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Mogensthegreat

The Atlatl Thread

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For many years, humans had only one way of flinging sticks with pointy rocks on them, and that was the atlatl.

 

Atlatls have been used for ~30,000 years and was what people used to hunt fuckin' megafauna, so you know they're cool.

 

There are many interesting varieties of atlatl, like the

 

Baton of commandment

320px-Perforated_baton_with_low_relief_h

 

Loop

loop_cord_atlatl2.jpg

 

Fork and Cord

loop_cord_atlatl5.jpg

 

Cup (one that holds the dart in a hollowed-out area at the back of the atlatl)

atlatl-hand-10-2014.jpg

 

Spur or Hook (one that has a spur at the back which hooks into the dart like a bowstring in nocks on an arrow), which is my favorite

atlatl_branch2.jpg

 

It is really easy to make an atlatl and a couple darts with hand-knapped tips and some fletchings. I use an atlatl with an antler spur tied on to an ash stick, which is more secure than it sounds, and 1.5 m willow darts with hand-knapped quartzite dart-heads, (sadly without fletchings due to a personal lack of feathers), and they go pretty far, 30-50 yds, but they tend to flip around due to the aforementioned lack of fletchings.

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I forgot to mention Woomeras, which are super cool. They are Australian aboriginal atlatl, and also could be used for carrying and cutting the food that they caught.

 

eFgpS8l.jpg

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My understanding is that the chief defect of the atlatl is how much attention has to be paid to making the projectiles uniform, in both weight and material properties, before you can get any accuracy out of them. Supposedly you never find atlatl spears with more than a few percent difference in weight, while arrows can vary by as much as 15% in the same batch.

 

What are your experiences in this regard? Also, what sort of accuracy have you been able to achieve over, say, 25m (which is a good minimum for hunting)?

 

Finally: make your flights out of duct tape. It works and it's easier than trying to find a source of goose feathers.

Belesarius likes this

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I do not have a good source of straight pieces for dart shafts, so I have to use willow limbs that I find/cut, meaning I can't make very uniform darts at all. The darts I make tend to be about the same weight, maybe 2.5 to 5 oz, depending on the thickness of the wood and the dart-head I use. I have noticed a noticeable spread in accuracy between heavier darts and lighter ones, a heavier dart will fly more accurately than a lighter dart with the same throw.

 

At about 25 m I can pretty reliably hit the target I use, which is an empty box of beer standing up.

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I do not have a good source of straight pieces for dart shafts, so I have to use willow limbs that I find/cut, meaning I can't make very uniform darts at all. The darts I make tend to be about the same weight, maybe 2.5 to 5 oz, depending on the thickness of the wood and the dart-head I use. I have noticed a noticeable spread in accuracy between heavier darts and lighter ones, a heavier dart will fly more accurately than a lighter dart with the same throw.

At about 25 m I can pretty reliably hit the target I use, which is an empty box of beer standing up.

Thanks. Willow is awful as a bow wood, so it would be interesting to see if something else works better for atlatls.

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Thanks. Willow is awful as a bow wood, so it would be interesting to see if something else works better for atlatls.

 

Do you mean wood for bows or arrows? I once made a bow and arrow set entirely out of green willow pieces and it worked pretty well for a few hours until the bow dried up and cracked.

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What about buying hardwood dowel, and cutting that to length?

 

That would work pretty well, better than what I've got, for sure, but it's a purist thing.

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What about buying hardwood dowel, and cutting that to length?

The problem with dowels is that they tend to be very variable in terms of weight, tend to be warped and are often cross-cut.

I make all my arrows from dowels, but I have to search through piles of them to find straight examples with a good density and a straight grain.

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Do you mean wood for bows or arrows? I once made a bow and arrow set entirely out of green willow pieces and it worked pretty well for a few hours until the bow dried up and cracked.

Both. I mentioned it over on the archery thread, but I came up with what I think is a decent measure of how much energy a given piece of wood can store: take the specific modulus and divide by density to get the joules per gram that a piece can store before rupture.

Doing this and looking at the modulus of elasticity shows you that willow is bendy but can't store much energy before it breaks - possibly the worst combination of traits for either a bow or arrow. Ash, slash pine, red oak and the classical bow woods would be a much better choice.

As for making a bow wet, this can be done and works quite well for tropical hardwoods. The issue, besides cracking, is that the bow takes on a lot of set and is comparatively weak and slow once it dries.

For your part of the world I'd suggest a red oak board bow or pyramid bow. I also suggest making a tillering tree if you haven't already.

 

Edit: have some links!

 

Red oak board bow: http://poorfolkbows.com/oak.htm

 

Making arrows (might be useful for making atlatl darts/spears): http://poorfolkbows.com/arrow1.htm

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Yeah, ash works very well for my atlatl, it's strong and hasn't ever cracked. However, I can't seem to keep my darts from breaking upon impact after some number of uses , they always seem to eventually snap. I can not seem to find a way to counteract this.

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Either the dart-head splits down the shaft or the shaft snaps where the string used to tie the head on ends.

That's because you're putting the head into a slot on the shaft, right?

 

Not much you can do about that, sadly.

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I have heard that it was a common practice to soak the end of the dart/arrow so that it was malleable, and then to put the dart/arrow head in the slot and tie it on then and let the shaft dry in place to make it less likely to split.

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There are quite a few old photos up here of Y'upik natives using Atlatls and throwing boards as actual hunting weapons well into the 1920s and 1930s (and no doubt later).

The practical purpose being able to hunt seals and small whales and being able to retrieve their carcass.

 

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So I figured out a good way to keep the dart shaft from splitting due to the head, and keep the tip of the dart from shattering upon impact with a hard surface, ( as often happens with meticulously knapped quartzite pieces), and that is to saw off ~1" off the end of an antler tine, smooth and sharpen the small piece, then bore a hole in the center of the end at the thicker part of the taper of the tine, and whittle the end of the wooden shaft to fit in the bored hole, and glue it in there as well as using string to support the tine in small notches cut into both the tine and the dart shaft, which holds the tine in place both while the glue is drying and afterwards.

 

F7Irv0t.jpg

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Holy shit indeed.

I'm really impressed that he was able to get such accuracy without fletchings or a tip.

It's a spear - as long as the weight is to the front it will work fine.

This video also illustrates why an atlatl might be more suited for hunting big game animals, while a bow is more suited for hunting smaller, more nervous creatures. Lots of large, obvious arm movements are needed to get the spear on its way.

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I wonder what contemporary animals that would apply to. Obviously something like a mammoth is slow enough to have the atlatl be a superior weapon, a deer as an opposite example, but an elk, I suppose would be something of a grey area. I can't think of any reasons it should fall on one side of the spectrum or another.

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