with my fingers and push up with my thumbs to bend the heated portion of the cane, holding in place for about 5 seconds. Then I move to the next node, then the next, and the next, until I have straightened the cane at all nodes. Then its a matter of straightening the sections between the nodes by heating them and bending them over my padded and heat protected knee. It takes about 20 minutes to straighten a 7-foot length of cane. And yes, some places will need to straighten more than once. But, compared to straightening wood, cane is a breeze.

Cane (bamboo or river cane) needs to be dried for a while before straightening. I generally just lean the cane up against a wall on the sunny side of my house for about 4 weeks. When the cane turns from green to blond, its ready.

Wood is Good

wood-dowel

Wood on the other hand requires at least a couple of months to dry out. Accounts in the archeological record indicate that primitive man hung their potential dart shafts up in the tops of their shelters where heat and smoke from their cook fires helped cure the shafts.

I have learned the hard way that wood, especially saplings which look straight and promising in the woods, dry into a cork screw shape and have the memory of an elephant and no matter how wonderfully cured they are, as soon as I have finished straightening them, the next day they return pretty much to the corkscrew condition of the previous day. I have had to straighten sapling dart shafts four and five times or more. It is also necessary to coat the sapling in grease of some sort when heating it. Beeswax, paraffin, bacon grease, the fat from a fresh kill, whatever. When heating, the grease bubbles into the pores of the wood and makes bending the wood without breaking or splintering possible.

River cane and bamboo on the other hand, require only one straightening session and no spattering oil, which explains to me why cane was so popular in the past.

In the Northwest, Indians split out sections of redwood trees to make long rectangular pieces for dart shafts and did not even bother to do much more to them than sort of round off the edges a little.

Today, modern atlatlists have all kinds of material to choose from to make dart shafts including milled straight grain lumber, aluminum tubing and the same kind of plastics used for fishing poles and carbon arrows.

Some manipulation (or after purchase modification) is necessary to make these modern materials into good dart shafts. As stated earlier, a good dart has a balance point forward of center and it would be helpful if the front one/third of the dart is stiffer than the rear two/thirds of the dart. (A dart shaft with the same diameter from end to end tends to flex in the middle of the dart rather than confining the flexing to the rear two/thirds of the dart, which means, the front end of the dart is still flexing up and down when it approaches the target which could make a difference where the point will hit.)

Milled lumber can be tapered to ape the shape of cane (big point end, narrow rear end, thicker and less flexible up front).

Aluminum Darts

aluminum-darts

The aluminum arrow trick: Two and one half arrows put together make a good dart length (a good dart length being a foot taller than you are). Aluminum arrows can be put together using short lengths of a larger or smaller diameter arrow shaft as outside or inside couplers (glued together). To make the front (point end) of the shaft stiffer than the rear and to give the dart shaft a balance point forward of center, use a full length smaller diameter arrow and insert it into the first half length of larger diameter arrow shaft. Then slide the second full-length arrow over the exposed smaller diameter shaft. Then using a short coupler piece of smaller diameter arrow to add the third larger diameter arrow shaft to the package. Use standard arrow inserts front and rear. The front insert to receive an arrow field point, the rear insert to act as the cup in the rear of the dart where the spur of the atlatl will hook.

Thus you will end of making an aluminum dart that has a balance point forward of center and is stiffer in the front one/third of the dart and confines the flexing of the dart to the rear two/thirds of the dart, which is two out of three of the good dart factors noted at the beginning of this article.

The best you can do with a dart shaft that is one diameter front to rear is to weight the front end to at give the dart a balance point that is forward of center.

I make dart shafts from aluminum tubing and use a 1/4 thick nail about two inches long for a point which gives the darts the balance point that is forward of center. I use these darts to teach. They are nearly impossible to destroy. I have aluminum tubing darts that are ten years old and have withstood the mauling and abuse of thousands of 9 to 16 year old kids and their parents. These darts fly OK and serve a good purpose.

It’s a matter of nuance. Every dart material has its own degree of kinetic flexibility and react differently to changes of ones force of throw. Consistent force of throw is absolutely necessary for accuracy. Aluminum and carbon have a very high degree of kinetic flexibility. Any small change in a person’s force of throw will have a very dramatic effect on the flight of aluminum and carbon darts. That is not so true of bamboo and even less so for river cane. That is why I love river cane darts because they are, for me, simply more forgiving. I don’t use wooden darts so I cannot speak to their degree of kinetic flexibility. I have thrown wooden darts and quite frankly I don’t like them. Others swear by them. I swear at them.

It should be noted that bamboo and river cane (3 years) darts don’t last as long as aluminum and carbon darts (10 years or more) but they are as good or better than wood.

Buy Atlatl Darts (Spears) Here

aluminum-darts

I’ve received a lot of emails about atlatl darts this week.  I guess folks have their atlatls and are ready to throw but don’t really have as many (or any) darts or targets as they’d like.

I sell atlatls and darts on my Etsy.com shop. (The aluminum) Darts are especially easy for me to make in bulk so I like to sell those whenever possible.  I can mail them easily too — just pop them in a tube.

But, for those of you who want to make your own, I’ll be publishing a couple guides this week or next.  So look out for those.  I’ll cover shaft materials, how to make points, and how to fletch feathers.  It’s fun work and, for those of you have a good crop of river cane or bamboo around your house, it ought to give you some ideas about other things you can do with heat-straightened cane.

And if you have any special dart questions or requests, feel free to contact me.