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 Hunting

Hi, Cory here (Atlatl Ray’s son) …

So, the other day I saw this video in a forum thread titled “Seven-Year-Old Takes Deer with Atlatl!”

As my Dad (Ray — the owner of this site) used to be a hunter when I was kid but stopped long before he started atlatling, I thought I’d ask him about the video and what he, as an atlatlist, feels primitive weapons hunting policies should consider.

– – – – –

CORY: Have you seen this video?  What do you think of it?

RAY:  I have seen this video. As far as I know, it’s real. But I can’t imagine that the seven-year-old threw a dart hard enough to clean-kill the deer. Maybe Dad delivered the coup de grace. I didn’t see.

What do you think about it?

CORY: I think it raises some issues — like “should children be allowed to hunt?” and “should people be allowed to hunt with atlatls?” and “is one method of hunting more humane than another?”  You’re an experienced hunter and atlatlist but you’ve never hunted with an atlatl, right?  Do you think hunting with an atlatl is humane or no?

RAY: When talking about hunting with the atlatl, I have always suggested that perhaps states should use the ISAC as a test for who can get a license to hunt deer with an atlatl. Anyone scoring above 70, fine. Below, no.

CORY: Do states test gun hunters?

RAY: It’s been a while since I hunted but I believe licensing requires the hunter to pass “safety classes” in a number of states, if not all states.  Do those classes feature discourses on humanity?  I’m going to guess ‘probably not’ but I don’t know.

CORY: So, do you think hunting with the atlatl should be legal, in Ohio for example?

RAY:  Yes, I think hunting with the atlatl should be legal in Ohio. I think the state should use either the World Atlatl Association’s ISAC (70 or better) or the Ohio Atlatl Association’s Ohio Standard Accuracy (100 or better) as the testing means. Both are posted on the Internet.

CORY: Why do you suggest an accuracy test?

RAY: 1) Because an inaccurate atlatlist is more likely to make a sloppy kill.  2) Because such cooperation between atlatl organizations and the state departments in charge of hunting would be good for the organizations’ growth. More people (hunters) would attend ataltl events just to get their scores recorded.  And 3) … Because accuracy is good for the sport and good for the sportsman.

CORY: Do you think hunters would go for an accuracy test?

RAY: I can understand why hunters would prefer not to have to prove they can hit the broad side of a barn with an atlatl dart.  Does that answer your question?

CORY: You’re concerned about the hunter’s ability to clean-kill.  Is accuracy enough?  Does the atlatl dart hit hard enough?

RAY: Well, if it’s all about “penetration” and clean kills and whether or not the atlatl has enough power or causes undue suffering for the deer, I have personally seen gun hunters blast away with multiple shots from high-powered rifles, shotguns, and pistols at everything from fully grown deer to Bambi babies, only wounding the poor things.  And I think Bob Berg has proven the penetration power of the atlatl with his numerous boar hunts in which his darts pass through and stick out a foot on the opposite side of the boar.

However, if you’re getting back to the question of “should a seven-year-old hunt deer with an atlatl?” … I don’t know.  I’m not even sure where it’s legal for a child that young to hunt, period.

CORY: What about frogs and fish?

RAY: People already hunt frogs with frog gigs. It is not much of a stretch to launch the pole with the atlatl.  And it’s also legal to hunt fish with bow and tethered arrow.  According to my reading of Ohio Fish Laws, “trash fish” (carp) can be hunted with just about anything.  The atlatl was used for fish hunting along the coasts of North and South America for 1000s of years. It is already a proven equipment for that purpose.  However, I would not limit atlatl hunting to fish or frogs.

CORY: Do you think gun and bow hunters should look into the atlatl?

RAY: Yes, give the atlatl a try in a target range, competition setting.  If you like it, lobby for its inclusion in the primitive weapons season. The myth that atlatls would steal deer from archers is insane. Cars kill more deer every year than the number of people attending atlatl events. I estimate that less than 20 percent of atlatlists would hunt anything anyway because most atlatlists are attracted to the atlatl because of its cultural history, not its thrill of the kill.

– – – – –

Anyhow, I’m Cory.  I help my dad run this site and I like atlatls for sport but I’m not into hunting.  I’m not anti-hunting or anti-gun or anti-weapon but I don’t hunt and I don’t recommend people seek out atlatling as a new venue for killing animals.  However, I would like gun and bow hunters to learn more about the atlatl.  The more popular it gets, the more people are going to try it out — as seen in the video.  I would prefer that their be a legitimate set of rules and testing established state by state to make sure people know how to do it efficiently.

What do you think?

By the way, Thud’s Cave has an amazing list of state laws regarding hunting with an atlatl.

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.

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.

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.