Sunday, March 04, 2007

First Atlatl

I started making my first Atlatl recently. For those of you who don't know, an atlatl is a spear thrower. It it basically a lever that allows you to throw farther (and probably more accurately) than with just your arm. It is the precursor to the bow. Coincidentally, I am making it out of one arm of a bow I broke during tillering.

Below is the what I started with. It is half of a bow including the handle at the top of the picture. Looking at the bend below the handle, you begin to see why this bow broke.

I referred to a few websites and texts I have to get an idea of the approximate dimensions of an average atlatl. This one is 23 inches long. Here it is after cutting it to size and some basic shaping.

I carved in a groove and spur with woodworking tools. This is where the end of the spear will be inserted. The spear end will be hollowed out to accept the spur.

Depending on the weight of the spear(s) I make, I may or may not add a weight to the atlatl. From reading, I found that it is good for the atlatl to weigh a similar amount as the spear. If it is too light or heavy in comparison, accuracy and distance suffer. Since I don't have any spears yet, I am not going to commit to a certain weight. Below is an example of how a weight might be added. Of course I will attach it with something a little nicer looking when I have it all figured out.

As with many survival arts, you can make a quickie version. Just pick up a stick that has a branch at the end for the spur. From reading, it sounds like preparing a spear is the real art form. Length, weight and spine (flexibility) are all important. I imagine when the sap is down in winter is the best time to harvest. I may have to make a visit to the old viburnum patch assuming good arrow shaft shrubs also make good spear shafts.

Antler atlatl from New York Museum of Natural History. Picture taken by my brother.


torjusgaaren said...

Excellent! And thank you for the tip on using a broken bow. Hadn't thought of that.

rix said...

nice going, sassmouth! i'm always excited to see atlatls making a return. it seems to be a far more forgotten skill than bowmanship.

you may have already seen this, as it was up on anthropik earlier this year, but here's bob perkins' site with video clips of atlatls in action: Atlatl Bob.

DC said...

Looking good.
Here is a link to a photo I took Saturday at NY's American Museum of Natural History,

Carved antler spear thrower featured in the new Human Origins exhibit.

Sassmouth said...

Rix, I actually used some pictures on Atlatl Bob's website to get my design. The groove and spur especially are imitations of his work. My other source of info is the World Atlatl Association forum here:

Sassmouth said...

I posted the image that dc put a link to in his comment. It is now on at the bottom of the post. It is a very sweet atlatl.

fooiemcgoo said...

it seems like that horse atlatl is curved perpendicular to the notch. can anyone comment on that?

Curt said...


This is the first time I've been to your blog, I really like it. You're doing some good work.

Your story about your bow breaking during the tillering process reminds of the same thing a friend of mine went through. A few years ago he quit his day job and just started making bows under the guidance of the "The Bowyers Bible." His first bow broke during the tillering process too. But since then he has handcrafted atleast ten bows, and has killed two whitetail deer to feed himself.

Take care,


Pingo Wellman said...

I have recently heard about atlatls and thought I might want to get into it. Getting one for little money is always an interesting idea.