This page is part of the official ARCHIVE COPY of the pioneering but abandoned Thrower website on knife throwing. Copyright and details

A Short Essay On


Date: Fri, 6 Feb 1998 17:16:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Spears

Sometime ago I started putting together notes on easily made weapons and started off with spears since most survival books make this out to be quite simple. Just grab a length of wood and sharpen one end and off you go. Not quite.

Assuming that you do have a handy forest nearby, you won't see that many 6ft+ lengths of timber of suitable width just growing from the ground, not anywhere I've been, anyhow. If you do find something without needing to chop down a tree, it probably won't be straight so you have to beath it. This involves gently roasting the wood over a fire or in hot ashes to make it temporarily supple. You'll probably have to hang it to dry a day or so.

For a throwing spear, just sharpening a point on and throwing it may not be enough -it will probably yaw like crazy and you may miss your mark by a foot. Although fletching is sometimes used, most spears are stabilized by drag, for which the front half needs to be heavier than the rear. For a "self" spear (one made of a single piece of wood) this is can be done by tapering the shaft towards the butt, or better still selecting a length of wood that is already tapered. Captain Cook's expedition to Hawaii acquired a very nice example of such a spear, which must have been the product of many hours carving, particularly since the owner was unlikely to have had metal tools.

A simpler option is to fit a heavier head or a weight just behind the head. Flint heads are well know but one can also carve a blade from wood, maybe gumming flakes of flint or shell to it. Fixing a knife as a point will do but the blade length handy for a knife is often too short for a spear and any cross guard will limit penetration. Traditional Boar spears penetrated at least ten inches, and Bear spears more than double this. A point can be carved from wood, and fire hardened in some cases, but if for a throwing spear ensure it has sufficient weight. Other materials include flint, obstinan, glass, shell, slate, bone, horn, antler or metal, either on their own or added to a wooden head.

Some times your intended meal will have other ideas and will want to come up and inform you of its differing opinion. In such a situation a thrusting spear is useful, no matter what weapon you were using. Balance isn't a problem but penetration still is, but this time too much rather than too little. Some beasties have been known to impale themselves further onto a spear or sword attempting to get the hunter. The solution to this is some form of arrest, usually a crossbar a foot or more down the shaft. Having more than one point automatically limits penetration, as can be seen with the Chinese Tiger Fork. Thrusting spears are also used for hunting, usually from ambush. A thrusting spear will lack any barbs so that it can be easily withdrawn for a second thrust or to be used against another target. A throwing spear may be barbed, and in a hunting situation this may be done for two reasons:-

Firstly it is done to keep a poisoned blade in the animal's body long enough for the poison to take effect. Often the head detaches so that the shaft (a product of quite a lot of work) will not be lost or damaged as the animal escapes through the brush or tries to rub the head loose. Having a wound partially plugged by a shaft reduces the rate of blood loss, but the movement of the shaft will also inhibit clotting, prolonging bleeding time. Heads are also barbed to prevent an animal escaping from the spear head when the shaft of the spear is held or the weight of the shaft will hinder escape. The most familiar examples of this are fishing spears (which may be thrust as well as thrown).

Sometimes the head will be designed to detach but will be on a line so that the fish/ seal/ hippo can be hauled in once exhausted. The drag of the detached shaft through the water may further tire the animal and sometimes a bladder is added to increase this effect. This technique is also used with arrows. Because fish are often hard to hit, many fishing spears have multiple points and this strategy may also be used on small elusive furred and feathered game too. If suitable materials are available, and the above design principles are borne in mind, quite effective spears can be made.

A useful trick that can be applied to spears is to tie a loop of cordage to the shaft and slip the first two fingers through the loop when throwing. This increases energy transfer to the shaft and was known to the Greeks as the Amentum. A variant of this is to tie the cord with a half hitch, either near the centre of gravity or the butt. Using this knot allows the cord to remain with the thrower after the spear is cast. Miners in West Riding, Yorkshire used this method to throw 31" long drag stabilised arrows, and ranges commonly exceeded 200 yards. Conventional arrows can be thrown by the same method and this maybe a useful hunting technique should your bow be broken. Cold Steel make a Boar spear with quite practical head dimensions. They also make a similar javelin without an arrest. Boar spears were the Swiss army knives of european polearms -being used for hunting and war and also being useful walking and wading aids, carrying poles etc.

Once again, not to be outdone, our friend Lee Fugat has just written something pertinent about spears to the thrower mailing list!

Date: Sat, 7 Mar 1998 13:38:19 EST
Subject: Re: About throwing

Hi Harry and All! Funny you should mention spears I just started making short javelins with rawhide wraps and fur etc. for sale (I'll send anybody a flyer iffen y'a'll send me a SASE) but the ones I use for practice are real easy to make. Take one of those cheap leaf shaped throwers [I believe Lee is referring to the "Blazing Arrow" throwing knife, ed.]. I make mine from industrial band saw blade from the local mills.

Grind down the handle end to a even 3/4 for about 3 to 4 inches, get some 3/4 inside diam. alluminum pipe 1/8 inch wall thickness is good. Now go the the furniture making section of the hardware store and sort thruogh the 3/4 inch by 4 foot birch or ash dowells til you find the straightest grain ones. Take a saw and cut a slot in the end of the dowell to snuggly match the handly of the thrower you just modified. Coat the slot and the inside of the 4 to 5 inch long piece of pipe(always cut the pipe 1 inch longer than the slot for strength) tap the pipe down onto the dowell first then , with a block of wood and a mallet force the blade down into the slot, drill a 1/8 inch hole thruogh the pipe , dowel, and blade for a retaining pin (optional, mine don't come out ) I throw these as is easily 75 to 80 feet with certainty of hitting my 1 foot log round target.

If this interests you, please check out our Primitive Weapons and Technology page, and if you really want to throw that spear far or hard, don't fail to look into the ATLATL.

Mail to mjr, goto Survival, or back to Thrower

This page is part of the official ARCHIVE COPY of the pioneering but abandoned Thrower website on knife throwing. Copyright and details