Atlatl Handle Grip Styles
There are three ways to grip an atlatl handle:
- Hammer Grip
- Basketmaker Grip
- Single Hole Grip
A person holds the atlatl like he/she would hold a hammer; four fingers on one side of the handle, thumb on the opposite side.
Left: Drawing of person gripping an atlatl with a hammer grip style. This atlatl has no dart rest, so the person is holding the dart to the atlatl with thumb tip and first finger tip. As the throwing motion begins and the atlatl is levered up and forward, the first finger and thumb must release the dart and re-grip the atlatl on the fly.
Hammer grip is the most commonly used method of gripping the atlatl, with or without a dart rest.
Mostly found in the American Southwest, but also Mesoamerican. The atlatl shaft rests between fingers one and two. Therefore, finger one and the thumb are on one side of the atlatl, and the other three fingers are on the other side. Basketmaker atlatls may have two holes drilled through the handle, or two loops of leather, or other material. A cross bar may also be used. The atlatl shaft is narrowed, indented, at the place where the loops, holes, or cross bar is located, to about a ½ inch wide, in order to prevent fingers one and two from being pinched during the throwing motion.
Above Left: Note the indentation near the crossbar. Above Right: Note the indentation near the loops. The narrowing or the indentation helps prevent fingers one and two from being pinched during the throwing motion.
SINGLE FINGER HOLE GRIP
A single finger hole in the atlatl for finger number one. The thumb is one side of the atlatl, the other three fingers on the other side. This splits the difference between Hammer Grip and Basketmaker Grip.
Above: Tlingit atlatl, 18th century. Above: Single hole atlatl of my own design as held by the hand.
What is the difference between the three grips? No scientific tests have been conducted to determine which grip style is better or provides more control or assures greater accuracy.
Ray’s Atlatl Grip Style
Ten years ago, I started out with the Hammer Grip style (having a carpenter background, it made sense). I noticed elevation was easier to control than direction. I switched to the Basketmaker Grip for about three years and noticed direction was easier to control than elevation. For the last three years I have been using a Single Hole Grip and have noticed elevation and direction control are about the same.
If I ever find a fourth way to grip and atlatl, I will probably try that out for a couple years just to see if there is any difference. Although I might someday go back to a Basketmaker Grip, I know for a fact that I will never go back to Hammer Grip. The lack of control over direction is the reason. It is just too easy to hook a shot, get lazy and drop the shoulder just a bit during the throwing motion and throw at a diagonal instead of vertical end over end, thus hooking the shot to the right (because I am right handed. If you are left handed, you will more often than you want, hook to the left, using the Hammer Grip.)
I do not experience hooking to the right nearly as much with the Single Hole Grip and hardly ever with the Basketmaker Grip. However, as I said earlier, Basketmaker Grip, for some reason, makes it harder to control elevation, which is why I switched to Single Hole Grip, which is dead center in the middle of Hammer and Basketmaker as it relates to elevation and direction control.
I would encourage every atlatlist to try the different grip styles. Don’t just do it for a couple of throws. Give the different styles a fair chance. No less than 100 throws from three different distances with each style. Try it, you might like it.