Atlatl & Throwing Sticks


 We will begin with the atlatl (at-lat-tul) spear. Many people will say that the spear must be longer than 5 foot. We have watched people throw spears that were 6 and 7 foot long. As yet have not seen any degree of accuracy at more than 15 yards that was any better than a short spear. It  just does not make sense that the people in the Archaic times were dragging around spears that were 6 to 7 feet long for hunting. With the Paleo Spear they did not carry around a bunch of them. They utilized the point attached to a fore shaft and a hole drilled into the end of the spear for fast replacement of the spear head. With the atlatl spear my 9 year old son and I would throw one that was just under 4 foot at 30 yards at a regular size paper pie plate. We would hit the plate 90% of the time with such force the metal point would stick almost 1/2 inch in the tree the plate was pinned to. We used metal so the point would not break, we used these spears with metal for the chunkey games also. We had forgotten the ones with the metal points at one show and when we used the bone point it must have hit a rock in the ground for it broke. This was not done again.  It was made from a piece of angle iron bed rail. It was shaped like the bone points used but was much smaller. It did not affect the weight of the atlatl spear much for when we used the bone points they threw the same way. We also did not use any feather fletching attached to the end of the spear. We found this short spear and throwing stick was very effective and even used it to play chunkey with. The following description of making an atlatl and throwing stick is based on what we used and actually threw to a target that was posted 30 yards away and a little over 4 feet off the ground.

In Figure One there is a picture of a lower leg bone of a deer. This material is the closest thing to ivory that I know of and was used by our people for many items and tools. In the bottom you can see that the leg has been cut in half. This is the first step in making an atlatl spear with a bone point that is for killing. Figures Two and Three show the bone cut in shape ready to put on a spear. Also shown is the cut end of a dowel that I bought at a local hardware store. This is my spear and is hard wood four feet long. The black marks are put on with a burning candle and then running the shaft over the flame twisting it as you move down the shaft. This leaves a nice black mark spiraling down the spear shaft.

 In Figures Four and Five epoxy and sinew was used to hold the spear point in place. This process is basically the same as when you put the stone in the notch of a tomahawk. (See Lesson: Making An Authentic Tomahawk) In Figure Four you can see that the point has been sanded down and then polished with a buffing wheel and jewelers rouge. It is also evident in Figures Four and Five. To get a final shine use cloth buffing wheels and black or white jewelers rouge. The black is for polishing black items like the black stone or a real dark stone. The white is for the final polishing of white or light items and makes them look like it was coated with polyurethane. Over the years it has been found that polyurethane tends to fade and yellow. With the jewelers rouge it does NOT fade and if it gets dull all you have to do is take a soft cotton cloth and rub it and it will shine like new. White rouge is used  99% of the time. The black is used when polishing items that India ink has been used to show the engraving design which was cut into the material. We start with black to "set the ink" then use white on a dirty buffing wheel. The shaft of the spear has also been polished with the buffing wheel and white rouge.
The final step in making an atlatl spear is putting a notch in the opposite end of the spear point (Figure Six). Use your dremel with a stone in the end that burns the hole in the end cone shaped. The burning makes the wood harder so that it will last longer when thrown over and over. Again as you can see in the picture there is No feather fletching on the end of the spear.
The next thing needed for the atlatl spear is a throwing stick. Figure Seven shows a nice one made of cedar and tipped with a deer antler notched end. In looking from the side there is an obvious bend in it. This is so the spear does not rest on the stick the entire length of it. The stick is not real long and is about 24 inches. In Figure Eight you can see the end where the hand and fingers go. When the spear is in the notch it crosses the fingers making it easy for it to be pinched between the thumb and middle finger. It is held like this until it is thrown and makes releasing the spear real easy and it also does NOT affect the flight of the spear at all. In Figure Eight it shows the antler end and the notch where the spear sits'. The antler is drilled so the wood goes into it. The antler has epoxy and sinew to hold it all in place. It has been found if it is done any other way the antler end will actually fly off after some use. We see no use in placing a weight on the throwing stick. It would just make it harder to throw. Figures Ten, Eleven and Twelve show an other stick made from red cedar. The stick is solid and does not have an end added for the notch. It is cut out of the actual stick and was shaped like a snakes head, with the back of the head being used as the notch to place the end of the spear. In Figure Twelve you can see the hand grip portion was not completely done. We are still shaving off the place where the fingers go.

 W hope you enjoy using the atlatl spear and throwing stick as much as my son and I have. We did living history camping for many years and it was nice to use them in the chunkey game. People would stand and watch us and this always got many questions which helped educate them to some of the things of our ancestors and our culture.


                                            Figure One



                                         Figure Two



                                                Figure Three



                                                  Figure Four



                                                   Figure Five



                                                      Figure Six



                                                   Figure Seven



                                                     Figure Eight



                                            Figure Nine



                                                      Figure Ten



                                                    Figure Eleven



                                                  Figure Twelve



                                               Figure Thirteen

This shell shows a warrior with two atlatl spears in one hand and the throwing stick in the other. You can notice the throwing stick is very simple and possibly decorated with a couple of feathers. The atlatl's are more elaborate and show the end where the spear fits on the throwing stick. The points look very sharp.