The Atlatl Weight as I Know It

I use atlatl weights or rather I use an atlatl weight on my atlatl.  I love it. I would never use an atlatl in a competition without one.

One day long ago, my father Martin Strischek showed up at my house with a bunch of stones he had gathered from a walk along Mill Creek near where he lived at the time.  He had taken the time and burned through a lot of drill bits to drill holes through these stones and insisted that I try them out.  So I did, starting with the light weights, throwing 20 or so darts, switching to a heavier weight, throwing 20 or so darts, and so on, all the way through a half dozen or so.

The effect was immediate, though it was not what I would have suspected having read up on all the theories at the time which were:

  1. The weight would increase the force of throw, thus gaining distance and/or penetration.
  2. The weight would act as a silencer.
  3. The weight would balance the dart on the atlatl so a thrower could stand at the ready for a longer period of time and not get tired.
  4. The weight was just a fetish, a good luck charm.

I found none of these things to be true.  Well ok, the bit about it being a good luck charm is impossible to prove one way or another.

What I found was that the weight aided accuracy because the weight provided centrifugal stability during the throwing motion.

Example:   take a piece of string 3 feet long, hold on to one end and whirl it around vertically.  The string just goes all over the place.  Now tie a weight to one end and whirl it around vertically, the string stretches out in a straight line and you can actually control the direction of the whirl.  That’s centrifugal stability.

The throwing motion using an atlatl is inherently jerky.  You are using your wrist joint, elbow joint, shoulder joint and all the muscles in between in a whacky momentum building dance to first pull forward and while pulling forward, levering upward, and then at the very end, briskly flicking the wrist downward to hopefully send a 6 foot long flexing dart in a straight lined, arcing flight to a small circle down range.

Now during the throwing motion, before the dart separates from the atlatl, the dart is already flexing and that flexing tends to have its way with the spur end of the atlatl which is about 18 or so inches away from where the hand is holding and trying to control the atlatl.  That flexing causes the spur end of the atlatl to wobble and not maintain a straight line travel throughout the entirety of the throwing motion. Exactly where off line the wobble has the spur when the dart separates from the atlatl determines how far off the intended direction the dart will venture.

The atlatl weight’s centrifugal stability counters the wobble caused by the flexing dart. And assuming you can get your wrist joint, elbow joint, shoulder joint and all the muscles in between to get with the whacky momentum building dance to first full forward and while pulling forward, levering upward, and then at the very end, briskly flicking the wrist downward to hopefully, and actually send the dart towards that small circle in the target down range in the right direction to begin with, you will stand a much better chance of actually hitting it.

Some of my friends use more than one atlatl weight.  Some have atlatl weights evenly distributed all along the atlatl shaft.  Most people get by pretty well with just one.  Some locate it right behind the handle, others mid way along the atlatl shaft. Others still, myself included, park the weight close to the spur.

I have no opinion on the number or placement of the atlatl weight on the atlatl shaft.  I will say that how much weight you use is a health issue you need to take very seriously. My own experiments have proved to me that too much weight will give one “atlatl elbow.”

I use a stone that is generally disc shape, round, and has had its edges rounded off by wave action so that it looks to be about 1 ½ inches long, by 1 ½ inches wide at its widest point, and about ¾ of an inch thick at the thickest point.  I don’t know how much the stones weigh because I never bothered to weigh one, but I reckon them to weigh about 2/3 that of my darts.

I have found these fairly flat round symmetrical stones in fast moving streams, along the beaches of Lake Erie, in piles at stone quarries everywhere, and used in landscaping around hotels and rest stop buildings.  So, they are not all that rare or hard to find.

I use waxed, fake sinew to lash my stones to the atlatl.  I put a small piece of leather between the atlatl shaft and the atlatl weight to be, wrap sinew around stone and atlatl shaft 20 or so times and then leave about two feet of sinew dangling from each side.  I then use a series of half hitches to cinch up the wrapped strands between the atlatl and the top of the weight on both sides.  This binds the wraps very tightly and I have never had a weight slip or slide.  I will use a double half hitch to end up with, and leave about an inch of sinew dangling on each side.

Because the sinew is fake and made from oil based products, I can use a lighter to start the dangling end burning and as it burns toward the last double half hitch I will blow out the flame which leaves a bubble that will not unwind.

In summary, the purpose of the atlatl weight is to provide centrifugal stability during the throwing motion and is thus an important aid to improving accuracy.  Too much weight will kill your elbow. All other theories about the function of the atlatl weight are bogus because they are not mine.  (Although, good luck charm, yeah maybe that one’s ok.)

Ray Strischek
Athens Ohio