Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site
February 3, 2003
The shaft wrench is a tool that has probably been around as long as the atlatl. While a dart shaft can be hand-straightened to a considerable degree, there are some situations where only a wrench will work.
The wrench itself is simple, consisting of a hole for the shaft to fit into and a handle for leverage. The oldest one I'm aware of was found at a Clovis Culture site in Arizona. It is made of mammoth bone and dates back 11,500 years.
Mammoth Bone Wrench
We can tell how large their dart shafts were from the hole. The maximum for this wrench would have been 3/4" diameter, which is about the largest I've been able to work on (and throw). Wrenches from different times and cultures and modern ones are usually smaller, about 1/2" in diameter.
The ancient ones were usually made out of bone, but hardwood and antler work just as well. My personal wrench is made from a piece of whitetail deer antler, about 6" long with a curve to fit my palm.
Using a Shaft Wrench
Shaft wrenches are simple to use. Put the dart shaft in the hole to where the bend is, put the wrench handle in your palm, and wrap your fingers over the top of the dart shaft.
Don't squeeze too fast or too hard, or you'll break the shaft. Squeeze it like pliers, with a steady pressure. Then slide up the shaft about 1/4" and do it again. Work on both sides of the bend, but don't try to do it all at once. The object isn't to force the bend out, it's to persuade it out.
A shaft wrench works much better with green wood than with dried wood. Since the bending pressure is so concentrated when using a wrench, dried wood is much more likely to break.
Making a Shaft Wrench
Shaft wrenches are simple to make. You need a piece of bone, antler, or hardwood at least 6" long, 1" wide, and 1/2" thick. You can leave it the same width all the way down the handle (like the rib wrench or wood wrench) or make the handle smaller so it fits your hand better (like the mammoth wrench). It's up to you.
Drill a 1/2" hole straight through from the top, then tip the drill sideways to about a 30 degree angle.
Drilling the Hole
This helps hold the shaft in place and spreads the pressure of bending over a wider area, which prevents breakage. If you look at the other examples, you'll see they're done this way as well.
Smooth off the edges around the hole and on the handle, and you're ready to go!
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