Atlatl Construction

Known as the Atlatl (pronounced at-lat-al or atal-atal) in the America's (Woomera in Australia) is an ancient spear-throwing weapon that uses leverage to achieve great velocity and distance of the projectile (up to 280m). It was developed in Europe more than 20,000 years ago and in North America about 12,000 years ago, well before the bow and arrow and is probably one of mankind's first mechanical inventions. Atlatl comes from Nuttal's (1891) translation of two Aztec (Nahautl) words - one meaning 'throwing' and the other 'on water'.

The Spanish Conquistadors who accompanied Don Hernán Cortés (1485 – 1547) into Mexico in 1520 AD, were terrified of this ancient weapon, despite wearing armour and having firearm technology. One Conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo (1492 – 1585), wrote about his experiences in "The Conquest of New Spain" in 1521 and he called it the most feared of all Aztecs weapons. The Aztecs used their atlatl's up to a hundred metres away to accurately hit the Spanish, but probably not penetrating their armour (as demonstrated >> here by Mike Loades). Points on the darts were obsidian barbed, so they had to be drawn out the other side in order to be removed.

The atlatl itself is a stick about 300mm-500mm long, with a handgrip at one end and a "spur" or hook at the other end. The spur is a point (wood or antler point) that fits into a cavity at the back of a 1.5m - 2m long dart that can be fletched. The dart is suspended parallel to the atlatl, held by the tips of the fingers at the handgrip. It is then launched through a sweeping arm and wrist motion, similar to a tennis serve.

Here I demonstrate making three simple Atlatl's that use slightly different grip and throwing technique for distance or accuracy.

The materials needed are:

  • Atlatl - any wood 600mm x 100mm x 30mm
  • Horn or antler point spur (or 9mm wooden dowel)
  • Leather for grip
  • Cord or Sinew (or natural twine)
  • Tree Resin glue (or PVA glue / contact adhesive)
  • Dart - 1.5 - 2m bamboo canes
  • Fletching- feathers

Basic Atlatl Shape

"Power" Grip Atlatl

The shape of the "Power" grip version can vary, however the main objective is to create an Atlatl that can be held in a handshake grip. My one will allow the dart to rest on bridge section, by the handle.

Depending on design, no particular detail is required, however for my design a groove should be carved in the bridge section to allow the dart to rest easily. For aesthetic value and comfort, I have put leather around the grip.

"Hybrid" Grip Atlatl


The shape of the "Hybrid" is sword-like with a hole in handle end for the index finger to be inserted.

No particular detail is required, other than for aesthetic value and grip comfort. I have put a band of leather around the grip.

"Split Finger" Grip Atlatl


The "Split Finger" grip is the most basic "sword-like" shape.


A finger strap is needed either side of the Atlatl; these loops should be large enough to easily be able to insert the index and middle fingers.


Drill a 9mm hole in the top of Atlatl at an angle of 45 degrees (it should not go through to the other side). The Spur should fit tightly into the hole and should be glued in.
Once the spur is glued into position, it is recommended to bind and glue cord around it to give it additional strength.
Once complete the point where the spur joins to the Atlatl should look something like this.


"Power" Grip Atlatl

The Atlatl should be gripped in a "handshake" style and the dart held with the index finger.

"Hybrid" Grip Atlatl


Place the index finger through the hole and use it and the thumb to hold the dart.

"Split Finger" Grip Atlatl


Place the index and middle finger through the leather straps. Use the middle finger and thumb to hold the dart. This grip should produce a more accurate throw.

The Atlatl is not a toy - please use safely & responsibly

(For more information on the Atlatl > World Atlatl Association)


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