Written by Phil Brown, Badger Bushcraft Blog Sunday, 27 March 2011 11:15
In this Badger Bushcraft Blog article Phil Brown will be showing you how to make a very simple atlatl or ancient spear thrower in a easy to follow step by step tutorial.
In the lead up to our Kent Atlatl Event in September 2011 we thought it would be nice to give those of you that have contacted us a brief heads up and illustrate how to make an atlatl in a simple tutorial and make it accessible through the Badger Bushcraft Blog.
So what is the atlatl? The definition of the atlatl that appears on Wikipedia is: -
"An atlatl (Classical Nahuatl: ahtlatl [ˈaʔtɬatɬ]; English: /ˈɑːt.lɑːtəl/ or /ˈæt.lætəl/) or spear-thrower is a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity in dart-throwing, and includes a bearing surface which allows the user to temporarily store energy during the throw.
It consists of a shaft with a cup or a spur, which may be integrated into the weapon or made separately and attached, in which the butt of the projectile, properly called a dart, rests. The atlatl is held in one hand, gripped near the end farthest from the cup. The dart is thrown by the action of the upper arm and wrist in combination with the atlatl as an extension of the throwing arm, adding significant force through increased angular momentum.
Common dog ball-throwers (molded plastic shafts used for throwing tennis balls for dogs to fetch) use the same principles and in effect are a type of atlatl.
A traditional atlatl is a long-range weapon and can readily achieve speeds of over 150 km/h (93 mph)."http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlatl
Believed to originate approximately 30,000 years ago the atlatl would have been our Palaeolithic ancestor's equivalent to a bolt action hunting rifle. Various sources refer to the projectiles as spears and others use the term darts. I feel that dart is far more apt and will use this description throughout.
In the article we will show you how to build a very basic or survival atlatl in easy to follow steps. We will be using green hazel (Corylus avellana).
Safe use of tools and carving techniques should be practiced at all times and always remember to have a First Aid Kit to hand!
How To Make The Atlatl:-
The next two pictures show how the carved spur locates into a cup that is drilled or carved into the fletched end of the dart: -
I selected a forked piece of hazel because the grain of the wood, as I'm sure you all know, at this point does not run straight - this gives the carved spur great strength and prevents it from snapping off on the first throw: -
The next stage is to cut the fork in two: -
This now gives me two potential atlatls: -
Once this cut is made it is now time to cut the atlatl for length. The optimal length is from the tip of ones fingers to ones mid-bicep.
Now to look at how to shape the spur: -
Just to make things easier to see I have shaded the areas to be removed at this stage: -
And here is the launcher shaped before the spur is "under cut" and the top of the shaft reduced in thickness by approximately 20% to stop the dart fouling or becoming difficult to position on the spur:-
Now that the forming of the spur has been done without any problems it is time to remove any remains of shoots, twigs etc. Please note that I am using the knife beyond the reach of my knees so that is nearly impossible for me to cut myself: -
Once the lumps and bumps are taken off I can now remove the bark. I find the best tool for this job to be a piece of flint - it strips the bark faster than a knife and, in a survival situation, preserves the knife edge for more vital tasks: -
And here is the completed atlatl, below in this picture: -
Over recent years I have carved far more elegant atlatls including this one made from black walnut (Juglans nigra) with a wild cherry (Prunus avium) spur:-
We hope you enjoyed this Badger Bushcraft Blog article and found it useful and hope to see you in September!
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