Category Archives: How To

Some Thoughts on Hafting Stone and Bone Points

The most effective method of hafting stone and bone points is with cellulose based fiber and glue. The glue can be modern or traditional. I use hide glue, pine or copal resin, or modern glues like Elmer’s, Carpenters Glue or epoxy. Animal fibers tend to fail faster when they get in contact with water. Cellulose fibers like yucca, basswood, hickory, flax, hemp, dog bane, and cotton have proven to be better than sinew each and every time I have used them in real hunting situations. I prefer flax, hemp and dog bane fibers. Rain, dew, blood and wet earth get in contact with sinew and it turns to slime and releases the haft. It also turns a hafted point into a dog bone. Something will eat it sooner or later. Hide glue is also affected by water.
Tree resins are very water resistant and work well if they are not too brittle. Pine resin can be tempered with charcoal, dung, bees wax and fats which make the resin less likely to be brittle. Many different recipies have been used for this purpose.

The combination of hide glue and cellulose fibers shrinks and tightens up the hafting. If you saturate linen cloth with hide glue and stretch it on a frame it is drum tight after it dries. I learned this from making canvases for oil painting. I also read, but have not confirmed this with my own experiment, that linen cloth saturated with hide glue applied to glass will actually break the glass when it dries.

I also have been experimenting with pine and copal resin as a sealant for hafting. After the glue dries I apply several coats of thinned pine resin or copal resin to the hafted area. This makes a very hard, smooth, and water resistant haft. The reason I like this method is that the surface of the fiber, after it is coated this way, offers little resistance to penetration. Copal resin is fossilized pine resin that gets very hard after it is dry. Pine resin remains sticky for a long time. I don’t know whether this method is “traditional”.
I use turpentine or alcohol to thin the resin. You can melt both resins over heat to apply them also but this is more difficult. It is also possible to use runnier fresh pine sap, then heat the finished piece to encourage drying. I also use the copal resin thinned into a “shellac” on the thread whipping that holds the front and back of my fletching down. A thin coating of the thinned resin on the dart shaft itself makes it virtually water proof and will adhere the fletching to the shaft.

To make the thinned resin put a few pieces of pine resin or copal on a square of cloth, tie it closed with string, place it in a glass jar of turpentine or denatured alcohol with the lid tightened. Every now and then shake the jar. After a while the resin will be dissolved. The bark and dirt will remain in the cloth. Copal resin works a lot better than pine because it dries in a half an hour or less.

-Some thoughts about the atlatl Bob Berg-

Posted by Robert Berg

Comparison of Various Atlatl Materials

Wooden darts are easy for both experienced and first timers to make. They are reasonably priced always available and very durable. Some wooden dart materials that are lighter than ash show promise for target use. Hemlock is very light yet strong. I also like spruce darts. from time to time I make darts from hemlock and spruce but I don’t always have them in stock. The softer woods are easily worked with hand tools so customizing them is easy. A very good dart can be made by splicing an ash shaft to a hemlock shaft using a scarf joint. The splice should be about 1/3 of the length of the shaft with the ash in the front and the hemlock in the back.

One should avoid splicing shafts in the middle or at the quarter points of darts because harmonic motion lead to strange flexing patterns when the dart is shot.

Heavy ash darts are good for accuracy from 1 to 20 yards, (excellent for accuracy at 2 to 15 yards), poor for distance, and excellent for penetration and very durable, require periodic straitening but once seasoned retain straightness well, killing power 10, consistency is 9, authenticity is 8 in the South and 10 in the North, hafting is easy and can be done in a large variety of ways, finishing is easy. Ash darts are very good for hunting. Setting up ash darts for hunting has the advantage of the possibility to make a full set of practice darts that match your full set of hunting darts. One advantage of heavier wooden dart shaft is that they have a greater dampening of the helical undulating harmonic oscillation that is caused by the pattern that the atlatl spur pushes against the dart as it accelerates it forward. In simpler terms it is the corkscrew wobble that is decreased because of the properties of the wood that is caused by the weird way that an atlatl launches a dart.

A good way to keep and maintain a set of hunting darts is to get two identical sets. Put broadheads on one set and field points on the other. As you use up your hunting darts your practice darts can easily be converted into hunting darts.

Cane darts are good for accuracy at longer distances, fair for distance throwing and medium for penetration and not very durable, retain straightness but are difficult to straighten initially; killing power 5 consistency is 1, authenticity is 8 (1 in the north), hafting is more challenging, finish is not necessary but if wanted it is challenging to apply. Cane darts can be made for hunting by using a heavy fore shaft improving killing power and penetration. Cane darts are expensive and difficult to get. We sell raw cane shafts when good quality shafts are available. (call for availability: 800 836 4520) A typical cane dart takes experienced dart makers up to several hours to make because of the time necessary to straighten them. Cane darts vary so much from shaft to shaft that matched sets are sometimes difficult to come up with.

Auminum darts are good for distance, not so good for accuracy and poor for penetration. Dampening of the helical wobble is non existent. Aluminum darts wiggle all the way to the target. They are durable and always straight, killing power on a scale of 1 to 10 rates a 2, consistency on a scale of 1 to 10 is 10, authenticity on a scale of 1 to 10 is 1, hafting is accomplished mechanically, finish is always the same. Aluminum darts can be weighted and improved by filling the front half with wood or another aluminum arrow shaft. Aluminum darts are expensive.

Composite materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber can be made into darts that score a 10 in consistency, straightness, and durability. Accuracy is good. Dampening characteristics of composite materials are poor. Most composite darts I have seen have been very light so they would not be good for hunting or fishing. It would be possible to make composite darts that would be good for hunting and fishing but the obstacle is that they are the most expensive of darts to make and hunting darts tend to get destroyed.

You can have fun with any dart but as for me, I prefer wood darts. If I practice with them I get real good at controlling them. I have shot in the high 80s and once in the 90s in the ISAC with heavy darts for many years so they can be accurate up to the 20 meter distance. The real test of wooden darts is that I have killed 20 or more big game animals with them. Many of my customers have reported success with my wooden darts.

Just some thoughts about the atlatl.

-Bob Berg

Split Ash Dart Shaft from Logs Using Stone, Antler and Wooden Tools

Split Ash Dart Shaft From Logs Using Stone, Antler and Wooden Tools

The following pictures show a progression from ash log to dart shafts in a project I did with students from Mercyhurst College in North East Pennsylvania. This method may yield 20 to 50 shafts from a small log about 6 inches in diameter. Ash is my favored dart material for hunting and fishing. This experiment was done with stone, antler and wooden tools to show that Native Americans had the technology to make dart shafts easily from trees. It took 2 hours to get to the point where we stopped because of darkness, but we had made several darts. I think two people working together could make a year’s supply of hunting darts in a few days using this method. If the shafts were stored in a lodge where they were dry and exposed to smoke they would become nicely seasoned in a matter of weeks. Fire hardening makes them ready for use immediately.
These are not exactly in order but I think you can see how it was done.

Bob Berg

Venison Recipe

Bone a shoulder of atlatl-harvested venison and cube it. Dredge the cubed venison in egg then coat with brown bread crumbs. Set aside. Boil a half-cup of barley in two cups of water, stir, cover and let stand for 20 minutes. Cube a rutabaga or several turnips; slice a pound of parsnips into narrow strips. Ring two or three onions and crush a half a dozen cloves of garlic. Fry the garlic in a dash of olive oil. Add the onions, and parsnips, then the rutabaga or turnips. Don’t spare the olive oil because the venison is generally fat free. Don’t over cook the vegetables. In a large iron covered pot, sauté the venison until it is just browned but pink on the inside. Add the vegetables, barley, freshly crushed peppercorn, a dash of sea salt and a cup of red wine. Cover the pot and let simmer for 20 minutes. Serve with fresh brown bread and butter. This goes well with a hearty burgundy. Practice your French after the second bottle of wine.

Atlatl Dart Making Instructions

Finished Dart. This dart is made from a 9/16×7′ Thunderbird Atlatl dart shaft, 3 Gateway full length fletches, artificial sinew and Elmers carpenter glue

A properly made dart is the most important part of a spear throwing set. These instructions will take you through the process step by step. Wooden shafts available from Thunderbird are made from straight grained hardwood. However, even the straightest grained wood may need a little straightening. This is accomplished by simply bending the shaft in the opposite direction of the bend. This is most easily accomplished when the dart is relatively new. After several months the shaft will season in and become harder to straighten without heating. If this is the case heat it over a heat source such as a kitchen stove and carefully apply pressure in the opposite direction of the bend (be careful not to burn the wood or your hand). I recommend the use of thick leather gloves for this procedure. Apply light constant pressure, checking often to see if the shaft is straight.

The heat will allow the fibers on the inside of the curve to stretch and the fibers on the opposite side to compress. Cooling will allow the wood to “set” and remain straight. Be patient and work back and forth over the full length of the shaft until all the curves and bends are straightened out. Be careful to not char or burn the wood. The tip of the dart is already tapered for the field points enclosed in your kit. The top of the dart is also finished for using it with your atlatl. Finish the shaft with a waterproof wax or oil. Avoid finish at the tip and where the feathers will be glued or plan to scrape it away before glue is applied.

The best adhesive to apply the field tip with is “amber” hot glue, used in a commonly available hot glue gun. Put the hot glue on the wood, turning the dart shaft to apply it evenly. Heat the field tip at the open end , enough to melt the glue when it is applied to the tapered end of the dart, turning it almost as if you were tightening a screw. The glue will set when it is cool. Wait until the glue is totally cool to the touch before casting it, or you will loose the tip. Do not put the glue into the hollow part of the field tip first as the glue will harden before you can attach it to the wood.

Trim three feathers to the desired length, leaving a ½ ” tab at each end where the vanes are trimmed off. Tie the feathers to the dart with a 4 foot length of artificial sinew or thin thread. The strand of artificial sinew will split into four parts that are perfect for fletching. Be careful to separate it along the natural seams or it will “fuzz up”. Start by determining the location of the front end of the fletching. Allow 1 ½’ from the back end of the dart to the back end of the fletching. Use a dab of glue to embed the thread at the front end of the fletching. Roll just enough of the thread onto the dart until it “catches”. Then place the first feather with the front tab centered over the thread. Wrap it twice and add the next feather the same way, then finish with the third. The three feathers should be evenly spaced around the round dart. After covering the tabs with thread, start wrapping the thread through the vane in a helical fashion. The best results are achieved by wrapping at the same angle as the vane leans back from the quill. Finish by covering the back tab with thread. Whip the end with a loop of thread, pull it through and snip off the excess. Smear a daub of glue on the thread at each end. – Bob Berg


Bob Berg With Several Finished Darts. Here is the result of several hours of dart making by Bob Berg. Two of these shafts were painted black.