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How To Make A Very Simple Atlatl Or Ancient Spear Thrower Tutorial

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.

The Badger Bushcraft Atlatl Event

So what is the atlatl? The definition of the atlatl that appears on Wikipedia is: -

"An atlatl (Classical Nahuatl: ahtlatl [ˈaʔtɬatɬ]; English: /ˈɑːt.lɑːtəl/[1] 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)."

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!

A simple carved atlatl or spearthrower

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: -

 The simple atlatl hook or spur

The atlatl hook or spur located on the rear 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: -

A forked piece of green hazel that could produce two atlatls

The next stage is to cut the fork in two: -

Cutting the atlatls out with a Laplanderf folding saw

This now gives me two potential atlatls: -

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: -

Marking out the wood to be removed

Just to make things easier to see I have shaded the areas to be removed at this stage: -

Showing the wood to be carefully carved

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:-

A before and after


The atlatl spur or hook

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: -

Carful carving technique with a Frost Clipper Knife

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: - 

Removing bark with a piece of flint

Removing hazel bark with flint

And here is the completed atlatl, below in this picture: -

The completed basic atlatl

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:-

Hand carved atlatl of black walnut and wild cherry

We hope you enjoyed this Badger Bushcraft Blog article and found it useful and hope to see you in September!

Please don't forget that on the new website and blog section you can now leave comments for us and others to read!

Badger Bushcraft Blog Atlatl Event


#7 Thomas 2015-12-05 00:24
I had the pleasure of using a atlatl, while I was at Philmont Scout Ranch. At first I was kind of intimidated by the look of it. But once we practiced with it a few times. We became pretty efficient and accurate. I decided to include atlatl in our fall camoporee, hopefully the scouts will have as much fun as we did. The only difference is they are going to have to build their own atlatl and darts.
#6 bob giberson 2015-07-01 01:05
I found your web site and I am impressed to say the least of your very informative information on an ancient tool the
( Atlatl ) . It boggles my mind how these ancient people had the knowlege of hoe to increse the speed and accuracy of this really cool weapon.a few years ago a story was primted in our local newspaper about a young man killing a white tailed deer with one of these ancient weapons. some controversy as to weather this weapon was leagal to kill game, as it turned out the game commission deemed that in fact it was legal. Thank you Bob for your step by step method of how to make this really "COOL WEAPON "

Bob Giberson.

Bob Giberson
#5 Chris 2014-05-07 08:16
Great info, thanks! One question: what is the optimal length of the dart?
#4 Phil Brown 2013-01-28 20:28
Hey Byron,

Glad you enjoyed the project. Do send us a picture of what you have made.

Best retgards,

Phil and Co.
#3 Byron 2013-01-28 15:36
This was a very cool and fun project
#2 Phil Brown 2012-10-09 21:33
Hi Robert,

They are great fun to make, use and demonstrate to all age groups. So glad you think they are "cool".

All the best,

#1 robert 2012-10-09 20:57
Atlatls are one of the most coolest wepons i think in the hole world!!!!!!!

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