Make an Atlatl and Dart – Part 1

June 18, 2011 The atlatl, also called a spear thrower, acts as an extension of the arm, and allows you to throw a projectile, called a dart, with great speed and power. The atlatl was developed a least 30,000 years ago and was used as a hunting and combat weapon by stone age man. Very large animals, including the wooly mammoth, were taken with the atlatl and dart. So, the atlatl is a viable survival tool. The problem is, becoming proficient with the atlatl takes way more practice than the average Joe is willing to expend. I have thrown the atlatl quite a bit, but I have yet to develop any kind of consistent accuracy. There used to be a couple of park rangers at the Poverty Point State Historical Site in Louisiana that were very good with the atlatl. They could consistently hit a deer sized target at seventyfive yards, and I have read about people going on wild hog hunts with the atlatl, so it can be done. Just not by me. Be that as it may, I’m going to show you how to make an atlatl in case you might be one of those people who can get the hang of it. First let’s make the atlatl. We’re going to make a very plain-Jane survival type atlatl. The only tool you will need is a knife. First step is to locate a good tree branch for making your atlatl. The main part of the branch needs to be about an inch in diameter and straight for a length of about two feet. The bottom part of the branch needs to have a limb growing out of it at an angle of less than forty-five degrees. Picture below: A youg sapling with a branch coming of at the correct angle for making an atlatl.

When you locate the right branch cut it out; and, believe it or not, your atlatl is almost completed. Pictured below: Roughed out atlatl from sapling.

Use your knife to sharpen the small side branch to a point. This point will fit into the back of your dart. Pictured below: Point on branch used to hold dart.

You can now use your atlatl just the way it is, but you might want to attach a loop of cordage to front of your atlatl. This loop will fit around your wrist and help you keep the atlatl from coming out of your hand when you throw a dart. More about this when I do a post on how to use the atlatl. Pictured below: top, groove around handle of atlatl to hold cordage loop; middle, cordage loop made of yucca fiber attached to atlatl; bottom, atlatl loop fastened around wrist.

In the next post we will make a couple of atlatl darts.

Make an Atlatl and Dart – Part 2
June 23, 2011 You can think of an atlatl dart as being either a small spear or a large arrow. Darts are generally constructed more like an arrow. That is to say they have a point on the front and fletching on the rear. I make my atlatl darts out of river cane with a hardwood foreshaft. Select a straight piece of river cane that is about a half inch in diameter and four to five feet long. If the cane is not straight, you can use heat and bending to straighten it. I won’t go into any detail about this process as I have already covered it in my 1/28/2011 post on making quickie river cane arrows, and my 5/1/2011 post on making a river cane blowgun. In fact the whole process for making an atlatl tart is almost exactly the same as making a river cane arrow; just make the dart bigger.

Cut a straight hardwood foreshaft to insert into the front of your river cane. You want the foreshaft to go down into the river cane and rest on a joint. This will give it more strength. Leave about a foot of foreshaft sticking out of the cane. This foreshaft can be sharpened to a point if you are making a quickie survival dart, or you can mount a point on it if you are taking a little more time to improve on the survival dart. It will help strengthen the join between cane and foreshaft if you wrap the cane with some sinew or plant fiber just below the foreshaft. Pictured below: top, self point on dart; middle, point made of knapped beer bottle glass; and bottom, yucca fibers used to reinforce joint between cane and foreshaft.

Although the dart is usable at this point, you will find that it will fly much better if you

add some fletching to the back of the dart. The fletchings may be a couple of whole feathers tied on opposite sides of the shaft using sinew or plant fiber, or you may improve on this by using split vanes attached with glue and sinew. Pictured below: top, whole feather fletching attached with yucca fiber; bottom, split vanes attached with sinew and glue.

There is no string notch on the back of an atlatl dart. Your atlatl attaches to the dart by slipping the point of the little projecting limb into the hole in the back end of the cane. It is not a bad idea to reinforce the back of the cane with a few wraps of sinew or plant fiber. Pictured below: Rear nock reinforced with sinew wrapping.

Next post will be a look at my fancy atlatl and dart.

Using the Atlatl and Dart
July 7, 2011 Sorry to be a little long between posts. I’ve been out of town for a few days. Now back to the atlatl and dart. Using the atlatl and dart is easy. Using it well is hard. Much practice is required in order to be accurate with the atlatl. After you have inserted your wrist through the loop on the atlatl, grip the atlatl firmly by wrapping the thumb and all four fingers around the handle.

Next take the dart in your other hand and fit the projecting point of the atlatl into the socket on the back of the dart.

Now keeping your last three fingers wrapped around the handle of the atlatl, raise your thumb and index finger and use them to pinch a grip on the dart shaft.

You are now ready to throw the dart. Stand with your shoulders square to the target and you left foot forward. Bend your left knee moving you weight over it. Extend your right leg back. Bring your right hand back, maintaining your grip on the atlatl and dart. Sweep the right hand forward trying to keep it parallel with the ground. As you come forward open your thumb and index finger but be sure and keep your grip on the atlatl with your other three fingers. Continue sweeping your right hand forward and follow through as the dart leaves the atlatl.

Did you hit the target? Me either. It takes a lot of practice.