Weekend Project: The Atlatl

Maker News

Here is an easy to make ancient yet modern device that hurls spears at up to 100mph.
Thanks go to Daryl Hrdlicka for the original article in MAKE, Volume 12.
To download The Atlatl video click here and subscribe in iTunes.
Check out the complete Atlatl article in MAKE, Volume 12
and you can see that in our Digital Edition.

18 thoughts on “Weekend Project: The Atlatl

  1. Rick says:

    A rather simpler way to do this is just with a length of thin string.

    Make a knot in one end, Loop the string round the spear near the flights (feathers) Tuck the knot under the main length of the string so that when you take the string to the pointy end the knot is trapped under itself.

    Wrap the other end round your fingers a couple of times. You can now throw the spear and the string acts in the same way as the illustrated spear chucker does but for a lot less effort and cost.

    1. Christian says:

      I’m sorry, but this is rather drastically incorrect. With a string, the instant your hand stops traveling forward, string or no, there is no further force applied to the missile. With an Atlatl, you are in effect extending the length of your arm by the length of the atlatl and you are in contact with it longer. Keep in mind that that extra force is being applied not on a stationary object that has to be started from a state of inertia, but on a accellerating object. You have none of that with a piece of string. Once your hand/arm stops, you’re done. Once your arm stops with an atlatl your wrist continues to snap over. This short lever travels -much- faster than the arm motion.

      Think of it like a bull-whip. It starts with a big sweep… slowly and accellerates. Once your arm stops it’s forward movement, the whip continues to travel as the bight becomes smaller and smaller, and when you snap back your wrist, it accellerates the mass and closes the bight MUCH faster until the end excedes the speed of sound and a crack is heard… over 786 mph (at standard conditions) IIRC.

      If your string had -a lot- of mass, it would still impart some energy after your arm stops, but that’s negligible compared to the energy imparted by a short two-foot lever being snapped over by your wrist.


  2. Andre says:

    That’s awesome, But it’s funny to think that nowadays is so easy to make it, a few bucks, a trip to home depot and of course the handy power tools. Back then, you had nothing but a cutting tool made of stone, leather and nothing but time and hunger to put it together.

  3. Krusty s says:

    The Australian Aboriginals had a similar device called the Woomera: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woomera_%28spear-thrower%29

  4. Cory Strischek says:

    That’s a pretty good tutorial for a first-time atlatl. My dad, Ray Strischek, makes and throws them. He uses aluminum or river cane for darts though. The atlatls he makes use a bunch of different woods but that design used above is like my dad’s favorite, signature style. Was wondering where Daryl Hrdlicka got the idea.

    If you want to really put some time into one, go crazy with the sanding, counter-weights and gluing together different woods. You can even knap your own stone or copper heads for the dart points. We have a pile of flint shards by our front door to attest to that.

    And then there’s the target-making! I heard a bunch of dudes in Montana or somewhere once constructed a giant Wooly Mammoth on wheels that they chased down a hill. Awesome. I just throw in the park near my house. I got stopped by a cop once in New Orleans’ Audubon Park but, other than that, it can be as safe as you want it to be.

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  6. JAson says:

    Where is the PDF?

    1. Puddleglum says:

      The provided the link above: http://www.make-digital.com/make/vol12/?folio=117#pg127 (the clickable words are “Digital Edition”

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