The nock of the dart is the dimple on the end that engages the atlatl peg. It is the simplest part of the dart to prepare (mine rarely take more than a few seconds to make), but understanding how it works can mean the difference between a dart you can use for years and one that breaks on the first throw.
On most atlatls, the connection between the nock and the atlatl peg is the only point of contact between the atlatl and dart. This means that all of the energy generated by the throwing motion is transferred to the dart in this one place, which obviously creates a lot of stress. In addition, because the atlatl peg rotates in the nock during the throw, there are lateral forces at work which can break out the sides of the nock. To counter this, the nock you make will depend on three things: the material of the dart, the diameter of the shaft, and the atlatl style you use (whether it has a rounded or pointed peg).
For a wooden shaft, you can either drill or shave the nock.
Drilled nocks are just that -- drilled into the end of the shaft. They work best with larger diameter shafts and with rounded atlatl pegs. Don't use a drill bit the same diameter as the shaft - you need to leave some wood on the sides for strength. If you're using a 1/2" diameter shaft, you should use a 3/8" bit or smaller. And you should never drill deeper than 1/4" into the shaft. The purpose of the nock is not to hold the dart onto the peg, any more than a golf tee actually holds a golf ball. The nock is there so the peg has a secure seat during the throwing motion.
Shaved nocks are made with a knife, and work best with smaller shafts and pointed atlatl pegs. To make one, simply put the point of your knife blade into the center of the end of the shaft and start rotating it. Lean the blade down a little so you end up with a shallow "V" shaped nock. This leaves more wood on the sides of the nock and allows the pointed peg to rotate without catching against anything.
After making the nock, you can wrap the last 1" of the shaft with sinew. This keeps the wood fibers from splitting because of the stress.
For bamboo or rivercane dart shafts, you have more options. Since they are already hollow, you can simply use them as is, being careful to wrap the end of the shaft to prevent splitting. This won't work with a pointed atlatl peg, though, and may not work with small rounded pegs -- the peg will be trapped inside and can't rotate out during the throw. There are two things you can do about it (without adding anything):
You can also make a nock insert. This was done quite a bit with arrows as well. To prevent the shaft of the dart from breaking under the strain, a nock was often made out of antler or hardwood. A peg was carved on the bottom that would fit into the end of the shaft, and a drilled or shaved nock was made on the other end of the insert. It was then glued and wrapped into place.
Another problem I've encountered with bamboo and cane is that sometimes the nock end is simply too small in diameter to make a satisfactory nock (although still stiff enough to work). Cutting the shaft down to a wider place would leave it too short to be usable. What I've done is made a sleeve for the end. Take a piece of scrap bamboo or hardwood about 1/2" long, drill out the center so that it fits snugly over the end of the shaft, and make your nock on the end. Glue and wrap it into place, and you're finished.
Revised February 28, 2003