Category Archives: How To

Getting Your Atlatl Equipment Ready for the Season!

Okay atlatlists, spring is just around the corner! It’s time to get that equipment out and get ready to go to some atlatl events or just have some fun on your own!

Check your darts and get them ready. You can easily “fluff” out the feathers on your darts by holding them over a steaming kettle of water. It’s amazing how this simple procedure will put new life into your dart fletchings! Hold the dart over the steam and gently preen the feathers into shape.

Straightening your wood darts you have purchased from Thunderbird Atlatl, can be accomplished by gently bending the dart in the direction you wish to straighten it. For a more permanent fix or for a stubborn bend, apply heat to the dart with a flame such as a propane torch or kitchen range making it easier to bend the dart in the direction you want. After it cools the dart “sets” and will usually remain straight. If you have any questions, just give us a call at 800-836-4520 and we will be happy to help you!

FREE Atlatl Fever DVD with $200 or more in merchandise orders! Order $200 or more (not including shipping) of atlatl merchandise and we will send you a free copy of our Atlatl Fever DVD through midnight March 20 (Pacific Standard Time)

Here are a few photos of Bob Berg’s workshop in Micanopy, Florida with the Florida Outdoors Ministry program. Thanks to Frank Williams for hosting.

Making Cane Atlatl Darts: Straightening Georgia’s World Record Setting Bamboo

Mark Bracken, Four Time Atlatl World Champion

By Mark Bracken
Four Time Atlatl World Champion

This tutorial by Mark Bracken was originally posted at our sister site, It’s one of the best overviews of how to make cane or bamboo darts.

Step One

You can do this by storing the cane in tied bundles of twelve or so. In the winter, I dry my cane in the house where it is warm and dry. In the summer, the attic is the place of choice. Drying the cane should take about three to six months. In my opinion, I usually use FULLY SEASON THE CANE before attempting to straighten it. The method you use should not be one that uses extreme heat, This might crack the cane unexpectedly.

Once it has been seasoned, it may have a green color to it; this is ok, exposure to the sun will brown them. Now that your cane is dry, sand or cut off the little buds at each node. Take caution in removing the buds from the skinny end, as not to gouge the shaft as the bud is removed. You could leave a little extra material here for added strength. The reason is this area is a weak point and can break when you’re straitening it.
This next step is for extremely dry cane only.

Now, trust me on this, soak your cane shafts in water for 12 to 24 hours before straitening them. This rehydrates them and makes the process almost “risk free” – as far as unexpected breakages. If you try to straiten dry cane with heat, they will scorch quickly and unexpectedly break! The added moisture will evaporate very quickly as you straiten them leaving them as dry as the were before! I soak my cane in a PVC pipe. Where you soak yours is up to your imagination. Trust me, this is the way to go!

The next day, take your cane out of the water and wipe it off with a cloth while it is still wet. This makes cleaning the cane a “snap”. Use dry heat not steam!. I use a propane heater turned down very low.

Step Two

First working on every other section between the nodes, (look at the picture below for my definitions of “nodes” and “segments”.) Then as it has cooled, do the remaining segments. (It really helps here to work on more than one shaft. This gives each shaft a chance to cool before you monkey with it – if it’s still warm, you will screw up what ever you just straitened.

Straightening Cane Darts

Step Three

Straighten every other node.

Step Four

Straighten the remaining nodes.

Step Five

This is the step where you’re fine tuning and hitting those stubborn spots again.



Now let’s get started. Start by working on the areas between the nodes. Lightly and evenly brown the crooked area with a twirling motion being careful not to scorch it. The cane will take on a rubbery consistency when enough heat has been applied. Carefully bend it over your thigh, gently work the bend out with a rolling motion, this will prevent kinking. Use a leather pad on your leg to prevent burning your leg (the cane will be that hot!) You can slightly over bend it and return the shaft to a strait position. This may help to keep a finished dart from returning to it’s original shape. Some bends are just to severe to do this, use your best judgment.

Now getting back to where we were. STRAIGHTEN BETWEEN THE NODES DOING EVERY OTHER ONE, don’t panic if it looks like a BANANA after the first step is finished… It should.

The reason for doing every other node is to prevent rebending a warm area, previously straitened. You must give the shaft time to cool before fooling with bends that are “too close” to the recently straitened area. A good tip is to work 3 or more shafts allowing each one time to cool between steps. IT IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO WORK ON THE SEGMENTS FIRST. IF YOU DO THE NODES FIRST,THEY WILL TEND TO BEND BACK AS YOU STRAIGHTEN THE ADJACENT SEGMENTS. TRUST ME ON THIS

As you reach step five, you can test your progress by holding the nock end and rolling the dart with your fingers. The dart should rotate with a balanced attribute. It should not “lope” as you turn it. Sorta like a cam shaft on a motor. They are not straight but they are balanced. You may not be able to get your first shafts perfect. You should be able to get a good “balance”. How perfect you get them is up to you, but remember that they must have balance.



  • It is best to start on your worst piece of cane. If you break it, keep it for practice and learn the limitations of the cane Don’t worry about small kinks in your finished darts, they generally have no affect on performance.
  • Huge bends that you are unable to get strait, you can correct by working the areas up or down from the problem spot to achieve a “balanced” dart.
  • Don’t scrape the natural wax coating off the dart. This offers good natural protection from the elements. The exception to this is the area to be fletched, I scrape it off and dip or spray this portion of the dart with a varnish or varathane to aid the fletching cement’s adhesion to the shaft. I use a cement called DUCO Household Cement. I think “wally world” or “came-apart” has it.
  • Your new darts do not have to be fore shafted. I glue in copper or stone points with five min. epoxy or “J-B Weld” (and no, I don’t use it when repairing stuff in my shed, as I now have the top welder, brand new).
  • The points do not have to fall on a node to be strong. I use unwaxed dental floss to wrap the shaft and the base of the point. I wrap them about 2 inches up the dart from the point, THIS PREVENTS THE SHAFT FROM CRACKING IN THE EVENT YOU HIT A CONCRETE WALL, AUTOMOBILE OR MASTODON SKULL.
  • Finally I coat the whole haft with epoxy.


– Mark Bracken

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