How to Make an Atlatl Dart Thrower


The Aztec culture gave the dart-throwing device its name, but the atlatl was vital to prehistoric hunters as far back as 17,000 years ago. The atlatl is not a weapon, but a means to improve the range and power of weaponry. Spear-throwing hunters pulled their arms back to add force to their throws; a wood or bone throwing device allowed them to extend that backward motion by a few feet, increasing the force of the throw.

Things You'll Need

  • Handsaw
  • Straight branch
  • Wood-carving knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Leather strip
  • Select a branch with a diameter of 1 to 2 inches. Choose as straight a segment as you can find. and saw the straight portion into a 2-foot length.

  • Carve away about half an inch of the branch lengthwise to form a flat surface that runs along the length of the wood. Leave the last 2 inches of the branch uncut; this firm foundation will be the nocking point for the haft of the spear. At this point, the atlatl should be D-shaped in cross section except for the last 2 inches, which should retain the O-shaped cross section of the unshaped branch.

  • Shape a channel into the flat side of the atlatl with the knife, turning the D-shaped cross section into a crescent. At this point, the dart thrower should resemble a shallow dugout canoe through its middle. At one end, it will have an untouched length of branch; the other end will become the handle.

  • Narrow the handle end -- the end opposite the unshaped tip of the dart-thrower -- to fit comfortably in the hand.

  • Use the tip of the knife to create a 1/4-inch depression in the unshaped free end of the atlatl. This shallow depression will keep the spear firmly seated throughout the throw, yet will not impede the weapon's release as it leaves the thrower to find its target.

  • Sand the channel where the spear rests. Sand the rest of the atlatl as well if desired for a more polished appearance.

  • Wrap the handle of the atlatl with the leather strip until it fits comfortably in the hand and will not fly off along with the dart during the overhand slinging motion used to launch the weapon. Tie the leather binding securely to hold it in place.

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