Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site
February 4, 2003
I like to make my shafts out of local woods. It's available, it's authentic, and it's satisfying. While some woods may be superior for dart-making, chances are the ancient people in your area didn't have access to them, so if you're trying to do things the way they did, why cheat from the start?
I think green (live) wood is the best for making shafts, as it can be worked and straightened the easiest, but freshly cut trees (up to about 2 weeks) work fine as well. Don't pass up branches knocked down by a storm because you weren't on the scene when it happened.
Most woods will work fine, as long as they are strong enough to be a shaft and capable of being straightened. I have had a lot of success with ash, willow, maple, and elm so far. The only two woods I haven't been able to use are cottonwood (too soft) and bur oak (too gnarled, couldn't straighten it). Look for shafts (saplings, shoots, or branches) no more than 1" in diameter, no less than 3/8", and no shorter than 4' long.
1) Cut the shafts, trimming off the side branches and the top. I usually don't get more than 6 shafts at a time without a good reason (in my case, a storm-fallen tree. I gathered about 100 branches over a week's time).
2) Within an hour of cutting, bundle them together. They'll keep this way for a couple of weeks if necessary.
3) When you're ready to start working them, peel the bark off and cut any braches off flush with the sides. Hand-straighten them somewhat and bundle them tightly together with string. They'll begin to dry quickly with the bark off, so make it tight. Put them aside for a few hours to dry and set a little.
4) Straighten them again, using a shaft wrench on any trouble spots. Bundle them tightly again and let them sit overnight.
5) Straighten them again, being careful around knots where side branches were. The grain runs differently here, so it's a weak spot in the wood. Bundle them tightly again and let them sit for 3 days or so.
By now, the shafts are about as close to straight as you're going to get them. Don't worry if they're not perfectly straight - as long as the ends line up, they will fly fine.
6) Straighten them one last time, bundle them back together, and put them aside to dry. You can start making them into darts right away or leave them sit for 6 months or so. Keep them away from heat and humidity, though, or they'll warp.
If there are any trouble spots that you couldn't straighten out, you can just cut them off if they're by an end. If it's near the middle, though, there's nothing you can really do about it. It's hard to cull out some of your shafts, but if they won't make darts, there's no point in keeping them. You can use them to make foreshafts or something else.
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