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Hi Norm;
I'm working on a replica arrow for hands-on interpretive use at Calaveras Big Trees State Park and would like to be as accurate as possible with regards to the replica. However, I'm running into difficluties finding clear photos of arrows made by the Miwok of this area. According to Barrett and Gifford, the Yosemite Miwok (Awhaneechi?) made 4 feather fletched arrows. However, I have not found this to be common and have no photos depicting 4 feather fletching. Have you seen this before? Could it be a preference of a particular arrow maker? It seems to me as though a four feather fletch style arrow would be noiser as it was shot across the bow.

Were the feathers glued down with pine pitch glue or animal glue, or left unglued? If they were left unglued, was the laminae sinewed down and then bent back over onto itself to hold the feather tight (near the nock end)? What shape/ depth were the nocks?

Any assistance would be appreciated. According to one of our archaelogists, arrows from the Bay Area would have been similar to arrows in our area. If nothing else, perhaps your experience with the Ohlone would be of assistance.

Thank you,
D. T. Cooke
California State Park Ranger


Darren, the data I have for the Bay Area is very basic - elderberry mainshaft, 'greasewood' (chamise?) foreshaft, and red-tailed hawk tail feathers. There are some drawings from the Mission era, and that's about it.

I haven't heard of four feather fletching, but who knows. "Volume 8 (Smithsonian - Handbook of Indians of North America)" refers to three feather fletching attached with asphalt, but no details. I'm forwarding this to friends to see if any of them know. The primary source of info for the Sierra Miwok has been Craig Bates, who was the curator at the Yosemite Museum and wrote a monograph on the Sierra Miwok bow. It has a few pictures of Sierra Miwok and Bay Area bows and arrows. All I can tell is that they are composite, with three feather fletching. The Bay Area ones are in a quiver, and appear to be rather long - projecting out both ends of a fox skin.

. . . . The arrows from other parts of the state show wide variation in length and materials, so you can figure that whatever you come up with may be valid for some. The fletching all appears to be be simple sinew wrapping on both ends of the feather piece, with no fold back, but this is based on a small sample size. Check also Paul Campbell's book, "Survival Skills of Native California" (Gibbs Smith Pub.)

Good luck,



Dear Mr. Baugh,
I am currently making a 67" Osage Orange Flat Bow (my first bow), which hopefully will draw 50 lbs. @ 28 inches. I would like to utilize the tillering method you published in SPT, however I am not certain where some of the equation variables are derived from and therefore I am not certain that I am applying your method correctly. Could you please shed some insight on my predicament?

Best regards,
Chad Rosche


Hello Chad,
There are a couple of ways to look at this. The simplest, non-technical method would be to examine a well designed bow of the same total length and rigid handle section length as the one you want to build. Rigidly support one half of the bow, hang a weight from various places along the free limb and measure the deflection. If the draw weight of the bow being examined is the same as the one you want to build then it is easy to get the same deflection, always tillering first the part of the limb closest to the handle. If you want to end up with a different draw weight then

deflection = that of sample X draw weight of sample/desired draw weight

The theory behind all this can be found in a mechanical engineering type handbook that discuses the deflection of beams. For a Hickman-Klopsteg bow that has limbs of constant thickness that bend in two circular arcs the stiffness of the limbs just above and below the rigid handle riser is maximum and varies linearly down to zero at the tips. Under those conditions the tip deflection will be proportional to the square of the distance from the rigid handle riser to the position of the weight.

A description of this type of bow plus a lot of other cool stuff is given in "Archery-the technical side", a collection of articles by real scientist-archers from the 1930's. I have copies of a copy of a copy for sale ($15.00 + shipping)..

The idea of tillering a bow to a desired draw weight by hanging a weight and measuring the deflection is my idea. I'm surprised that the contributors to "Archery-the technical side" didn't think of it.

If this doesn't answer your question please tell me.



Hello, I came across your site while searching for info on this rock that my father has, which I have enclosed a photo of. He found it years ago and had someone take it to Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, and tells me that they did want it but were not willing to pay anything for it. I am writing to ask you if you could possibly point me in the right direction in my search. I have no idea what I am doing, just trying to help my Dad who will be 80 years old this year.



It's difficult to determine what type of stone tool you have by just looking at one angle. It's best to have side (both sides), top, bottom views to get a better idea of what the object is. Dimensions, where it was found, location and measurement of abrasions on the tool, difference in coloring (location) and basically any history on the tool would also help to identify the object.

Looking at your one photo, the stone appears to be a type of igneous rock, either basalt or andesite. The tool could either be an adze, axe, or chisel. By the shape of the tool, my guess would be that it's a type of axe called a celt.
If it is a celt, then it would be considered an ungrooved axe. This type of axe has a somewhat pointed and diminishing poll. The poll was wedged in a hole or slot made for the axe in a billet of wood shaped into a handle. Sometimes there is a distinct difference in coloring and wear on a stone axe which indicates what part of it was set in a socket.
If it could be an adze blade, look at the shape of the blade from the side. Generally speaking, blades flat on one side and tending to a chisel edge were rather certainly adze blades.
Judging by battered polls, some stone axes were also used to split wood. If a blade is to be considered a complete chisel by itself, it must be capable of withstanding pounding.

Hope this information helps,
Dino Labiste

Would you please give me some ideas about what to make darts out of? I live in eastern Washington. Something around here is bound to be useful for darts.

David McAninch


Hi David,
My dad was born in Sprague, near Spokane. I was born in Mount Vernon, north of Seattle. For dart material, I would look in canyons and heavily wooded areas, places where saplings have to grow straight up a long distance in order to get sunlight. Anything which is long, skinny and reasonably straight (no kinks) will work. Growing location is probably as important as species.

The Australian Aborigines sometimes had to splice two or three pieces together in order to get something long enough. Use a lap joint with an angle of 5 degrees (1 in 10) or less. Glue it and bind it with sinew or string and add more glue to the binding.

Dick Baugh

Hi guys;
. . . . just wanted to say thanks for all the info on the thumb ring construction for the use with the long bow.

I took the spoon idea a bit further and got a hold of a stainless steel ring (that fit me) and a tea spoon that fit my thumb. Ground the spoon to fit the ring and brought both pieces to a local jeweler that was capable of welding (laser based) stainless steel.

Came out perfect.

Rod P. (avid long bow hunter)



I have an Osage stave I am shaping for a selfbow. Both ends bend slightly. One left of grain and one right of grain. Can I use localized steaming to bring these ends back in line with the riser of the bow or should I steam the entire stave? Also, how long should I let the bow dry before I resume forming the limbs?

Jim Sparks


From my somewhat limited experience at bowmaking, I'd say you can try localized bending. When taking a class with Tim Baker, I bent recurve into the ends of a yew stave by boiling just the end for about 20 minutes, then bending. I'd clamp it in place until pretty dry, which depends on your conditions and the thickness of the wood. (the answer to all stone-age tech questions is: it all depends). If the wood was dry to start with, I'd let it dry for a week or so to be safe, assuming dry conditions where you live.

Good luck,


Thanks for your input. I gave it a try over the weekend and it worked just fine. Looked like I might get a little twist from the localized heating but it all worked itself out when it cooled down. The Osage responded nicely and bent to shape alot easier than I expected. Again, thanks for your time.

Jim Sparks

I am a student at Wheatland High School. I am trying to make a bow for shop class, but I do not have the plans to cut out the handle. If you could e-mail me photo plans to make a handle I would really appreciate it.

Thank you,
Jeff Magill


Hi Jeff;
On a sapling bow, I just leave the handle area thick from front to back, and narrow it slightly.

If you decide to make a board bow, what I do is I glue up a handle. A board bow is not a bad first project There are a couple of good articles on line that are worth reading.

Here is one site with some nice pictures and you can see what a tillering stick looks like.

And this is George Tsoukalas's webpage.

And his Board Bow article -

George knows a lot about building bows, and I have been the beneficiary of his (and other people's) advice quite often via the forums on www.primitivearcher.com That is also a spot worth visiting on the web.

If you decide to go with a board bow, the grain orientation is imporant. On a natural staff or sapling the outer growth ring of the tree forms the bow's back. This guarantees that wood fibers are parallel and uninterrupted on the length of the bow's back. This is important for strengh under tension.

On a board staff the grain needs to run parallel and should not run off the board - at least on the side that will be the bow's back - its not a consideration for the belly. If you are looking through stacks of boards, it may take some searching to find one that is good. Everything else is the same as building a bow from a sapling.

I have been building nice bows from the maple boards from Home Depot and it's a wood I have been recommending.

Good luck,
Jon Jeffer

Hey Norm;
I have a quick question for you. I am in the process of making a bow (my first one!). I am making it out of acacia and it seems like it will have a lot of strength to it. I got to thinking about making a bow string and got a bit stuck. I have dogbane, milkweed and stinging nettle fibers but I would have to mix them all to get a long enough string. I figured this would compromise the strength of the full string since they all have different tensile strengths. Would you recommend just going ahead and making the string? I am also not opposed to buying a bow string for my first bow; do you think bought bow strings work well on hand made bows? And if so, what kind, or what fibers would you suggest? Thanks a lot!

Looking forward to the upcoming Coyote Hills Knap-In!
Lane Cunningham


When I made my first bow, I wanted to try it out quickly, so cobbled together a string, but I'd suggest getting a premade string if you can.  Once you know the bow will shoot, practice making a sting out of good quality linen string, check an archery shop.  Wax it when you're done.  Wait til you know the bow won't blow up, then try making a string out of natural fibers, although I would be careful if the draw weight is over 30 - 40 lbs.  I'll pass this along to Dick Baugh as well, as he is a much better archer than I am.


Hi Dino;
My name is Jeff and I'm going to build a board bow soon. I would like to know what to use as a string. I don't have a source of sinew or raw hide and haven't made any cordage. So, I was wondering what kind of synthetic I can use until I can make.good cordage. Any help will be very much apprecaited



Hi Jeff;
If you want to use natural fibers, locate some commercial linen cordage. Do a internet search for linen cordage or linen string. You'll have to ply the linen string according to your bow weight. If you want to use synthetic string, buy a type of bowstring called B-50. Access the website below for B-50 from 3 Rivers Archery:


Good luck on your bow making endeavors,
Dino Labiste


Hello Jeff,
 The important characteristics that a bowstring should have are:
1.  It should be light in weight, so don't use a heavy steel cable.
2.  It should not break, so it should be "thick enough"
3.  It should not stretch, so NEVER USE NYLON. A stretchy bowstring transfers stored energy into vibration of the bow limbs. That's bad.
4.  Eye splices are stronger than loop knots. If you use a timber hitch or similar knot on the bottom end of the string, then you should make the string thicker  there.
Dacron is the commonest artificial fiber used for bowstrings. Many websites that sell archery supplies will have Dacron and other bowstring materials. Many books and websites on archery equipment making have instructions on bowstring making.
Best luck,
Dick Baugh

Your website is amazing. I learned a lot of new things. I have a few questions though. I learned how to make arrows and bows. but how could I make a quiver to hold my arrows? And how could I make my arrows strong and not break? Any advice you could give me would help a lot.

Chris Bourgeau


Hi Chris;
For quivers, look in the "Traditional Bowyer's Bible", Paul Campbell's book ,"Survival Skills of Native California", and Primitive Archer magazine. You can see quivers made from leather, rawhide, tule, animal skins, agave bloom spikes, and wood.

For strong, unbreakable arrows, use in descending order graphite, fiberglass, aluminum, bamboo and harder woods. It is critical to have the stiffness of your arrows matched to your bow. Otherwise they yaw. This is particularly important for non-centershot traditional wood bows. If you are committed to wood arrows, you could make footed shafts. Splice a piece of hardwood onto the front of the shaft. The other alternative, which I am striving for, is to never miss the target. I'll let you know when that happens.

Regards and good hunting,
Dick Baugh


Hello again;
How can you make a homemade arrow straightener if you don't have one at all. Your website is teaching me a lot of new things, but now and then I want to try it. Thanks for any advice you can give me.

Christopher Bourgeau


Hello Chris;
For straightening wood arrows made from saplings and shoots I like to use a stone arrow straightner. This is a piece of soft smooth rock, about the size of abar of soap, soapstone is ideal, with a groove in it, a little larger than the diameter of the shaft. I heat this on a fire or mi wife's electric range so it is just hot enough to fry spit. Another temperature test is to put a piece of newsprint on the stone. If the paper turns slightly brown it is just right. If it turns too brown it is too hot. This stone arrow straightener allows you to concentrate the heat in a small area of the shaft and then straighten that part. For gentler bends you should heat the entire shaft gently befor trying to straghten.

I hope this works for you.

I was interested in reading about the hippo bamboo thrower. It evoked memories of my boyhood days, 65 years ago. We had a shingle thrower that did basically the same thing. We took a roof shingle about 1 1/2 feet long and about 3 inches wide. We made a split about 4 inches long down the middle of the top, inserted a flat stone in the split, and tossed the stone forward at a target with a snap of the wrist. Pretty deadly! I've never seen anything in print on it. I wonder where stuff like that came from. We had a million of them!

Incidently, I have been wanting to thank you for the amazingly clever and beautiful thumb loop hand drill I ordered from you sometime back. It's a work of art and a tribute to the pride and affection you show in producing such a fine quality article. It was far beyond my expectation. I haven't gotten a fire with it yet, but I'm working on it. I think the atmosphere is too damp at present for me to coax a fire. I'm waiting for the humidity to drop and a drying east wind.

I lived with the Jivaro (Shure) headshrinkers in the Amazon many years ago. Due to the moisture, they made sure someone always had a fire going. They could borrow from it if their fire went out. The only time I ever saw anyone start a fire with the hand drill was when I requested it and it happened to be on a dry day. The wood they used was called Achiote. The seed pods on that plant produces a red powder that the Indians used to paint their faces. We use it to put the yellow in our margarine in World War II. It came in a little package and was mixed into the margarine, which was white to start with.

Andy Bisaccia
Ojai, CA


Hello Andy;
Good to hear from you. Thank you for the kind comments concerning the thumb loop hand drill. Dampness and humidity can be a big factor in trying to get an ember to ignite. I did a Native American school program a few weeks back. Besides the oral presentation, I did a hike in the park to show the children the plants and animals (which was basically whatever animal we came across at that time of the hike) that the Ohlone People utilized in their everyday living before European contact. At the end of the hike I wanted to demonstrate the technique of hand drill fire making. The ground was damp from rain during the previous night. I made 2 mistakes during that first demo that affected the second groups fire demonstration. I placed the hearthboard on the wet ground and forgot to place a dry leaf under the notched hole. I got the char to form and smoke, but after repeated tries the dust would not ignite. I finally realized that I needed to insulate the char dust from the damp ground. I ended up using a dry paper tissue to place underneath the hearthboard. I finally did get a lighted ember and got the tinder to flame. While speaking to the third graders, I placed the lighted tinder on the ground and eventually stomped on it to put out the flames. It was the wrong thing to do. The tinder got damp from the wet soil, thus making it difficult to ignite during the next group demonstration.

It is understandable to see why indigenous cultures that rely on fire-by-friction methods kept their fire going as long as possible by means of transporting a smoldering ember to their next campsite. Fire was very important to all people throughout the world. If you constantly relied on finding and gathering fire by friction wood wherever you stopped to start your campfire, your chances on not having a fire are great. The right type of wood may not be around when traveling into unfamiliar territory or the materials are still damp or too green. Carrying your prepared fire making materials with you will increase your probability of getting a fire going. There are still other natural factors, like rain, humidity, moisture on your fuel, or melted snow, that can make it difficult to start a fire. When you depart your campsite, transporting a smoldering ember with you will greatly increase your chances of staying warm and having a cooking fire at your next site. The Neolithic Iceman, who was found in the Alps, used tinder fungus to keep his smoldering fire lighted from one area to another.

As far as the bamboo stone thrower is concerned, it's amazing how similar tools and weapons are found throughout the world. Cultures that are many miles apart are inventing tools that have the same function, but yet, are different in their materials and appearance. There are two theories on why tools are similar in function and basic construction in many parts of the world. One theory is diffusion of ideas. One culture meets another culture, then trades or acquires ideas. Trade routes were extensive throughout the ancient world. Another theory talks about the basic anatomy of people and the same consciousness of all people in the world. We all have two legs, two arms, two eyes, etc. Our joints all bend in the same direction. We are all bipedal mammals. We all have basic needs to survive in our given environment. Take for example the use of the bow in archery throughout the continents. Our mind says, I need a weapon that is faster, able to reach longer distances than my spear or atlatl dart for hunting. Our basic anatomy will dictate the hand held tools, whether it be a bow or bamboo thrower. The materials may change according to what is found in the region. The basic form will be the same. A flexible stick with a string to cast the small dart (or arrow) or a split stick to throw a stone or clay ball farther and with more force than your normal movements of just your arm. Variations can develop in the throwing stick where a cup could be attached to the end of the stick instead of a split to hold the ammunition better and longer before the cast. The efficency and structure of the tools may change over time to improve it, but it is still a hand held stone thrower.

If you have the time, keep me posted on your fire making endeavors. I always like to hear from my hand drill customers. If you have any questions or difficulties, e-mail me and I'll see if I can help you with any tips or solutions in your fire making techniques.

Dino Labiste


I'm just tring to understand how much spring or how stiff the altalt should be? I'm starting to build a board atlatl. The spring or stiffness is bothering me. I just don't understand. Yes, I know in the past, the people that used the atlatl didn't think about it, I guess. Just trying to learn what would work for me.

Dane Britton


Hello Dane;
The straight forward answer is “Don’t worry about it.” It doesn’t really matter. I published an article in a reviewed physics journal, The American Journal of Physics (AJP), several years ago on this very subject. The data was obtained from a high-speed digital camera in the mechanical engineering lab at UC Davis. Most of the real atlatls seen in museums have absolutely no flex.

Flexibility is VERY important in atlatl darts in exactly the same way that the spine or flexibility of arrows is important. If the dart is too stiff then the tail end will kick down. If the dart is too flexible then the tail will kick up.

There is a link to a download my atlatl article and another article on tuning atlatl darts in PrimitiveWays.com

Dick Baugh



Dear Norm,
I am doing some research regarding early duck hunting by Native Americans. In your article "Introduction to Tule Ethnobotany" you mention arrows with "skip bomb" heads as well as nets with stones attached. I work for the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon and we are preparing a duck decoy exhibit for the fall. I am looking for diagrams of both the arrows and nets used for duck hunting by indigenous people. Would you know where I might find this information?

Thank you for your assistance.

Betsey Ellerbroek
Education Director
Columbia River Maritime Museum
Astoria, OR


Sorry to take a while to respond, I've been looking for the references as I get time. The skip-bomb arrow is described in  the "Handbook of Yokuts Indians" by Frank Latta, Bear STate Books, SAnta Cruz, CA 1978. On pages 531 and 532, he relates the description from a Yowlumne (of Kern Lake) informant named Wahumchah, and mentions getting the same information from a Chunut Yokuts (of Tulare Lake) man named Yoi-mut. There is no illustration, but the description is pretty straight forward "The affair proved to be nothing more than a small doughnut-like roll of tules that fitted the foreshafts of both spear and arrows very tightly. When place on the foreshafts they were slipped back and lodged tightly against the end of the larger shaft.  The effect of water on these rolls was to cause them to fit tighter still." They were shot across the surface, skipping until they hit the duck or goose right above the water line. 
The description of duck hunting using decoys and a net which is pulled up from under water is illustrated in "The Ohlone Way", by Malcolm Margolin, Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA 1978. However, I worked with the artist, and was probably the source for the drawing. I'ver been looking through some of the references I started with, and came onto some quotes in the "Hand book of the Indians of North America" Vol. 8. California, Smithsonian Inst.1978. Page 404 describles pulling a net over feeding ducks, or quickly raising a net in front of flying ducks.  Page 450 references the skip-bomb.  Page 491 describes Costanoan (Ohlone) use of decoys to lure ducks or geese into position for a net. He references Harrington, so I'll dig out what I have from Harrington when I get back to work and see if I can find the more detailed description that I remember reading thirty years ago.

Soooo, more later.


I'm attempting to knap a flint knife and have questions on the hafting of it. Would you happen to have details on how this would be done? In particular, I want to know the pattern of the stone inside the handles. I haven't seen much on this part of it.

Jim Kenyon


Hello Jim;
The primitive method of hafting a stone blade to a wooden handle is to use pine pitch, charcoal, deer dung, sinew, wood, hide glue and a flaked stone like chert or flint. Here is a condensed version of how to do it.
1. Use the flaked chert (or flint) spall and create a serrated edge. Use this tool like a saw and make a notched slot in the end of your wooden handle.
2. Slide your stone blade into the notch to check the fit. Create a notch large enough to accommodate the blade.
3. Melt the pine pitch, powder the charcoal and mix the melted pine pitch, powdered charcoal and deer dung together. You can substitute finely chopped up grass for the deer dung.
4. Add the pitch solution to your notch in the wood and slide your stone blade into the notch.
5. Wipe off any excess pitch solution and smooth out the pitch solution around the stone blade and the wood.
6. Soften your sinew with water (or saliva) and lightly coat your sinew with hide glude. Wrap the hafted area with sinew.
7. Let it all dry and you have a hafted stone blade.

OR you can go with electrical drills and saws to create your notch. Epoxy the blade and wrap it with cordage.

The shape of the stone blade that fits into the hafted area of the wood should be thick enough to keep the stone tool from snapping in half when using the tool for rigorous cutting or sawing. This is important especially for an obsidian blade. The "tang" area on my stone blades are shaped like one side of a rectangle. It has corners. The end tapers slightly, but it has enough thickness to give it strength. It should also not be too thick. You do not want to create a large notch in your wooden handle and compromise the sides of the notched area on the wood.

Good luck on your project. Let me know how your project turns out.

Dino Labiste


First off, I would like to thank you for your articles on the PrimitiveWays website, they have helped me immensely.
While the articles were quite informative, I still have a few questions left unanswered about atlatl construction that I am dying to have answered. Primarily, is there some sort of message board for atlatl builders and bowyers that I could post on and surf instead of pestering specific people through e-mails? I understand you probably have busy lives and answering e-mails takes time better spent chucking darts. Second, about how long should the atlatl thrower be? Mine is about 12 inches from the top of the hook to the handle, and the handle is about 4.5 inches, is that about right? Third, how long should the dart be? From the pictures, it seems to be taller than the thrower, does it always have to be that tall? In my area, there are very few trees to work down so I use a weird wooden reedy thing which grows relatively straight, but is not very long. Most my darts end up being about 3-4 feet long, is that good? Fourth, how should I weight the tip of my atlatl so that its center of gravity is towards the front? This reed stuff is only thick enough at the base to be able to consistantly mount in my atlatl thrower and so the center of gravity is never towards the front. How do you weight the tip, what method would you recommend? And finally, with a properly built atlatl, how far should you be able to throw the javelin? I understand this is heavily influenced by the thrower, but how far can an average 10 year old, teenager, or adult throw the javelin?
Thank you very much for reading through this. I appreciate the help as a novice woodworker and primitive technology admirer.

Jamie Ding


Yes, there is an atlatl message board, but I don't know how to get there. I would contact Daryl Hrdlicka. For bowyers, just do a web search. There are plenty of sites.

Atlatl length: .3 to 1.0 meters is reported in the literature. What you do for accuracy may be different from what you do for distance. Having a good hand grip on the atlatl is important. Maybe add a loop of cord so it won't slip from your hand.

Dart length and weight: For accuracy you want something that is about 6 feet long and weighs 3 to 5 ounces. Lighter and shorter for maximum distance.

Relating the dimensions of the atlatl and dart to dimensions of the thrower is what you do if you are a pre-literate, pre-scientific individual. You probably should relate the dimensions to the strength of the individual. Tuning the darts to the strength of the individual is very important. See the PrimitiveWays.com article on "Atlatl Dart Tuning".

3-4 feet long is probably too short. When you throw them does the back end kick down? That's a clear indicator that they are too short for your throw.

"weird wooden reedy thing which grows relatively strait, but is not very long" is not very specific. Some Native Americans made their darts out of relatively fragile stuff.

How should I weight the tip of my atlatl so that it has its center of gravity towards the front? Don't you mean the dart???

This reed stuff is only thick enough at the base to be able to consistantly mount in my atlatl thrower and so the center of gravity is never towards the front. How do you weight the tip, what method would you recommend? Glue a golf tee shaped piece of wood in the skinny end of your dart. You ALWAYS make the heavy end go first. You can even add a hardwood foreshaft

And finally, with a properly built atlatl, how far should you be able to throw the javelin? We refer to the projectile as a dart. Experiments done by one author showed adult men could throw from 46 to 55 meters. Another author said from 30 to 55 meters. Again, having proper tuning (stiffness) is important.

Feel free to ask more questions.

Hi Dino,
I found a way to straighten carrizo shafts, which as you know are as crooked as a dog's hind leg. In all the years I worked for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and helped in digs, I don't ever recall finding an arrow straightener made from steatite or serpentine. I've handled many at the museum, but never found one. So, after I gathered several carrizo reeds for arrow making, I had to devise a way of straightening them.
I stumbled onto the perfect solution at the hardware store: Jumbo Pumie Scouring Brick. I'm not sure if it's real pumice or man-made, but in either case it works perfectly for an arrow straightening stone. I cut a piece off the brick in a vise with a handsaw measuring 3 inches square and 2  3/4 inches high. Being soft, it was easy to put a groove on the top about the size of the largest carrizo shaft with a rat tail file.
I put the "stone" on a stove burner and heated it up and testing it periodically with an eye dropper until the water drop sort of sizzled and evaporated. Because the stone has igneous characteristics it heats up very well and holds the heat a long time. I used a tong to move it to a cookie sheet where I could then lay in the parts of the shaft that needing straightening. You lay the shaft in the groove and bend the part that needs straightening very briefly, You keep going back and forth over the shaft bending parts and joints until the arrow becomes straight. It took me a while to figure it out, but it works beautifully.
I'm usually not the first to discover something but, if so, at least I discovered it on my own. I've always loved inventing stuff that actually works.
Now I'm going to go to work and try making some authentic Chumash arrows. I went to the S.B. Museum a couple of weeks ago and the anthropologist let me handle several complete Chumash arrows that were found in a cave recently in Peach Tree Canyon near Santa Barbara by a deer hunter. It was really a thrill. The cave must have been an arsenal of sorts. Three bows  and 24 arrows were found complete with foreshafts, hawk feather fletchings, and chert arrowheads at the end of foreshafts. They are in beautiful shape. They are estimated to be between 200 and 250 hundred years old. They claim they're the only ones in existence. Amazing?

You wrote in your article: "After splitting, reduce the staff on the belly side (flat side - former inside of the tree) so that the staff is a bit over an inch thick. Do that quickly with a big kitchen knife."

I bet that makes a lot of mothers very unhappy. And I can't imagine your average kitchen knife would work too well anyway. Have you tried using a hatchet instead? Clamp the staff to a saw horse, or kneel on it, on the ground, and you can whack off good sized chunks.

Ed Spoerl


Actually I have used a hatchet. Some folks like them. So far I prefer a big knife. The thinness of the blade gives a shallower angle. I find them easier to control. I might just not have a good hatchet. A saw is good too, if you are in a
workshop. A band saw is ideal.

Jon Jeffer

Hi Dick;
An internet search of "bow limb design" lead me to your fascinating web page. I am looking for information on guidelines for designing bow limbs. In particular, I am interested on the methodology used to determine the dimensions of the limb cross-section.

I understand that the cross-sectional dimensions of a particular point on a bow limb must be designed such so that it deflects in accordance with the designed external moment. My issue is that I would like to understand how that cross-section is determined for a rectangular limb cross-section. For example, one can use the bending stress equation to design the cross-section, where stress = My/I, and if a rectangular cross-section is used the equation is reduced to:
sigma = (6M) / (wd^2), where w = section width, and d = section depth, M = the external moment.

Seems that there are an infinite combination for w and d that would satisfy the allowable stress conditions. How then are 'w' and 'd' determined for a bow limb of rectangular cross-section?

Any suggestions for references or resources would be appreciated.

Kyle Druey


Hello Kyle,
Good question. How do you select width and thickness to achieve a given stiffness for a particular position on the limb? I believe that is the question. Two important rules:
a. All woods are the same. They consist of cellulose molecules aligned more or less parallel and glued together with lignin to form hollow tubes. The main difference between hard and soft woods is the ratio of cellulose to air. Almost all woods will stretch about 1% before they yield or break.
b. Woods are all different. You don't use the same dimensions for a bow made with osage orange that you would use for pine.

Assume you want to make a bow which is 5' 6" long, has a fistmele of 6" and pulls 40 pounds at 28 inches. Bow limb design is a compromise between making the limbs very wide and not very thick or making them narrower and thicker. For the same draw weight, wider and thinner yields bow limbs which have more mass but have less internal stress so they will be more reliable and have less string-follow. Limbs with greater mass should cause light-weight arrows to have less velocity. Making the limbs narrower and thicker reduces the mass at the cost of higher stress and consequent string-follow and lower reliability.

How important is minimizing the mass of the limbs? Not very, in my opinion. A bow with a stretchless string is an amazingly efficient mechanism for transfer of energy stored in the relatively heavy bow limbs to kinetic energy of an arrow. This all happens because just before the arrow leaves the string the velocity of the limbs is very small.

Select a limb thickness which experience and past history have shown to work and then select the width to give the desired draw weight with the particular wood being used. The limb thicknes shouldn't depend too much on the type of wood. My friend, Tim Baker, made a bow out of pine, a relatively soft wood, which shot quite well. He did this by making the limbs normal thickness but very wide.

If you are interested, I have copies of "Archery, the Technical Side", edited by C.N. Hickman around 1950. It is full of articles on limb design, arrow trajectory, and other aspects of archery. It is interesting to me to see what kind of engineering and scientific analysis was done before the coming of computers. This is available for $15.00 + $5.00 = $20.00.


In your article you said you backed the small bow with Hemp or what was it. I would like to know how you did it.



Jute Backing:
I had a very short bow (56") and I was a little afraid of the back blowing. I had some raw jute fiber that John Fakan had given me.

I cleaned the bow's back. I think I used dish soap and water. The idea is to remove any grease (probably from you hands while making the bow. I have heard that some people recommend fels naptha soap. I have also heard about using a weak lye. My own opinion is that for my own purposes, this may be over kill. I tend to try to use what's handy. After letting it dry, I roughed up the back with course sand paper.

I took small bundles of the fiber (similar amounts), teased them out more or less straight by hand, and put them between the pages of a magazine to keep them separate.

I waited patiently for my wife to leave the house - and then set up in the kitchen!

I got some Knox gelatine - unflavored! - and mixed it strong. I can't remember exactly. It might had been 2 or even 4 packets to a couple of cups of water. Knox Gelatine is basically very clean hide glue that is FDA approved for human consumption. But it is still hide glue.

With a paint brush I painted the glue onto the back of the bow. Then I dipped the bundles of fiber into the glue and squeegeed the extra glue off with my fingers. Keep a bowl of warm water handly to dip your fingers in so you don't glue yourself together. You just put these swatches of fiber down evenly and more or less symmetrically starting in the middle by the handle and working your way to the outside.

I was probably a bit too liberal with the glue, because I got some unnerving cracking sounds pulling the bow initially. So make sure you squeeze the glue out of the fibers.

I let it dry for a number of days. Then I took a file (Nicholson 4 in 1) and filed the overhanging fuzz off the edges of the bow. I varnished it with a polyurethane finish to protect the back from moisture. It took a while for this to dry out completely and if I did it again I think I would let the glue cure out over a couple of weeks at least before finishing.

The look was kind of interesting. Not exactly aesthetic but probably good camouflage.

I played with fiber and some laminated wood backings last year. Now my thinking is more towards self bows again - for simplicity sake. Right now I have 4 bow making projects that I have been fiddling with in dribs and drabs and am starting to build up some gumption to attack again.

Jon Jeffer

Dear Dino,
I've been looking for info on using palm for bows, spears and spear head points. I have no idea how to process the raw material into the finished products. Also, it seems that I remember black palm being used, but I don't know of other palm species.

Finally, I still doubt the wint-o-green lifesaver trick (Primitve Crystal Light! by Bob Gillis). I am still convinced that the idea of candy sparking was devised to trick the innocent.

Keep it simple,
Randy Curtis


Hello Randy;
I recall reading an article in the "Primitive Archer" magazine concerning a bow made from a particular palm tree. You will have to do the research because I can't remember the issue. Try web searching "Primitive Archer" and see if they have a listing of past articles. You'll probably have to order that particular issue to read the article.

Have you tried the Wint O Green Lifesaver procedure? If not, give it a try. You'll be surprised that the mechanical stress of snapping that Wint O Green lifesaver in your mouth or chewing it with your mouth opening and closing will generate the triboluminescence effect. It's important you do it in the dark and in front of a mirror to see the light. Remember the saying, "Know truth by your own direct experience".

Dino Labiste


Recently I have been attempting to steam bend limb tips on Osage wood in a attempt to make a static recurve bow. In my first attempt, I steam boiled about 12" of the the wood in a baking pan covered with tin foil for about 55 minutes. I have been told that you should bend the wood in one quick motion without any hesitation. It splintered in the bend area of course. I then experimented with a piece of scrap Osage with good results. The last piece of scrap Osage splintered in the bend area like the first one. This piece I steam boiled for 1 hour. The thickness for the one that worked in the bend area was 5/16" and the one that broke was 6/16". After reading your article, I am thinking that perhaps my problem is that I am boiling the wood too long. I have enclosed some photos to give you a better idea of what I am attempting to do. You can see in the one photo I am using a piece of metal on the belly side of the limb or the outer side of the bend to prevent the wood from splintering or lifting. I would appreciate any help or suggestions you cab give me.



Jerry, your set up looks good, and you may be correct as to the problem. I bent a yew stave of similar size, and boiled the end for only 20 minutes (as per Tim Baker's instruction). My jig was simpler, catch the tip and then bend over a piece of wood using the stave for leverage. I would also try a slower, steady bend. You may have bent it too fast as well. (I'm thinking of something like a five to ten second count). Your jig works to prevent the inside of the curve from collapsing, which puts all the stress on the outside stretching. You might try cutting out the area of the gig under the area that fails. Another factor is the wood grain. I try to cut critical areas of a stave so as not to cross grain layers. If all else fails, try cutting a piece a bit thicker than you will need and then sand down past the splintering. Hope some of this helps.

Good luck,


I want to thank you for taking the time to try and help me with my steam bending problem. I did another experiment today with a piece of Osage scrap which was 3/8" in the bend area. I soaked the wood for 10 to 15 minutes prior to boiling and then for another 45 minutes. I did the bend a little slower as you suggested and it worked. Thanks again.




Message text written by "Brian & Llewena":

Loved the simplicity of the hoko knife. Will definitely try and make one. Photos great. Plenty of willow where I live in Australia.



Hello Brian & Llewwna,

Yes, when I saw the photo of the Hoko knife in a book my parents gave me I knew it was a keeper. The willow we use for binding is Salix exigua, common name is sandbar willow. It is the only native willow which can be tied in a knot. If you can't tie your willow in a knot you might try just using the bark. I'm sure there's some sort of plant where you live which can be used to tie things.

Some day I want to make a good "tula" or Australian Aboriginal adze/chisel. That's just a stone flake mounted on the end of a fairly heavy stick. Fastened with spinifex resin.


I've been making arrows for about a year now, and have gone through all the steps you have in getting improved fletching quality. I just wanted to say your website is very helpful in making my decisions on new arrows (how long should the feathers stay, how to tie the sinew etc). I use the prime feathers that fall from seagulls at the local beach, but I think that they are working fine.

Anyways, nice site.


Thanks for the feedback on the article. You are actually the first letter I have had in response to it. I'm glad you enjoyed the site (PrimitiveWays actually maintains it.). A really good site for traditional and primitive archery, bow building, arrow making, and bow hunting - if you don't know about it already, is the forum at www.primitivearcher.com

There are guys there who probably know more about bowyering than I will ever know.

Best regards,
Jon Jeffer

Message text written by "UCB Libraries Public PC":

I've learned a little about Japanese swords and a lot about crystallography in the past two years. Your crystallography was brilliantly clear and correct. I'm impressed.

Now, about Japanese swords and differential tempering. Swordmakers actually leave a thin layer of clay on the edge of
the blade to break up steam bubbles when the sword is quenched in water, making the cooling quicker than for bare metal by increasing the contact surface.

The other thing worth mentioning is that the blade is straight before it's quenched. That expansion you mentioned happens
more along the edge, and forces a curve into the blade. Additional heat treating is done by pressing the dull edge to hot copper, and this is done until an even curvature is achieved (a very precise measure of the temper, I imagine.)

Now, as to why this makes the blade stronger: The alloy at the edge, being brittle, breaks under tension. All brittle materials, like concrete, have this problem. If you stretch your steel reinforcement as before the concrete hardens, you have pre-stressed concrete, which is under compression. This curve in a katana serves the same purpose, as a helmet or sword edge or (hopefully) bone will have to overcome this compression in order to bring the alloy's stress-state into tension and crack the blade.  Tempered glass works on a similar principle.

Tempering the back of your knives should not only serve to stop any cracks that would otherwise shatter the blade, but should shrink this metal, pre-compressing the cutting edge.

Thanks for all your information.

Joel Hollingsworth


Thanks for your comments. You have obviously gone into this in greater depth than I. I spoke recently with a young man who has had experience in knife making and I asked him how to achieve a hamon line. I had been unsuccessful in getting a hamon tempering line with the 1095 steel I use. He said one must use a steel with less carbon, 1050 or 1065 for example, cover the back with clay (I use furnace cement) and then water quench. When I tried that with 1095 I got cracks in the cutting edge and no hamon line. The blade didn't break so I mounted it anyway. I wouldn't sell it, but it sure stays sharp.

More later,

Thank you for the article on making bows from saplings. I read it last week and since then I have made 2 bows. One for me made from beech and one for my son made from ash. It was great fun and it is something I intend to keep doing for a long time to come..

Thanks again
Paul Jeffreys


Hi Paul,
Thank you for the feedback. It's always nice to hear that people are reading the articles and finding them useful.

How did your bows come out in terms of dimensions, draw weight, and draw length? And most important how do they shoot?

Best Regards,
Jon Jeffer


Hi Jon;
Well the bow is about (when strung) four and a half foot in length with a one and a half inch grip draw length. I have not checked yet as I have not made any arrows (my next project), but to see if it threw a arrow I shot a piece of dowel from it and even without fletchings or an arrowhead, it seemed to travel quite well and at a reasonable force. I don't know how to measure draw weight this is the first bow I have ever made. My knowledge is still in its infancy, but I am learning with the help of others such as yourself.

Thanks again,


Paul, that is a really nice looking stick. The reflex tips looks really nice and the handle looks like it has a bit of set back too. Congradulations.

The length over all - 4 and a half feet may be a tad on the short side for an unbacked bow depending on what the weight is and the draw length you want to shoot it at. Basically the longer a bow is the less the limbs have to bend to give you a given draw length. One rule of thumb I have read about is to have the draw length about twice as long as the arrows.

Some Native American bows were shot with a fairly short draw length. Some guys on the primitivearcher.com forum talk about draw lengths as short as 24".

Best regards,
Jon Jeffer


Bad news. My bow snapped. It seemed to give at a point where there seemed to be no defect, but it seems I was wrong . Oh well, we learn from our mistakes. I tried to cordage back the bow to see if it would save it , but it didn't work . It just gave up the ghost. Next time, I hope it will be better.



Hi Paul,
There are different reasons a bow can fail. Did it fail on the back or the belly? If the belly is collapsing (compression failure) then backing the bow won't help. If you have a wood that is weak in tension, like cherry, then a backing can be the way to go.

I recall that your bow was a little bit shorter than optimal too. 52" right? The things you can do to help with the material stress is make the bow wide limbed (2" for most of the length) and long (minimum 65" or as long as you are tall).

If you think of a bow bending the stresses are tension on the back and compression on the belly. Having wider limbs distributes those stresses over a wider surface area. With a longer bow, any part of the limb has to flex less to give you any given draw length. Getting an even tiller helps to distribute the stresses evenly ove the limb as well.

Good luck with your next (longer wider) stick.
Jon Jeffer

Bamboo clay thrower, fascinating. Just when you thought you had seen it all, something like this comes out of nowhere to humble you. What do you think the accurate range would be? Thanks for sharing.

Philip Silva


Hi Phil:
Thanks for the response to the article - glad you enjoyed it. In the program where I first saw this, it appeared the villagers were firing at targets about fifty to one hundred feet away. Like anything, I'm sure a lifetime of practice makes this a much more effective weapon. I don't personally have to deal with marauding hippos, but I might try one sometime against the deer that continually feed on our garden!

Take care,
Ken Peek


The American Indians boys would let mud dry on a stick and use it to whip at birds and small game. I've read they used a springy stick to whip arrows also. Do love real primitive weapons. Did you read the article in the latest Primitive Archer about the last hunter-gatherer group in Africa. They used long bows. Nice chatting with you.

Philip Silva

Message text written by Sam Kramer:

I make knives from old cross cut saws. I had read somewhere to quench them when they lose magnetism - is this too hot?


The experts tell me that you don't want to heat the steel too hot or leave it hot too long before you quench and harden. Reasons are that too hot and too long cause grain growth and brittleness. You should ask yourself which is the most reliable method for you to heat your steel to the correct temperature. If the Curie temperature (where ferromagnetism is lost) works for you that's what counts.


I was reading your instructions and you say to quench at red which would be easier to accomplish. I temper by heating the back on a hot plate and quench at a little past straw color. I like them a little softer than 62. I like the prospect of putting them in the oven for consistency. Do you need to quench them when you take them out or just let them cool?


I would guess that it doesn't matter.


When I temper on the hot plate, is that creating a softer area toward the back of the blade?


I would think that if the oxide color were darker on the back then it would be softer. If the oxide color is uniform on the blade then hardness is uniform throughout the blade.


I'm trying to get my results a little more consistent and I think tempering in the oven will help.



Good luck,

I found your website about a year ago and have used a lot of the information given. I recently made a composite long bow with a pull of approx. 75 pounds. I'm trying to figure out how to make a bow string using primitive methods that can repeatedly support this stress. I hunt with self made bows and arrows and try to make my trips as "primitive" as possible. Any information would be much appreciated.

Thank you.


I'm impressed! The thought of a 75 pound bow makes my shoulder ache. If I was given the challenge of making a natural, native fiber string, my first choice of material would be dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum). It seems to grow all over North America. Read Tim Baker's article on bow strings in the Traditional Bowyer's Bible, Vol 2.

Good hunting,

Bob Gillis


Another good choice of material for your bow string is sinew. Specifically sinew from the backstrap area of a hoofed animal. Sinew, when properly made into a cordage of consistent diameter, will withstand a lot of stress. The only disadvantage is that it becomes useless when it gets wet unless it was coated with some type of waterproofing substance. I've heard that some sinew cordage for bow strings were coated with liquefied pine pitch to give it a waterproof coating. I haven't done it before, so I can't really say how effective the pine pitch coating is.

Additional comments by Dino Labiste

Hi Ken;
First, thanks for your 'primitive' page, I find it very useful for feeling safer in the bush, knowing some more tools if things go wrong. Anyway, back to the stone-thrower. When I was 10 or so I 'invented' the exact same tool (using ash or willow - sorbus or salix), using it to pitch stones probably 200 metres or so. I used to pitch pebbles at the tops of the power pylons near my home, and delight in the clatter of the stones falling through the steel members. I used a stick about 1.2 metres long. I've also heard of the tool being used to flush game out of gullies, canyons, etc.

Nigel Cowburn


Thanks for the note on your discoveries. I suspect this invention has occurred in many parts of the world at one time or another. Glad you liked the article.

Ken Peek

(Comments pertaining to the article, "Bamboo Clay Thrower")

For about $12.00 you can get a similar device in plastic for tossing tennis balls to your dog. It also enables you to pick up and throw the ball, loaded with dog slobber, without touching it with your hand.

Dick Baugh

Saki Yoshisada wrote:
I myself have never used a bamboo for an arrow, but I am willing to give it a try. I was wondering if any of you have advice as to how long the arrows should be? I have 3 1/2 foot bamboo sticks that you get at Pier One that's already fire harden (thank God) and would like to know how I should trim them.

Thanks for your help,

P.S. I live in Conroe, TX. Do you ever have any workshops close to this area?


Hello Saki;

> I was wondering if any of you have advice as to how long the arrows should be?

The length of an arrow depends on each individual. Every person has a different arm length. To determine the arrow length for yourself, place one end of the bamboo against the middle of your chest (in the sternum area). Fully extend both of your arms in front of you, coming together at the fingertips. The other side of the bamboo will be in between the fingertips of your middle fingers. The point at the end of your middle finger fingertips will determine the length of the arrow. Add an additional 1 inch to the end for notching the arrowhead.

> PS I live in Conroe, TX. Do you ever have any workshops close to this area?

Unfortunately, we do not have workshops in Texas. You'll have to visit beautiful California.

Have fun on your project,
Dino Labiste

Nancy Oakland wrote:

My grandson is in the 8th grade and he has to make a workable object from out of the past. Can you tell me how long ago people used the atlatl? We live in Florida, so if it is old enough for him to use, what kind of material would you suggest he use that can be found here. He can not use anything that is man made, for example rope or string.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.



Spear throwers were used in the Solutrean era in Europe (18,000 to15,000 years ago). In North America the weapon is at least 5,000 years old.

There should be plenty of natural sticks in Florida that could be used for an atlatl. Also, use fibers from native plants and/or pine pitch for fastening them together.

Good luck,

Good afternoon. I am currently making an atlatl and need to start thinking more about the darts. What do you suggest making them out of? I have only seen them made of archery arrows. If this is a good product, how do you connect the arrows? I would probably use my cedar shafts that I shoot out of my self bow.

Thank you for your help.


Hello Ryan,

There are lots of things you can make GOOD atlatl from. Aluminum arrow material is indestructible, but it "ain't natural". Atlatl Bob of BPS Engineering makes his out of two pieces of 2216 size shaft with a total length of 161 cm (63.4 inches). These are fairly stiff hunting arrow shafts. According to Bob, the buckling force is 24 newtons (5.4 pounds).

I have also made darts out of 3/8 inch dowels from the hardware store. They come in 3 foot lengths, so you will need to splice two pieces. I would recommend using a lap joint, similar to that used by the Aborigines of the central desert of Australia.

Make a diagonal cut in the two pieces you want to join. The joint should be about 2 to 3 inches long. Glue the joint and wrap it with string. Pull the string tight! Let it dry. Make sure you have the same angle on both pieces and align them before the glue dries.

Japanese arrow bamboo or rivercane from the south eastern states are excellent also if you can obtain them. Look in gullies, canyons and areas with a lot of overhead forest canopy where things have to grow tall and skinny to get to the light. It will depend on what neck of the woods you live in. Make them at least 5 feet long.

Please note that the stiffness of the shaft is very important. See the article on tuning atlatl dart shafts in the PrimitiveWays web site. The stiffness of the shaft can also can be tested with a bathroom scale. Place the point on the scale and push down on the back end. The force that is needed to buckle the shaft is a reliable indicator of the stiffness. Tom Mills says that a 7 foot should buckle with 5 to 7 pounds. The 63.4 inch aluminum shafts buckle with 5.4 pounds. You should strive for that kind of stiffness.


Hello, I just wanted to thank you for your quick response and also for your help. I have been bouncing around on the internet and asking whoever will answer for help. You have by far been the most help. I used an atlatl a couple of years ago and had a great time but never could get what I wanted when making one. The one I used was not traditional, it used a string with a regular nock on the dart so I have had some trouble making a spur correctly. I finally saw one at fields museum when I went to visit my parents and hope that this one will work. Do you have a publication at primitive ways? I have enjoyed reading your online information. Do you know of anyone in the southern part of Missouri? I actually live in Springfield and would like to have someone to talk with on these items. I am a tradtional bowhunter and seem to get more primitive every year. Thank you for your time and help.



Hello Ryan,

You need to join the Society of Primitive Technology (SPT). They put out an excellent bulletin twice a year and are a gret source of personal contacts. I do a lot of publishing in the SPT bulletin. Call Dave Wescott, (208) 359- 2400 for SPT information. Thee are some great knappers in Missouri. Call Larry Kinsella (618) 397-1377 for personal contacts in your area.

Best wishes,

Just read your article on the branch atlatl. How accurate can it be in the right hands.

"In the right hands", the atlatl can be an effective hunting weapon. Bands of Paleo-Indians of North America hunted wooly mammoth with these weapons. The effectiveness of the atlatl can be seen in the variations of the weapon worldwide. Even, today, certain states allow atlatl hunting, using atlatls made of modern materials. Instead of Folsom or Clovis stone tips, the modern atlatl darts have razor sharp steel broadheads. The primitive atlatl was easy to make, but required a bit of skill to master its use. When the bow and arrow was developed, the bow system required certain skills to make, but the learning curve to shoot a bow was easier than mastering the skill to use an atlatl.

How long do you make the darts ( that looks like an arrow in the picture).

It was difficult to show the full length of the atlatl dart and take the picture at the same time. The main shaft of the dart was 5 feet long, made of river cane and fletched with wild turkey feathers. Like the fletching on an arrow, the feathers on the dart helped to stabilize the dart as it flexed at the beginning of flight. The darts made by the Ohlone Indians in my area used willow shafts, phragmites or elderberry. The main shaft was usually made of a flexible material.

I know Native Americans in the Ohio valley used them, but it seems to me that the dart would have to be 3 feet or so to be effective in the woods.

The darts used on the east coast were shorter in length than the darts used on the west coast. The reason could have been due to the environment. The east coast had more of a forested habitat. The open terrain of the west coast allowed for a longer dart and less obstruction of trees. The indigenous cultures on the west coast did also use short darts.

Also did darts have fire hardened tips for small game?

The tips usually consisted of a foreshaft that was made of hardwood (oak, chamise, wild lilac) and hafted with bone or stone tips, like obsidian, chert or in other areas, flint. The foreshaft was also made of a hardwood with just a sharpend tip that was fire hardened (barbed or unbarbed). There were also foreshafts that had a bulbous, blunt tip for stunning small game.

Thanks much for your time, I find this stuff absolutely fascinating.

Philip Silva

Thanks for visiting our website,

I had just read your article on bowery at http://www.primitiveways.com/sapling_bow.html, and wanted to thank you for the excellent information. It's good that someone is interested in sharing information freely, and not just advertise for their book. I do appreciate the work you put into sharing.

I am also curious if you could tell me what special preperation yew and ash would require for bowmaking. Thanks in advance.

James Fox


Hi James,
I am glad you enjoyed the article. There is actually a lot of good free information on making bows and arrows on the net. My favorite is the forum at www.primitivearcher.com

A number of very accomplished bowyers post there regularly and share their experience, and a number of them have very good how-to articles posted to their own websites.

Also the Traditional Bowyer's Bible Vol. I-III are great.

As far as yew and ash go, I have never made a bow from either one. As far as I know ash requires no special treatment. That means that with the ash you should be able to let the unviolated outer growth ring on the staff, stick, or sapling be the back of the bow.

With Yew and also Osage Orange, both premium bow woods, what I have "read" is that you must remove the sapwood - the outer living wood of the tree, and make the back of the bow out of an inner ring of heartwood.

I like to build out of what is around where I am or what is handy and easy to get. This also keeps me from spending a fortune on premium staves of top quality bow wood.

Good luck with your projects,
Jon Jeffer

Message text written by Ron Ireland:

I'm a social studies teacher, Montana history, building my first atlatl for student demonstration later this year. My atlatl is ready, but I'm struggling with locating dart shafts of the appropiate length. I'm also not certain of the best diameter for a dart. What advice would you give me?


Hello Ron,
You have several options:
1. Buy aluminum darts from Bob Perkins in Manhattan, MT. His company, BPS Engineering, has a web site.
2. Find some red osier dogwood growing tall, thin and straight and make the darts from that.
3. Use 3 foot X 3/8 inch dowels. You will have to splice them together to get a length of about 4 1/2 feet.. Bevel the two ends, glue'm and bind them with string. That's the way Australian Aborigines splice spear shafts.
4. Use a table saw to cut square shafts of some hardwood. Start with 7/16 inch square and plane them round.
5. Skinny bamboo garden stakes.

In all cases, you would like to have the tip somewhat heavier and add feathers to the back end.
Some day we should put more details on the web site.

Good luck,

Hi, I am 11 years old and I would like to know how to make a primitive bow.

Michael Gams


Hello Michael,
The easiest way to make a bow is to get two straight sticks which are about 3 feet long and very similar in size (one inch diameter at the fat end and 1/2 inch at the top end. Let them dry and then tie the two fat ends together. The joint will be the handle and the skinny ends will be the tips. It doesn't have to be perfect! Use plenty of string to tie them together and pull the string as tight as you can. The wood is stronger when it is dry. Try willow, wild plum, shoots from an apple tree, branches from a cedar tree.

I hope this helps,

Hello, I am wanting to learn how to use my turkey feathers on my arrows that I will build. I need to find directions that will take me from taking the right feathers off the wing and how to make them into a functioning feather. I shoot a long bow at 60 lbs. I like to use 5" feathers. If you know of a book or tape, I sure would appreciate it.

Bob Bosman


Hi Bob;
The only book I have is the Traditional Bowyer's Bible. I don't recall it getting into this in detail. The feathers I have used were feathers that had fallen off the turkey.

I can share my experience in prepping these for primitive arrows. If you want more input I'd go to www.primitivearcher.com and post the question on their forum.

To prepare the feathers, I used scissors, sandpaper, and a rasp, and sharp kitchen knives and a cutting board.

I split feathers down the center using the knife on the cutting board. The outer quill is hard, and the inside is like styrofoam. Then I used the scissors to trim the quills down and the sand paper and rasp to abrade the remaining quill down. I have read articles on just stripping turkey feathers by pulling. I have never been able to do this to my satisfaction. It never leaves enough quill to help attach the fletch to the shaft.

I usually trim the quill as small as I can and still have something to attach to the shaft. It is important to thin and taper the leading edge of the quill to flatness. This will keep it from cutting your hand (if you don't use a rest).

For my purposes, my fletches are not uniform. They are fine for hunting distances but these are not target quality. I tend to try and get the maximum number of fletches out of my material. If you have more material to waste, you can probably get more uniform fletches. I cut the profile freehand by eye with sharp large scissors. I find this works surprisingly well. Other folks use forms - usually metal plates that sandwich the feather, and a hotwire cutter. You could probably use a cardboard "pattern" and just hold it on by hand and cut around it.

I hope this helps,
Jon Jeffer

Ryan Meschke wrote:

I have been wanting to try to make a knife with an antler handle for a while now. Your article has brought the desire to do so back. I only have one problem. Where can I get a blade to affix to the antler? Thank you for any help or direction.



Hello Ryan;
Check out this website for purchasing high carbon knife blades:


A word of caution when affixing your blade to the antler handle. Be sure to adequately tape the blade to keep from cutting yourself on the sharp edge and knife point. Good luck on your antler handle knife.

Dino Labiste

A fellow on the leather wall made a cable backing from jute and it worked well so I tried it. I backed a 60 lb. Cherokee style bow with 6 strands of jute and it went from 40 to almost 50 pounds Just wondering if you had any idea of the stretch of other material such as hemp, cotton etc. I would like to pursue this because it seem to be a simple effective way to get more power out of a self bow. Thanks and God bless.

Philip Silva


Hello Philip,
There are lots of ways of doing bow backings. I believe you back some of your bows with either linen or hemp. They are examples of materials which have similar properties (breaking strength and elastic modulus) to wood because they, like wood, are composed primarily of cellulose fibers. A 1/16 inch backing of linen or hemp should behave just like an additional 1/16 inch layer of wood with the following improvement: The fibers in the backing are all very well aligned whereas it is very difficult to align the wood fibers so they are parallel to the back. Consequently the bow backed with a layer of linen or hemp fibers should have less tendency to rupture catastrophically than the bow backed with an additional strip of wood.

Another way to back a bow is to put on a thick layer of some material which does not have as high an elastic modulus and also shrinks after you put it on. Enter sinew. This material has the possibility of adding reflex to the bow limbs.

One can also put a backing on which is not initially under tension and do something to increase the tension. The cordage backed bow.

The reason for describing these different backing methods is to emphasize the fact that both the tensile strength AND the elastic modulus must be considered when designing a bow backing. The following data is from an 1979 copy of Material Engineering.

Material --------Tensile Strength --------------------------

pounds/square inch Gramms/denier

Nylon 109-125,000 6.8-8.6
Dacron 106-123,000 6-7
Kevlar 400,000 21.5

Cotton 1.5-6
Hemp 5-7
Silk 3.5-4.5
Linen (similar to hemp) (my guess)
Jute ( much weaker than hemp and not much stretch)(my guess)

glass 300-500,000 3.9-4.7

Elastic modulus, measured in pounds per square inch is a measure of the "stiffness" of the material, the pressure needed to compress or stretch a material a given amount. Grams/denier is similar to tensile strength but in units which are convenient to measure on fibers.

Nylon is similar to sinew in that it is very "stretchy" so you need to put a thick layer on the back to make a significant increase in the draw weight.

You not only get more power but I think you increase reliability. Jute would probably be my last choice for a bow backing because it isn't that strong.

I hope this answers your question.


I have been looking for some information on making hand thrown spears (not atlatl or thrusting spears). Do you know of any websites/places/books I can find info on this? eg. the length/weight and thickness for hunting with (if you had a stone blade on the end), etc stuff like that.



Hi, sorry to take so long. I haven't ever run into a description of a hand thrown spear from the stone age. This could mean they didn't exist, or only that I've never run into them. I'll forward your request on to a few other folks to see if they have any info.

Good luck,
Norm Kidder

Hi, I was just looking at your website.

I'm in a Primitive Technology Class at Uconn, and I'm trying to think of something interesting to make for a class project in which we have to make a primitive tool through primitive methods. Any Ideas on something that would be rather unique?

Tom Walsh


Hello Tom,
Do you have sources for fiber, knappable stone, abrasive sandstone, wood, bone, antler etc? Do you know how to use a large stone flake to cut through a stick quickly? Basic stone age woodworking.

If you have access to stone flakes you could make a Hoko knife. See the Primitiveways web site for details. Use rawhide from a doggy chew to bind it. This is the sort of tool which can then be used to make other tools.

An antler wedge is a very useful tool. It is a labor intensive project if you only use stone age tools (sandstone abrader).

You could cooperate with someone and make an atlatl and dart.

For glue use plain un-flavored Knox's gelatine and a small amount of water.

I hope these ideas help. Please feel free to ask more questions.


Hello Lee,
Thanks for your inquiry about Beavertooth knives. The knives depicted in the web site are all long gone but I still make them. My objectives are to make a knife which:
1. has excellent edge holding properties when cutting wood
2. is light weight and consequently easy to carry
3. is reasonably easy to sharpen (done by using steel which is only .05 inches thick)
4. reasonably cost (done by using either 1095 plain carbon steel or crosscut saw blade steel (L6)
and doing my own heat treating)
5. teaches me something about heat treating

One of the consequences of using 1095 or L6 is rust if you aren't careful.

One of the consequences of using .05 inch 1095 steel is that it shouldn't be used to chop through a baseball bat.

The L6 knives are more expensive than the .05 1095 knives because the L6 is thicker and takes more time to shape.

My idea of a great survival knife is a Swedish Mora knife with a laminated steel blade. THEY are close to indestructable. With abuse the blade will bend but can be straghtened out again.

I don't do much differential tempering anymore.

I think the blades come out with a Rockwell C value of about 62 or higher. The table that came with the steel says the as-quenched hardness is Rc66 and 400 degree tempering gives Rc62. I put the blades in my wife's oven at 375 for 20 minutes so they're pretty hard.

Still interested?


Hello Jon,
I harvested an oak tree yesterday and, unfortunately, the piece was 4" thick. I split it and it is now 3" thick.

Do you think it can still be made into a bow?

Chris Aloia


You can make a bow out of it. This just means that you need to take off more wood. If you have a good saw you might even get 2 bows out of it.

When you say "thick" you mean front to back, right?

What you need to do is get a staff that is about as tall as yourself, and about 2" wide. If the harvested tree is green/fresh, you will want to reduce the thicknessto say about 3/4" (a bit thicker at the handle) and then clamp the staff to something straight and flat to let it dry out.

I have a couple of red oak bows. The wood is strong. Limb thickness on a 71" long 2" wide flat bow was less than a half inch at the thinest part.

Good luck,
Jon Jeffer


It is 4"wide and 3" thick. I split it with a sledge hammer and 3 wedges very difficult and uneven. Luckily I have an adze which is perfect tool to tiller.

How much time do I have to do all this? While it is wet?

Thanks again,
Chris Aloia


If its got no twist in it, you could saw it in half to get 2 2" wide staves out of it. You'll want to use a saw because you won't be able split it that accurately.

I'd put glue or varnish on the ends right away, or rubber band plastic bags over them. That keeps the moisture from going out the ends faster than the rest of the staff and will prevent splitting as the wood dries. If they are in a shady place you have a little while to get them clamped down, but the more green the wood is the easier it will be to bend into shape.

You can use C-clamps or string to tie the staves down. Clamp or tie to a 2x4, a work bench, a pipe, or a bed frame. Whatever. A warm dry place will dry the wood faster, but count on several weeks to be sure.

You'll want to try and reduce it to something closer to its final thickness before clamping it down to dry. From my own experience, with oak I can tell you that 3/4 of an inch is probably plenty.

Jon Jeffer


I tilled it last night. I found that there are 3-4 knots in the stave, how bad is it? I hope I didn't waste all that time tillering. It is C-clamped down. I didn't quite make it to 3/4", maybe 1" to 1 1/2".

Thanks again,
Chris Aloia


Don't worry too much. The idea on knots is to just leave more wood around them, and have the limb bend less around the knot. It makes tillering a bit more challenging.

If the knots were hidden, branches that broke off and were grown over some growth rings back, they may not penetrate deeply enough to have any effect. If there are voids where the knot was, and the branch has rotted out and left a hole, some folks will fill with a mixture of sawdust and glue.

Otherwise, sometimes you can lay out the bow to avoid the knots, either by puting the knot in the handle, or tapering the limbs to get rid of them.

Jon Jeffer

I have been for a while attempting to construct an atlatl. I believe that the atlatl itself is resonably well made, but I am unsure exactly how to go about making the arrows. I have tried using long (aprox. 5 foot) lengths of bamboo, four foot lengths of dried maple about 1 cm in diameter and once I tried using hobby arrows. The other two arrows had been tipped with a relatively simple tip of a lawn dart. Part of the problem is I cannot find a clear set of guidlines for the construction of such a device and I was wondering if you could recommend a source for such instructions.



Andrew, it sounds like your atlatl darts are too short. Most folk I know of use darts from 6 to 8 feet long. For practice, I use 6 foot lenghts of bamboo, sold as tomato stakes at the garden store (look for the straightest and thinnest ones). They should be no bigger than 5/8 inch in diameter at the fat end. I cut the fat end at an angle to make a point, and then either tie on two feathers to the thin end for fletching, or use duck tape (see article on this at www.primitiveways.com). I'll forward this on to Dick Baugh, who has done a lot of research on this subject.

Good luck,

I have been for a while attempting to construct an atlatl. I believe that the atlatl itself is resonably well made, but I am unsure exactly how to go about making the arrows. I have tried using long (aprox. 5 foot) lengths of bamboo, four foot lengths of dried maple about 1 cm in diameter and once I tried using hobby arrows. The other two arrows had been tipped with a relatively simple tip of a lawn dart. Part of the problem is I cannot find a clear set of guidlines for the construction of such a device and I was wondering if you could recommend a source for such instructions.


The importance of flexibility in atlatl darts can not be over-emphsized. Selecting the proper stiffness of the shaft is even more important than proper spin in arrows shot from a bow. If a projectile is too stiff than the back end will kick down. If the projectile is too flexible the back end will flip up. Stiffness can best be tested by throwing the dart WITHOUT feathers. A strong, muscular thrower will need a stiffer dart than someone who doesn't throw as hard. Anologously, arrows shot from a powerful bow need to be stiffer than those shot from a lighter bow. A dart can be made stiffer by trimming the length. It can be made less stiff by lengthening or making it slimmer in the middle. EXPERIMENT!

Hope this helps,

Brian - thanks for the note. The Knap-in is a very informal affair held at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont. It is mainly a gathering of central California knappers who demonstrate their craft. Ken Peek is organizing it this year, as I am busy with my son's wedding. You can call Ken at home in the evening at (510) 537-1215. As to activities for kids, ken is very patient about showing them the basics. Depending on who is there, there may also be atlatl throwing, fire making and other activities. The schedule for the rest of the fall is non-existent this year. I've been too busy with things at work to call people and set anything up. We'll have an organizational meeting in January to set up the 2002 schedule, and it will be posted after that, so keep tuned. If anything does get scheduled, it will be posted first on primitiveways.com.


Hi Dick;
Tom Walsh here. I had e-mailed you about a project for a Primitve Technology Class I'm in. My friend and I have decided to make a spear and atlatl. Any suggestions for making this. I.e. wood to use, points to use etc.

I greatly appreciate your help,
Tom Walsh


If you are in an urban environment I would recommend the following:
Make your dart out of a 3/8 inch dowel from the lumber yard. Splice 2 pieces together, total length = 5 feet. You can cut both pieces at an angle and fasten them with glue and string. Another option is to find a thin brass tube that fits snugly. The brass tube would make the dart collapsible for travel. Put feathers on the back end like an arrow and put a stone or
metal point on which has some weight. Total dart weight should be around 3 to 4 ounces See my article on dart tuning in the PrimitiveWays web site.

For an atlatl anything will work. Make it about 1 1/2 to 2 feet long, not too heavy and give it a good firm hand grip.

If you want to be more primitive, then good luck.

Good hunting, feel free to ask more.

Ben Martin wrote:

What is the most primitive stone tool and what is the major tool of early man; used as a hammer, ax, and knife?

Please e-mail answer at thomasch@lrc.edu
You would be doing a struggling college student a big favor!!! Thank you in advance!!!!


Hello Ben;
The first evidence of toolmaking was found at Africa's Olduvai Gorge by paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey. The ancient tools were utilized in the Late Miocene period, about 2.5 million and 1.6 million years ago. During this period, Homo Habilis inhabited the dry woodlands and savannahs of eastern and southern Africa. Homo Habilis possibly picked up rocks to crack marrow bones. Maybe they started to scrape flesh from bones with small, sharp flakes that had fractured naturally from rocks. Besides smashing marrow, the stone tools at Olduvai Gorge were also possibly used to dig for roots and poke insects from tree bark.

Eventually, early humans started shaping stone implements.

Dino Labiste

Message text written by Richard Fetterly:

Dear Richard,
I read your nice article on atlatl flexability. Do you know why a spur was used rather than a socket? It seems to me
that a socket would be more universal.

Remember, the people who hunted with atlatls were pre-literate and pre-scientific but not stupid. The stupid genes died out pretty quickly. They were also pre-steel woodworking tool. I am sure that the design of many of the things they made was influenced by the limitations of stone tool woodworking. That may have influenced them to use a spur instead of a socket. from an optimal design point of view the spur must engage the back end of the dart as the atlatl moves from horizontal (0 degrees) to a little past vertical (~100 degrees). This says that you probably want the spur to be pointed at half way between 0 and 100 degrees = 50 degrees. I think it would be hard to carve a socket into the atlatl which would effectively be at 50 degrees but really easy to set a spur at that angle.

Do you buy the "balance" theory of the atlatl weights presented by RBS?

Please refresh my memory. Who is RBS? Could you mean BPS instead? My theory on atlatl weights is that they were only used with very light weight darts. I have done extensive computer modeling on the effects of the size and the position of an atlatl weight. The conclusion I arrived at was that they don't affect the velocity very much one way or another for a light dart. In trying a light dart with and without a weighted atlatl all I can say is it "feels" better with the weight. Computer modeling tells me that it doesn't slow it down much. If you ask some one to pick up any rock they want to to throw at a rabbit they will choose a rock of a certain weight (mass) because it "feels" right. If you are throwing a light dart then you add an additional weight to the atlatl so it "feels" right. This last statement is not original with me. I saw an article in the Atlatl bulletin which claimed the same thing. No, I don't think the weight was intended as a counterbalance.

Hope this clears things up.


I am looking for a reference that would mention the use of atlatls by Apache Indians. I am doing this for a school project. Any help you could give me would be appreciated.

Matt Salley


Hello Matt,
I'm sorry but I can't give you anything specific to Apache use of the atlatl. According to the archaeologists, bows and arrows were a fairly new hunting weapon in North America, arriving on the scene a few thousand years ago. Presumably everyone throughout North America used atlatls before then.

Good hunting and feel free to ask more questions.


Hi Dick!
Well, I went out looking for garage sales to find used files. The very first one I went to had a whole batch of nice files and large rasps for fifty cents each. I bought 19 of them. I followed your instructions to make a stone-carving gouge chisel out of a large half-round rasp.

I used wood coals in a fire pit to get the file red hot, then I buried the whole pile of coals with the file inside it in about four inches of sand. I let it cool over night. The next day, I used sawed the rasp into two pieces, each about six inches long. Then I used a small grindstone in a power drill to grind the flat side of the rasp into a concave shape to create a gouge on one end. Then I ground down the round side on the back side of the gouge to give the gouge a bevel. I reheated the thing in wood coals to cherry red and plunged it into a quart of motor oil to cool it. (I left the tip of one end out of the oil bath to keep it soft.) Quite a thrill there. It sang to me in the tongs and the oil bath caught fire. <smile> I was prepared for all that, don't worry. I polished the chisel and tempered it in the oven. I polished it again and sharpened it on an oil stone.

I have been banging away on it for two weeks now to carve hardened dragon stone (a secret mixture of Portland cement, lime, paper fiber, house paint, and acrylic hardener). It has stayed sharp. Amazing. The soft tip is slowly taking on a nice mushroom shape as I pound on it with a soft iron hammer. Good, it makes it easy to control the carving. I am quite pleased with the chisel. I plan to make a series of gouges and a couple of scrapers in the future.

Robert DeFord


Hello Robert,
It is extremely gratifying to know that someone actually read the article on knife making and used the information to make their own tools. You made my day.


Philip G. Schroeder wrote:

Hi Dino,
Thanx for the information on your web site. Sure beats calling all my friends to ask their secrets! I have a question though. Because of the curve of the antler base, I'm assuming you have to cut the tang on the knife quite a bit shorter than most knife blades come with. Is there a formula to make sure that I don't go too short on the tang? The piece of antler (base) that I want to use is not as curved as yours, but it will only take about 2 inches of tang in a straight line. I'm afraid of heating the tang to bend it as this will reduce the temper(?). The blade I want to use is almost 5" long. Is 2" too short of a tang for that length of blade?

Thanx for any help you can give me.


Hello Phil;
A 2" tang might be too short for a 5" blade. If you're going to be utilizing the knife for rigorous uses, it might be best to have a longer tang. I would go with a 3" tang for your 5" blade. My suggestion is to find a straighter antler that will accommodate a longer tang.

Dino Labiste

I wonder if you can help me. I remember as a kid been shown how to make an arrow about 2 foot long which was propelled by a string wound round the shaft near the flights, it seems very similar to the stick launched spear you discuss on your web site.

I wonder if you know what I am describing, and if you could refresh my memory as to how to make one.

1) Were the flights mounted at an angle to create spin?
2) Was the string wound around the shaft in front or behind the flights?
3) Is there a notch in the shaft to keep the string in place before the arrow takes off?

Maybe there is a web site you know of which describes this kind of arrow you could direct me to.

I thank you in advance for any help you can offer me.



Hello Gavin,
The original article I know was in a delightful but sometimes wrong book "The Crossbow" by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, Bt.. It was written early in the 20th century. This was followed up by 2 excellent articles in the Fall, 1992 issue (#4) of the Bulletin of Primitive Technology by Paul Comstock and Tim Baker. Baker quoting Payne-Gallwey:

1. Make a pencil mark around the arrow 16 inches from the head.
2. Take a piece of hard strong string, 1/16 " in diameter and 28 " long. Tie a double knot at 1/2" from one end of the string.
3. Hold the head of the arrow towards you in your left hand, and hitch the knot firmly around the pencil mark.
4. Next, and still holding the head of the arrow towards you in the left hand, twist the loose end of the string around the first joint of the first finger of the right hand, until the inside edge of this finger is 3" from the point of the arrow along its shaft. Keep the string tightly stretched form the finger to the knot. The knot will not slip if the string is kept taut.
5. Now grip the arrow close to its had between the thumb and second and third fingers of the right hand (the first finger keeping the string tight); and turn it from you in the direction of its intended flight.
6. Hold the arrow at arms length in front of you, then draw it back and with a powerful jerk of the arm, cast it forward and high as if throwing a stone, its line of flight being at an angle of about 45 degrees to the ground.

1) Were the flights mounted at an angle to create spin?
Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey's article shows no flights (in the USA we just call them feathers) on the throwing arrows. Instead they were tapered so the center of mass was moved forward. The arrows were made from hazel shoots, 31 " long, 3/16" at the back end, 1/4" at the center and 5/16" at the front. Weight = 1/2 oz.

2) Was the string wound around the shaft in front or behind the flights?
Read above.

3) Is there a notch in the shaft to keep the string in place before the arrow takes off?
No. Just the "half hitch" and the fact that the shaft was tapered.

My dad taught me how to make "shake darts" or "shingle darts". They were made from old cedar shingles. The thin end of the shingle was about 1 1/2" wide and the shaft part was about 1/2" wide They had a notch at the balance point. They were propelled with a "whip" consisting of a stick abut 1 1/2' long with a 1' length of string on the end. A loop on the end of the string engaged the notch and the whole thing was given an underhand toss. They would go a long way.

The Indians of the Great Plains made similar tosses with what they called a "traveling arrow". This was used to launch arrows into a pondful of ducks from a concealed location.

Dan Beard's "The American Boy's Handy Book" first published in 1882, describes the "Whip bow" as shooting a conventional arrow with a small notch in it at the balance point. The whip was flexible.


I am doing some research and I saw your page on spear throwers. I wandered if you could tell me when they were first used in Europe.

Thank you for your help

Best wishes,
Kate Solomon


According to Andre Leroi-Gourham's "The Hunters of Prehistory", the spear thrower showed up perhaps during the Solutrean period (18,000 years ago) and definitely in the Magdalenian (15,000 to 9,000 years ago).


Hello Dick;
I am a sculptor experimenting with a new material. I call it Dragon Stone. It is a "secret" mixture of my own creation based on Portland cement with acrylic polymer additives and paper fiber. Anyway, I model it while in its wet stage and carve it when in its "green" stage or even when fully hardened. I plan to make a series of large fantasy sculptures for a privet park I am calling The Dragon Farm. My first real work beyond the experiments to develop the mixture is an elaborate bird bath. I am in the final carving and polishing stage of the bird bath at the moment.

I have worked with clay in the past, so all this is new for me. So, I bought a set of stone carving chisels and small rasps to work on the Dragon Stone. It is going great, but I keep needing a gouge or scraper of a different shape than I have. Since the darn things cost $15 to $20 each, I want to make my own. I remember my father used to make his own wood turning chisels and a knife or two out of old files, auto leaf springs, etc. and I found myself wondering how he did it. (He doesn't quite remember the details and says he got the info on how to do it from a co-worker who did it as a hobby.) So I turned to the Internet. Your web site gave me just the information I am looking for, down to how to use the house oven for tempering like my dad did. I will start on my own chisels and scrapers this

Thanks for being there,
Robert DeFord

My name is Renee. I received your name from a friend. I recently lost my cherished knife I have had for many years. My friend said that you have a comprehensive article published on knives used for primitive skills. I am very interested in reading it. Could I possible receive a copy by e-mail or the citation for it?

Sorry. I have plenty of opinions but nothing written. The knives I like are: the ones I make (high carbon steel, very hard and sharp but subject to rusting, $60 to $80), Swedish laminated steel "Mora" knives ($20 to $30, the best knife bargain you can every find) and a very small (2 3/4 inch folded) Gerber lockblade which is my constant companion.

Also, can you recommend a place where I could purchase 1 or 2 good knives for primitive skills; a knife with a drop blade, full tang, tapered?

You can buy Mora knives from BOSSGEAR, the part of the Boulder Outdoor Survival School which sells stuff. They have a web site and are good guys.

Places I encountered sell 'buck' or 'hunting' knives. I teach Ethnobotany and I use my knife to process plants mainly . . . make digging sticks, make fire starting implements, processing pine cones and other things for food.

For that, my choice would be a Mora knife.


Thank you!
Renee S.

Hi, Dino
On your excellent site, I saw many good photos of ancient tech being used in modern times. I am looking
for a photo of an Inuit mouth drill, where the drill is held in place with the mouth. "The "stick" is held in the mouth at one end and into an antler notch at the other. A leather thong is wrapped around the stick and attached to the antler at either end. The drill bit is at the bottom (pointy end). The drill bit is placed over the area to carve a hole. While the mouth is used to keep the drill upright, the hunter's two hands move the antler. This action moves the leather thong, which turns the drill. (only info I have). I am helping to develop a College/university transfer course, First Nations Studies 200, that will be delivered as distance education over the Web. I am based on Vancouver Island at North Island College and one of the units is on the Inuit. I am not near enough to any settlements to get this photo or the knowledge first hand and though I have tried several Inuit sites, I'm still short the photo. Can you help me?

Karin Clark


Hello Karin;
I found 2 books that contain photos of an Inuit using a mouth drill. If you can get a hold of these books, they both contain an excellent photo of what you are looking for:

1) Reader's Digest, "America's Fascinating Indian Heritage",
Editor: James A. Maxwell,
ISBN 0-89577-372-4,
Photo on Page 381

2) "The Native Americans The Indigenous People of North America",
Editorial Consultant: Colin F. Taylor,
Technical Consultant: William C. Sturtevant
ISBN 0-8317-6393-0
Photo on page 216

I hope this helps you.

Dino Labiste

I have spent the last several weeks looking for information on the treatment of wood for spear shafts to no avail. there seems to be no information on how to bend and dry the tree branch that you are using to make an adequate spear shft let alone what trees are most suited to this. I would be very grateful if perhaps you could give me some hints on constructing a spear shaft.

Also after reading your web page I have become very interested in making fire with a bow and also the atlatl and maybee I will pursue both of these fields.

Thanks again for any help


Look around! See what is growing long, skinny and reasonably straight. Us that. It is best to look in canyons, heavilly forested areas and other places where saplings have to grow tall to get any sunlight. Part of the pleasure of primitive technology is going out and looking for stuff. Cut the sapling green and heat it over a fire to make it flexible and straighten it by hand. After you do this 1000 times you will become a real expert. It is best to straighten at least 3 shafts and then tie them together while they dry. You may have to straighten them again after they dry. Don't take the bark off until they dry. Some woods straighten and stay straight. Other, such as willow, don't always stay straight.

It is VERY important to make atlatl dart shafts flexible. Otherwise they don't go straight.

Good luck,

Dear Jon,
I am about to make my first bow. I live in Daytona, Florida and was wondering if I could buy a piece of really good bow wood (if so, where?). Or do I need to find a piece myself? If so, what wood is around my area and how do I find it.

Thanx for your time,


I have made some very decent board bows out of the maple and red oak available at the store called Home Depot.

The short story on making a bow from a board is: You pick a board where the grain runs parallel to the board and pick a board where the grain does not run off the back. You glue on a handle riser. Tight Bond II is fine for this. Then you use a rasp and do it like you would for a sapling. If anything, its easier and faster. Just picking out the board can take a bit of patience. Layout is a snap.

On red oak, if you choose that wood, take a good hard look in the grain and choose a board where the porous spring growth wood is minimal.

For really good bow wood, like osage orange, you can snoop around and find premium staves for sale. They cost quite a bit. They are a bit more complicated to work. You have to remove the sapwood from the back. Try Three Rivers Archery (www.threeriversarchery.com) or ask on the forum on www.primitivearcher.com if you want to find a staff.

Since I don't know the woods in your area, I can't help you there. Locust is good I have heard. I think you have that down your way. Oaks are good. So is maple.

Good luck.,
Jon Jeffer

I was amazed at how you could make things like that. I live in VA and I was wondering what I would use to make an hoko knife here.

Your fan.


Hello in Virginia;
Use your imagination! There is no one way to do this. What kind of rock did the indegenous people of Virginia use? Start basking the local rocks until you find one with a sharp edge. Take a flintknapping class from Erett Callahan. Find out what trees and shrubs have tough, supple branches. Get your hands on stuff. I am not that familiar with the flora and geology of Virginia but I do know how important it is to have a "feel" for local materials and that is best learned by hands-on methods.

JOIN THE SOCIETY FOR PRIMITIVE TECHNOLOGY!!!! Their bulletins are a gold mine.
Call (208) 359-2400


Hello Jon;
I am doing some research on survival in the wilderness and came across your fletching webpage.
Can you tell me . . .
1. How do you make your arrowheads?
2. How do you make your bow?
Also, if you know any hints/tips on how to get sinew from small game animals, how to work it and how to make the sinew usable, that would be great.

I am hoping (in a few years), to go out on a survival trip and see how well I do. I plan on using small game traps, and various plants to get me started. Then hopfully working up to hunting larger game. The trip should last about a month or two. Please write back with any info you can provide that would help me out in my journeys.



In answer to your questions:
For practice, I suggest buying commercial field tip arrowheads. The reason is that the metal tips take a beating and don't break. Also, they are cheap. I buy 125 grain and glue them on with epoxy.
For hunting small game, you can use blunts. A primitive version is just to fire harden the tip of the shaft, and then wrap it in fiber or sinew to help prevent splitting. Cover the wrapping with pitch from a pine tree to keep it on and to waterproof it.
For bigger critters, you want points that will penetrate. Primitive options are usually bone or stone. For stone points, you need a knappable rock like chert (flint) or obsidian. Then you will need to learn to knap it. In Mesolithic Europe, the most primitive kind of arrow points were chisel shaped flint chips. They were probably slightly modified and stuck on the ends of arrow shafts. These are pretty easy to make. Flaked, biface arrow points took more learning and practice to make. You can practice on glass bottle bottoms or heavy window glass. 
Bone points are easier to learn how to make. They are not as sharp or as hard as stone. For the bone arrowheads, find a large bone. Score it lengthwise to encourage the bone to break into flat pieces. You can do this with a stone tool called a burin. Then smash it with a big rock. Pick out some triangular pointed pieces. Abrade them into arrow points using rough stones.
Be careful and use eye protection and work gloves for these operations.
For sinew, I have never used sinew from a small animal, so I can't help you.

Jon Jeffer

Hey Dick,
How's it going? I was wondering if you can explain how to make a digging stick and how to fire harden it? If you fire something do you fire harden if all over?

I can see the importance of a digging stick, especially one that is fire hardened because we have some nice onion type plants growing in the woods right now and just trying to use a regular stick, dead wood mind you, proved unsuccsessful because it kept snapping in the soil. Perhaps there is something I don't know about using the stick properly that would allow me to lever out the plant with out breaking the stick and thus allow me to use a dead piece with out having to go to the trouble of making a fire to harden a stick when I'm just looking for something to eat at the moment. Is there anything to this thought and a way of doing it with out breaking dead sticks?

Thanks, Eric


Hello Eric,
Yes, digging sticks are very important tools for wild food foragers. Many believe that the idea of "fire hardening" is a myth. If you were making a digging stick 10,000 years ago you wouldn't have a nice sharp steel tool for shaping the wood. The easiest way to put a point on a stick is to put the stick in the fire, char the part you want to remove and then scrape the char off with a rough or sharp rock. We have frequently used the same method for making "burn bowls". Put a glowing coal on top of the piece of wood you want to hollow out and blow through a hollow plant stem directly at the junction between coal and wood. When you make a burn bowl you should frequently scrape away the char. Otherwise you may burn a crack all the way through.

Back to digging sticks. Use the hardest, toughest wood available, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter at the fat end. Is it obvious that the point should be at the fat end? The Aztec used something called a "foot plow" which had a branch coming out about 10 inches above the sharp point of the digging stick. Consequently they coud put their foot on this and get some extra force.


Hi Jon;
I was wondering if there is a way to repair the limb on a selfbow I'm making. It is a locust flatbow and it turned out really nice. The problem is one of the limbs cracked and raised up while I was tillering it. I hope I can salvage it. It is a small rising crack. Can I use some sort of backing to repair it?

Please e-mail me with any suggestions you have.

Brian from North Carolina


I don't know how your limb is cracking. If you have spinters coming up on the back, you could rawhide back it. Its not that hard to do. There is a good article on how to do that in the sample articles on www.primitivearcher.com

You need a vice, glue, a couple of ace bandages, and some string. A couple of spring clamps are good too, and of course rawhide. I use the doggie chew bones.

If you have a more serious crack in the back, the bow is a goner. The limb could come off on drawing it. I have read where guys have taken the surviving limbs off of two dead bows and spliced them together at the handle and re-tillered the stronger limb. I have never done it myself.

If the crack is compression failures on the belly it means you have pulled it too strongly while tillering. If it's just one, it can be possible to cut out the failed piece and splice in a block in its place and glue it, and re-tiller.

Sometimes its better to throw in the towel. Its one of the best reasons I can think of for making two and three bows at once.

Jon Jeffer

Hi, I think your web page is the best on the web. How about making arrows the primitive way?

Thank you


Ed, thanks for the kind word, I've forwarded it on to the other primitives in our group. As to the request for an article on arrow making, I'll see if I can stir up something. Are you familiar with the Society of Primitive Technology? Their Bullitin is full of info on a variety of topics including primitive archery. We have a link to their website from primitiveways.com, or you can go directly to it at www.hollowtop.com/spt_html/spt.html. If you're in the San Francisco Bay area, let us know, we have a lot of stuff going on.


Brad Cheif wrote:

I have been thinking of how to make an atlatl, tools I would need and all that, then I read your article about using a tree branch. Needless to say this has blown my mind.

Thanks for such a great idea. I will try it. Thanks to you, I have found many good things on your site. My only regret is your group is in California, and I am in Florida, where it seems there is little information about primitive living.


Glad to hear you found our website informative and useful. Keep in touch on how your atlatl turns out.

Dino Labiste

Thanks for writting that article (Making a Bow From a Sapling). I have been trying to learn as much as possible about bow making. I have already made one, but it was pretty lack luster. Hopefully, I will learn more and make a better one next time. I was wondering, how do you keep a bow from snapping? And do you have to cut the wood when it's green?

Thank you,


You don't have to cut the wood green, but if you don't, you want to make sure it's not rotten. You read about upright fire killed saplings being almost ready to use. Never done it myself. I don't have too many burned out woods near where I live.

To keep from snapping - tiller carefully, never draw it to a higher weight than its finished draw weight during tillering. Break it in with patience - let it stand strung overnight before shooting it the first time. Never draw it past its final draw length, and as far as design goes, longer wider limbs are more robust and less prone towards snapping . . . and then sometimes they still snap. But once you get the hang of it, usually not.

Jon Jeffer

Message text written by IFTIKHAR AHMAD:

I read about how to make your own knife. Very interested. I like to know if I make a knife from file without heating up. Just grind up I still have to need heat treatment and temper my knife. #2 Can I heat up in forg file and Abel to make a knife. And what is prassocer for that. I thanks full if answer back.


Hello Iftikhar Amad;
I am always happy to answer questions because it means someone looked at our web site. I would not recommend making a knife from a file by just grinding because the steel in a file is very, very hard. If you grind with great pressure so that the file gets hot then you make the steel soft. That is bad. If you grind with gentle pressure so the steel does not get hot then it will take much time and you will wear away the grinding wheel. That's bad too.

I suggest that you anneal (soften) the file by heating it uniformly to medium red heat and then let it cool slowly in ashes. After it is cool you should be able to shape the steel easily with a grinder or file. After you have the desired shape you must heat treat it. I described the heat treatment in my article "The Shade Tree Knife Mechanic" on our web site. Remember, You must have a big enough fire to heat the entire blade uniformly.

Best of luck and please feel free to ask other questions.


(Question pertaining to atlatl and dart)

Greetings - If you got my name from the primitiveways website, check it again for pictures and info on atlatls. (If not, check the www.primitiveways.com site) there is also some info at hollowtop.com. If these aren't enough for you, e-mail me a snail mail address or fax number and i'll send you a handout on a simple design. Basically, you can use any piece of wood about 18 to 22 inches long with a handle at one end and a hook in the other. The hook fits into the back of the spear, which can be made from a 6 foot bamboo tomatoe stake from the garden shop, see the article in primitiveways.com on jiffy fletching with duct tape.

Good luck,
Norm Kidder

Hello Dick,
My name is Wade Willis and I own a rafting and kayaking compay in Alaska. I too love primitive wisdom and have been fortunate to meet elders in Alaska that still retain a vast amount of knowledge. I was reading your report on sinew and thought I would let you know that I have been taught that all sinew is not the same. For instance, Bowhead whales sinew was highly prized by the Yupik and other groups because it does not shrink and expand with moisture. It was the favored sinew in the days of war bows here in Alaska. Many a trade was made for it!

Thanks for the great articles and I look forward to learning more from you.



Hello Wade,
It's always good to find out that at least one person read that article. I like to generalize. I could also add that on land animals only the heel tendons and back tendons have useful fibers. Once I was given a great big bag of bison tendons. We're rich! To my chagrin, I found that when it dried, it was like plastic and shattered instead of shredded when I pounded it.


Atlatl stone found in southeast michigan:
About fifteen years ago we built our new home on ten acres of old growth land in oakland county, michigan (about 30 miles north of detroit). this land has never been farmed because the fence line runs on the border of my property to the north. the trees that are on the property are mostly oak and hickory and are about 75 to 100 feet tall. there are also two natural ponds on this very hilly property, it is also very stoney. while surveying the ten acres my son then fifteen found a very strange stone. at the time I believed it to be an ax head for a child. it is a beautiful polished stone with a hole drilled through the center (the hole would be the same as that of a modern day steel ax). the reason that i thought it was a childs ax head is because the hole is only about 1/2 inch in diamiter. the stone is approx 3" high x 5 1/2 " long, by 3/4" thick and narrows to a blunt tip on each end, and it looks to be flint. it is highly polished on one side and somewhat pitted on the other side, the same as that of a stone that has been left to weather for many years. about two years ago I showed it to a friend whose son is an archeologist. he told me that i have an atlatl stone and that it is about 4 to 5 thousand years old. some of the edges are chipped but it is in very good condition. I began to investigate the history of this ancient weapon and found that it was used by indians mainly in the western part of the united states. I also learned that these stones were highly prized by the warriors and were often buried with them. I have not been able to find a lot of history on early native indians in the great lakes area. there is a lot of history here abut indians; such as chiefs pontiac and sashabaw who were chippawa. but that is only within the past 200 years and that is where it ends, I don't have much else to go on, I would appreciate learning more about these aboriginal americans. i am somewhat of a history buff and an illustrator, I enjoy drawing indians and civil war charactors. I have been told by some people that my art is very good and i should sell it. I am also married to a wonderful woman who is part chippawa. I look forward to hearing from you.

p.s. I enjoyed viewing your photo gallery.


Greetings. Sounds like you have a "banner stone". There's lots of speculation over their exact function. Bob Perkins (Atlatl Bob) has a theory. You might want to check out his website - www.atlatl.com. To get in touch with folks in your area who know about stone tools, try finding some flint knapping links. I think there are some on a website - www.abotech.com. They also have a chat room where you could ask for more information. The Society of Primitive Technology also has a website, you can access it most easily at www.hollowtop.com. There have been several articles on atlatls in the Bulletin of Primitive Technology. There is also the World Atlatl Association but I don't know of a website for them, but the Secretary is Leni Clubb in Ocatillo, California, she might be in the phone directory. Another source of info for your area would be to contact Dave Wescott, who is the main contact for the Soc. of Primitve Tech. at dwescot@aol.com, he might be able to give you some names from the membership list. (he won't be home until late February at the earliest as he is running a primitve skills gathering in Arizona). That's all I can think of for now.


I'm doing a project on archery and I need to find some information on how to make a bow. Can you help me?



You don't want much. The best books on the subject are "The Traditional Bowyer's Bible", 3 volumes, ISBN #1-55821-311-2.


Dear Dick Baugh,
I just joined S.P.T. I would like to meet you. I live in Oakland. I have been interested in primitive technology since I was 4. My first project was an atlatl. I showed it at show & tell. I recently wrote a monograph about yew in Northwest coast material culture.Can you buy deer sinew at the Caning Shop?

I don't know about the Caning Shop but there are always adverts for sinew in the SPT bulletin. Asian meat markets sell beef tendon, but it is in rather short pieces.

write me back,
perry wong

At the Caning Shop they're selling beaver insicors for $1.60. Set it in antler to make a nice carving tool.


Hello Perry,
Good to hear from you. Now that you are in the S.P.T. you should also join FPT, the Friends of Primitive Technology. We have an activity almost every month here in the San Francisco Bay area. I'll forward this on to Norm Kidder who keeps the FPT mailing list and agenda.


Dear Mr. Kidder,
I happened upon several pictures on the PrimitiveWays website, and several of them indirectly suggested (you blowing darts at lizards, for example) that perhaps you might be someone I could contact with a few questions about the creation of primitive blowguns.

Our anthropology department has a spring and a fall "get-together" each year. In the fall, it's a pig roast, with the primitive projectile competition involving atlatls. However, in the spring, the weapon of choice is the blowgun. In the past, winners have employed a variety of materials (last year's winner, me, used steel tubing, with sharpened galvanized nails fletched with pieces of 3" x 5" cards and duct tape - hardly aboriginal), all of them modern. However, with my vastly accelerating interest in primitive skills and technologies, I am considering producing an "authentic" blowgun for this year's competition.

So, here're my questions. These relate to both the collection of materials for the blowgun, and the construction thereof. They are, specifically:
- What is the average length, and the average diameter, of the cane used in your blowguns?
- If you use rivercane with nodes, or bamboo, how do you remove those nodes, and to what extent do you hollow the "tube" (I assume that a smooth bore is the requirement for decent projectile velocity)?
- When you create your darts, what type of fletching do you use? I suspect that simple feathers or something of a similar variety are inadequate for capturing one's breath for the purpose of propulsion?

I appreciate any assistance you can offer, and the time you spent reading this. My knowledge in this area is slowly increasing, as a result of a number of very helpful sources (I do *love* the "Bulletin of Primitive Technology"), including those online and linked at the Primitive Ways site. But, of course, I am constantly finding that my desires to reproduce ancient technologies lag behind my skills to do so. I am currently perfecting my atlatl construction techniques, and will soon embark upon bow-making. However, there seems to be a dearth of sources on aboriginal blowguns available to the "novice." Thanks again!

Sincerely yours,
Thad Bissett


Thad, greetings from California. I do indeed have a blowgun of Cherokee type. I bought it already made from Bo Brown in Arkansas. It is rivercane about six feet long and an inch in outside diameter. Bo gave a class in making them at the Winter Count gathering in Arizona last February. The two basic steps are straightening and opening the bore. The first was accomplished carefully over the coals of a fire. The second step with a red hot piece of rebar. A possible aboriginal alternative to rebar might be to drop a coal into the hollow end, then use a blowpipe to burn through. A second possible method would be to straighten and dry the cane, then split it, clean it and reglue it. This appears to be the method used on hardwood blowguns from South America (split the wood, dig out a straight channel, then reglue). Some of these are closer to10 feet long. With cane, you do need to clean the inside to remove the nodule material. This can be done by gluing sandpaper to a dowel and using it to ream out the cane. Or, take a tin can lid, punch many holes through it and attach it around a dowel with the sharp points out. Or, put sand into the cane and run a stick in and out of it.

As to the darts, the originals that Bo made are fletched with thistle down, tied in a spiral wrap. You have to find one of the southern abos or Cherokee Indians to teach this to you. What I do is take cotton balls and tie them to a bamboo teriyaki skewer, both available at a local supermarket. With these, I can stick the skewers into my garage door so they are hard to pull out.

Good luck, and try not to put anybody's eye out !

PS - for more experienced details, you can contact Scott "Abo Boy Wonder" Jones at scott@uga.edu or mediaprehistoria@yahoo.com. Also try the chat room at abotech.com.


Thanks for everything, Mr. Kidder! I believe that I'll try the straightening/boring method, and see how that works out. I suspect that it may work pretty well, if I can just get a fire set up somewhere "legal" (living within the city limits, in an apartment, I doubt I can just go out and start a fire in the back yard, although the neighbors' reactions would be interesting, to say the least).

I have heard of the splitting and hollowing method, but I think I may hold off on that type for a while. I have some suspicions as to whether or not I could sufficiently air-proof it once I got it hollowed out. I hear that wax is an oft-used solution, though.

As to the darts, it sounds like the skewers and cotton balls will work pretty well. The nails we were using with the (ahem) modern blowguns could be sunk pretty deep into the targets, but are, of course, nowhere near primitive, except in function. I may try some small-diameter cane branches I have lying around. They've dried up, are hard, and are about 1/4" in diameter, if that. The thistle-down fletching sounds incredibly complex, and I think I may have seen it done once, but had no idea what I was watching...

In any case, thank you for you help! I'll let you know how this whole thing turns out. Hopefully, I'll have some time to experiment this weekend.

I am in boy scouts and at camp one year they had an atlatl there and we got to use it. I was fascinated with it and have been trying to make one similar to it after visiting your web site. I wondered if you have any instuctions to make an atlatl.. Please send them to me. I would be most gracious. Thank you

Brentus Perea


Hello Brentus,
The atlatl is the easy part: a stick from 1 to 2 1/2 feet long, light weight, with a good hand grip and a rounded spur on the far end that sticks out at about 45 degrees. The hard part is the dart. If it is too stiff it won't fly right. 3/8 inch dowel works well. Splice 2 pieces together so the length is about 5 feet.

The Aborigines of Australia splice the two parts of their spears with a lap joint, glue it and bind it with sinew or strong string.

Put some arrow shaped feathers and a hollow socket to engage the atatl spur on the back end,

Good luck,

I took Archery in High School, and well, I'm not a good shot. The problem is that I'm left handed (and left eye dominant), but unlike rifle shooting, I can't get comfortable holding the bow in the right hand and drawing with the left. So, holding the bow in the left hand (as right-handed shooters should), I am sighting with my non-dominant eye. Oh well . . . so is my curse!


Most people who shoot primitive, shoot instinctually, as opposed to modern bow hunters who tend to use pin sites. For instinctual shooting, you want to just look at the target with both eyes open, and shoot at it a lot until you start to get a sense of where the arrow will go. Start pretty close up, don't worry about it, and let your subconscious mind do the learning. You want to draw consistantly. People pick an "Anchor" point. Often its bringing the pulling hand back to a specific part of the face - like wrist bone to lips, or index finger to the corner of the mouth. If your draw and release are consistant, and you work this way, you can become quite accurate.

Jon Jeffer

I was looking around the web for some info on atlatls and I happened to stumble on to your site.  I read it over and found a link to your email address at the bottom. I was wondering if you could send me some plans so that I might construct my own atlatl, similar to the ones I see on your sight.



I do have a couple places Ben could go with more information about atlatls. One is http://www.atlatl.com home to BPS engineering and Atlatl Bob. Some good info on history and atlatl mechanics. The other is WAM, the World Atlatl Magazine <http://wam@atlatl.net/>http://wam@atlatl.net/ , an ezine with several informative articles also put out by BPS. The SPT journal has a lot of info, but I do not know where in the issues they are at.

Chuck Kritzon

I don't know personally how well this works, but here goes. You can make a flint knapping billet by sawing off a piece of dowel or broom handle as long as you want your billet to be. Then go to the hardware store and buy a copper pipe cap ( the solder-on type) that's just a rat's hair smaller than the dowel. Slightly sand the dowel 'til the cap is just a LITTLE bigger than the inside of the cap. Pound the cap down onto the dowel 'til it's tight. I suppose you could use some type of glue, also. I've been told by a coupla knappers that this works fairly well, but is totally different to knap with than antler. Not very primitive, but if it works, it works.

Hello Jon;
I harvested an oak tree yesterday, and unfortunately the piece was 4" thick. I have split it and it is now 3" thick. Do you think it can still be made into a bow?

Chris Aloia


You can make a bow out of it. This just meant that you need to take off more wood. If you have a good saw you might even get 2 bows out of it.

When you say "thick" you mean front to back, right?

What you need to do is get a staff that is about as tall as yourself, and about 2" wide. If the harvested tree is green/fresh, you will want to reduce the thickness to say about 3/4" (a bit thicker at the handle) and then clamp the staff to something straight and flat to let it dry out.

I have a couple of read oak bows. The wood is strong. Limb thickness on a 71" long 2" wide flat bow was less than a half inch at the thinest part.

Good luck,
Jon Jeffer

Dear Primitiveways,
My name is Jesse Polsley. I'm 14, and I like to study survival, and I want to become very good at making my own weapons, and be able to hunt, and kill wild game with them, I would like to someday live off the land, and I would like to learn how to learn how to make my own weapons, and I was wondering if you kinda tell me how? I would greatly appreciate it if you could help me. My e-mail is woodsmen39@hotmail.com

Jesse P.


Hi Jesse,
Lesson number 1: Be patient!

Lesson number 2: Find other people nearby who also want to learn. You learn a lot more when you have someone to share knowledge with.

Lesson number 3: Join the Primitive Technology Society and read their bulletins cover to cover.

Lesson number 4: Don't give up. My Dad and I tried lighting a fire with a bow drill when I was 8 years old. We failed. I finally succeeded when I was 35 years old.

Lesson number 5: Read some good books. I recommend books written by Larry Dean Olsen, Bart and Robin Blankenship, John and Geri McPherson and Mors Kochansky.


Hello Stephen,
It's always gratifying to know that someone looked at our web site. Here are answers to some of your questions:

I have come across references to arrows with only two fletchings (including your neat duct-tape item). In your opinion, is there a significant difference in accuracy compared to a conventional three-fletched arrow?

The natives of the south eastern United States made arrows with a two feather fletch. I think that part of the reason that it was successful was because it had a strong spiral. A neat design. Rip off 1/2 of one side of two feathers. Strip off 1/2 of the quill where you pulled off the plume. Bind the two with sinew on opposite sides of the shaft, top and bottom.

Does the accuracy suffer? I don't know. I'm not a hunter, but if I were I'd take no chances and use a 3-fletch.

For use on a bare primitive bow should the nock run parallel to the plane of the fletching, or at right angles to the fletching? (ie: is it best for the fletch to hit your hand or the bow as you shoot it?)

I don't know.

I have access to hunting areas which are covered with very thick vegetation. I find that the bushes catch on my bowstring and tear at my fletchings (and block the flight of my arrows!). What is the shortest practical bow and drawlength you have come across? (I want to use the bow for deer or pigs at ranges of up to, say, thirty yards).

The natives of California hunted with fairly short sinew backed bows 48 inches ( 1.22 meters). The draw length was maybe 24 inches (.611 meters) Draw weight was about 50 lb. The deer that they hunted were rather small, but they also hunted elk and bear. I and a friend of mine have made small bows like this and they shoot OK, but not quite as enegetic as a larger bow.

Have you got any interesting thoughts on hunting in thick scrub? I think that traps are probably the best option. The game is there, but boy can it be hard to get at.

As I said before, I'm not a hunter.

I have spent hours playing with the concept of a simple trap for big animals that will hold them alive. I would really like to have a design for a simple foot trap that could hold a large wild boar without injuring it beyond repair. (I also could catch livestock or a dog in one place I go). Any ideas?

The quarterly magazine, "Wilderness Way" had an article on primitive leg-hold traps. I loaned the magazine to a friend, but should get it back in a week or so.

I know virtually nothing about the internet. If I subscribe to a group like Primitive Skills does it require internet browser access to receive their mailings ? Does it cost money other than email connection time?

I don't think any money is needed.

Would you mind receiving further emails from me?

I'm very happy to correspond with you.

If you or any of your associates would be interested in hearing about how I made my primitive archery gear, I would be happy to share the information.

I am a bow maker myself so please tell me more. Check out "the trading post"> dick baugh>bowscraper. I have received a lot of satisfaction in developing this tool which is used by many bow makers in the USA. Please send us all you can on your bow making experiences.


Jon Jeffer,
How do you suggest splitting the freshly cut sapling? I once tried an elm tree, and I used a draw knife to split it. I held the sapling vertically and pounded the draw knife down. I couldn't believe how hard it was to split the thing!! Later I read in a book "Inside Wood" that elm fibers are very intertwined and it is especially hard to split. I also once tried splitting a larch tree that was left standing after a fire. This was also incredibly hard. I guess it was fire hardened or something. How do you split the sapling?

Jon Reisman


Hi Jon,
I have had that experience too with Birch. Someone on the forum list (www.primitivearcher.com) told me afterwards that the fibers are interwoven or something like that. Elm is supposed to be like that too.

My piece of birch was a log about 7 inches across, and I had at that thing with wedges and a maul, and finally ended up using a hand saw to cut through the wood fibers that were going cross wise across the split.

The easy answer, I think, is a band saw. I don't have one. I have a table saw, and I have had mixed experiences using that to trim staves. It definately does not like it when the wood gets out of alignment with the blade and I have a healthy respect for power tools.

I think it is really dependent on the wood though. I have had other woods split relatively easily, just using a big knife and a baton. Hazel was easy. So was Maple.

I have not been able to split a sapling like that and get two useable staves though. That had been beyond me. Usually it ends up being more like trimming off the belly half of the staff. I think most people like hatchets for this. I find that I have more control over a big knife, and I have used kitchen knives and an old Bowie knife for this.

For what its worth, elm is supposed to be a very good white wood for bows.

Jon Jeffer

My Dad is making a bow from Yew wood that has dried a year. My question is how to make a bow string out of sinew and how do you back sinew on your bow.

Monte in Olympia


Hi Monte,
Those are questions with complicated answers. I would strongly suggest that you buy the 3 volume "Traditional Bowyer's Bible". It is a gold mine of bow making information. If you are going to sinew a yew bow you would like to do it right the first time.

Good hunting,

(Question pertaining to atlatl darts)

Darts are a more complicated matter. The ethnographic record shows darts rangeing from 2 to 10 ounces. I recommend about 3 ounces. Length: 4 1/2 feet for long distance, 6 1/2 feet for accuracy. The dart MUST flex for a decent trajectory. Small feathers on the back should be used. Heavy end in front.

Dart Materials: Arundo donax (a bamboo-like reed native to the Mediterranean) is plentiful near Santa Barbara. Cut a piece about 1/2 inch dia at the base. Use heat to straighten it.
Also, you can use a 3/8 inch hardwood dowel from the lumber yard. Select dowels which have a straight grain. You will probably have to splice two together.

Message text written by IFTIKHAR AHMAD:

This is Iftikhar Ahmad. I went to the store to buy steel to make a knife. I found 4041 alloy steel. Is it good steel to make a knife.

Thank you.


4041 is, I believe, a stainless alloy steel. I would not recommend it for two reasons. Stainless steels are difficult to heat treat (you must use a very high temperature and the temperature must be very carefully controlled) and only the most expensive stainless steel will stay sharp longer than plain carbon steel.

I would suggest that you buy a new file or obtain a worn out file of the proper size, heat it red hot and let it cool slowly to soften it, shape the blade and then heat treat it. File steel is fairly easy to heat treat.


Jon, I really enjoyed your detailed information on how to build a bow from a sapling. I actually made a pretty good first bow. I'm not sure what the draw weight is. However, it shoots the arrow pretty fast and is fairly stout pulling it back to full draw. How is the best way to determine draw weight? Can I purchase a scale that measures the draw weight? Do you recommend using some sort of backing on a bow?

Please e-mail me back with any helpful hints.

Brian Rader


Hi Brian,
I measure draw weight on a tiller stick. It's actually a useful tool for tillering a bow.

Mine is a 2x4 with a U-shaped notch cut out of one end large enough to rest the bow's handle in. Then the board is marked in one inch increments. Little notches are cut on one side.

If you stand the thing on one end with the U-shaped notch upwards, the bow's handle goes into that. Then you can pull the bow string down and put it into the notches at the 1 inch intervals. This lets you stand back and look at the bow when you are tillering it.

To measure the draw weight, put the tiller stick onto a bathroom scale and pull the bow string down to a desired draw length. You can read the draw weight off the scale and the draw length off of the marked increments on the tiller stick.

This actually lets you tiller a bow to a desired draw weight. You just keep pulling it to just below the desired draw weight (never past it) and tillering the limbs until it gets to be about 5 pounds more than the final weight at the final draw length. The last 5 pounds you lose with sanding and breaking in.

Jon Jeffer

Growing up in Kentucky, some 50 something years ago, I made arrowheads from steel bottle caps by flattening the metal and shaping to a broad arrowhead shape. I used goldenrod stems for the arrow shafts, reinforcing the notch with a wrapping of plant fiber. I used chicken feathers for fletching, bound on by plant fiber and glued with model cement. I used a hickory bow, carved from a tobacco stick, strung only when used. I learned the hard way about an arm shield and used the tongue of an old leather boot with holes about the edges to lace on. I read an article about fabrication of arrowheads from metal. In an emergency a "tin can" could be pressed into service. I enjoy your approach and entrust this will aid your store of knowledge.

Bill Tyler


Dear Bill Tyler;
Thanks for your practical description of how to make a working bow and arrow out of what's at hand.

Bob Gillis

My name is Rick Son and I live in Visalia, CA. Found this website searching how to make a knife sheath. Eee-haaaw! Man, am I enjoying this site. I am going to try my hand at this sheath pattern you were so gracious in letting others see. I would also like to join your group if that is at all possible? I have been interested in these type of skills for a long time. I have a friend here in Visalia we call the modern day mountainman. As about this time of year he goes and spends time in the great lonesome. Last year, I watched him make a canoe style bullboat. We then took it to the lake and tested it out and it floated great. So off to the Yellowstone River. He went to follow the Lewis and Clark route. Got caught in the rapids though and lost the boat, but that is a whole nother story! Well, do you think I can use rawhide to make that sheath? If you have any info on your group I would like some.

Thank you,
Rick L. Son


Hello Rick,
Glad you enjoyed the site. Our local group, The Friends of Primitive Technology is very inclusive, all you have to do is show up. The easiest way would be to show up at one of the events we have scheduled, see if you like it. In two weeks (May 24, 25, & 26), we are having our Rattlesnake Rendezvous, which is done through the East Bay Regional Parks. It is a stone age weekend camping trip, no metal, and as primitive as we can make it in these times.

The international organization is the Society of Primitive Technology, see the links on the site. The SPT is a real treasure trove of information, membership dues are quite reasonable.

I don't see why rawhide wouldn't work for a knife sheath. Give it a try and let me know.

Bill Scherer

Chris Norden wrote:

Hi, my name is Chris and I live in Australia. I am 13 years old and am interested in bowyering. I have a few questions but firstly I would like to congratulate you and your associates on a great site. I found it while looking at how to make bows (longbows in particular). Here are my questions:

Does it matter if the bow is not perfectly straight? Will this affect the accuracy? I ask this because I live in Western Australia about 170 kms south of Perth ( I don't know what that is in miles but it takes 2 hours travelling time when you follow the speed limits). In this area there is no straight trees. Not suitable species anyway. I have made one bow (first serios attempt) that has a draw back weight of 15 pds at 32".

This species is the best species my Dad has come across (he made bows as a hobby in the same area from when he was 8-16). Anyway, I have decided to make a stronger bow that is powerful enough to go hunting with. I have already cut down a stave that has plenty of power and is about 7' 6". This is not perfectly straight but seems reasonable. I also do a rough tillering that is not perfect. Will the slight uneven bend on both sides affect the accuracy much?

Thanks for your time and any info will be greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,
Chris Norden


Hi Chris,
A lot of natural wood is bent. Extreme bends and twists make tillering really challenging, and might be difficult for a first few projects. Some people love to make bows from these challenging staves.

In general a little bit of bend is not a problem. If the staff bends in one plane that is no problem at all. You can even use this natural 'reflex' in the staff to get a bow that shoots a bit faster and hits a bit harder.

To do this you would tiller on the convex side of the bend. The bow will loose some of this reflex while its being tillered and broken in, but it will still give you extra umpf. The trick here (like everywhere) is to go slowly.

Otherwise, for staves that ate a bit snakey, the rule of thumb is that they are okay as long as the string crosses the handle area of the bow.

Propeller twist in the grain can be a problem. A little bit is okay, and I have heard people say even extreme twist tillered right does not effect accuracy.

One other thing I wanted to just toss out - maybe to take up with your dad as a project: You can splice two shorter billets into one staff if you can't find a staff long enough. A 'V' splice or a 'Z' splice works nicely. Many glues work but epoxy is pretty much bomb proof.

Best of luck,
Jon Jeffer


To Mr Jeffer,
Sorry to bother you again but there are some things I need to clarify. Most of the instructions and articles about bows that I have read from the internet say that the curved side after splitting is going to be the back of the bow, and the flat side is going to be the belly of the bow. I want to make an English Longbow and while surfing the net yesterday I came across an example that had the back of the bow being the flat side and the belly of the bow being the curved side. Which way around is the best way (strongest/most powerful)? Also, the same bow had linen backing. I presume it was glued on. I'm thinking of using calico (material) to back the bow. What be a good, relatively cheap and common glue that I could use to stick on the calico backing? Any other pointers would also be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your time,
Chris Norden

By the way: Your articles on fletching and how to make a bow from a sapling are by far the best I've read and I've probably read 15-20 articles on the same thing. Thanks again.


Hi Chris,

No worries.

You ask about flat and curved. What you are talking about technically is called a "crown". That means that the profile of the back or belly (if you cut throught the staff and viewed it in section would be concave.

On a sapling bow, the back will almost always have a crown. Rememer what is important for the back is strength under tension. For this, on a self bow, usually you want to make the back out of a single growth ring. If the staff is split out of a trunk, of a pretty big diameter tree, this could be pretty close to flat.

I have never made an English Long Bow. From reading, I know they are narrow, have a flat back and a crowned belly. Not every wood can take the strains in this design. The design that tends to accomodate less than perfect wood and still give you a pretty hard hitting bow will be long, wide limbed and have a belly and back as close to flat as you can get them.

For glueing on most backings, I use Tightbond II, which is a water resistant wood working glue. For rawhide backing, I use hide glue or unflavored gelatine mixed very thick. I use ace bandages to wrap the limbs while the backing dries.

Jon Jeffer

Hi, I went to the "PrimitiveWays" website to learn how to make a Cordage Backed Bow . . . . my problem is that I can't find black locust wood anywhere, so, my question is: can you tell me another wood type? Or if for some reason you know the Spanish name for "black locust", would you give it to me, please?  Because I am from Spain.

It would be nice if you could answer my questions . . . . sorry about my horrible English.

Thank you,
Francisco Monaco

P.S. Your site is great!


Hola Francisco;
A que tu Inglés es major que me espaZol. Me espaZol es muy pocho. El major idea en el artíulo tratando del "Cordage Backed Bow" es que los "Eskimos" usaban una espalda de mecate hecho de tendón en sus arcos porque no tenían madera fuerte y no tenían pegamento (glue). Yo pienso que es posible usar qualquier madera con una espalda de mecate.

El nombre botánico de "black locust" es "Robinia pseudoacacia" y es indígena al centro y sudeste de Los Estados Unidos. La madera del centro (heartwood) es mu duro y la del exterior (sapwood) is muy débil.

Deculpe para los méxicanismos,
Dick Baugh

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