If you’re arming yourself up for survival, there are few tools to compete with an all-purpose throwing spear. The history of the spear dates back some 400,000 years—at least. According to recent research, the technology may actually date back half a million years. Throughout history, the spear’s simplicity, power, and utility have made it one of the most common personal weapons and hunting tools. From the basic Stone Age throwing spear, such weapons have been derived as the lance, the halberd, the glaive, and the pike.
Oh, and here’s a cool bonus fact! We tend to think of our species as the only one on the planet to use tools, but that’s just not true. Scientists have discovered that certain chimpanzees and orangutans use throwing spears for hunting! Check it out. This astounding discovery has helped to shed light on how our own ancestors may have developed the earliest throwing spears.
But enough history—let’s get onto the meat of our article and talk about how you can make your very own throwing spear at home using primitive tools! When it comes to backwoods survival and off-the-grid living, this is one of the handiest tools you will ever create. It’s a fast and easy project and there are tons of options for customization. It’s a good one for a beginner too. Hey, if a chimp can do it, so can you.
Decide What Type of Throwing Spear You Want to Make
First things first—there are quite a few different types and variations of throwing spears. To figure out what kind of design is best, ask yourself what you want to use your spear for. Do you plan to use it for defense? Hunting? Fishing?
For example, a javelin is one of the most basic types of spears, with a single sharp tip. Javelins date back to the lower Paleolithic, and have been used as weapons by ancient Greeks, Romans, and Norse soldiers, Zulu warriors, and many others around the globe and throughout history. Javelins have been replaced by firearms in the modern military, and are seldom used anymore for hunting. Nonetheless, they remain popular for sport; javelin throw is a track and field game which is part of the men’s decathlon and women’s heptathlon.
Another popular type of spear for survival is the multi-pronged spear. This type of spear is designed for fishing, and usually has three prongs. It is also referred to as a trident.
A barred spear is a spear which contains a crossbar underneath the blade (or several). The crossbar may be built right into the spearhead, or it may be affixed using some rope. This type of spear is used for hunting; the crossbars keep the spear from sinking in too deep into the animal’s flank, which would make it difficult to retrieve.
A related type of spear is the barbed spear. The function of barbs is to keep the animal from escaping. The barbs hold the spear inside the animal’s flesh so that it cannot pull itself loose.
Once you figure out what type of spear you want to create, you are ready to gather your materials. For this article, we are going to talk mainly about how you can create a simple javelin, but we will also talk a bit about barbed spears and tridents.
1. Basic Javelin Spear Project
Tools and Materials Required:
There are many approaches you can take to creating a javelin, but here are the materials you’ll need for one simple javelin project:
• The handle from a long rake
• An old shovel you don’t mind raiding for parts
• A lawn mower blade
• Gorilla glue, some long nails, a hammer, a saw
• For heat treating: a butane torch, motor oil, microwave oven
Crafting the Shaft:
As previously mentioned, there are many approaches. Chimpanzees of course just sharpen a stick with their teeth! Naturally you probably don’t plan to use your teeth, but the simplest throwing spears you can make are essentially the same—just a straight stick with the end sharpened with a knife. With that type of spear, the spearhead is part of the original stick comprising the shaft.
But for our project, you can take a shortcut and get a much heavier, stronger, straighter spear shaft by using the handle from a long rake, broom, or so forth. A dowel rod works great as well.
Why not use the handle of the old shovel you’re going to be borrowing parts from? Good question with a simple answer: it’s just too short.
What type of wood should you use? Soft wood species like pine may be okay, but if possible, aim for a hardwood species like ash, oak, maple, or hickory. You want something strong!
Crafting the Javelin Spearhead:
1. Pull the shovel head off of the handle. You can use the back end of a hammer to pry out the nails first.
2. Use an angle grinder to cut the pipe. Make sure you are getting only the straight part of the pipe.
3. Get a lawnmower blade and cut it into the shape of spearhead. Use a belt sander to sharpen and clean up the edges.
4. Now you want to heat treat the blade. To do this, heat the tip with a butane torch. Dip the tip of the blade into a pail of motor oil. Finally, place the blade inside your microwave oven and bake it on 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The tempering process is done when the blade turns a golden color (how long this takes will depend on how thick the blade is).
5. Your last step is to put it all together! You now have your spear shaft, the blade, and the metal pipe which will hold the two together. You will need to punch holes through each component which align so that you can hammer in a couple of nails to hold it all together. Your spear will then be complete.
You can view a detailed video for this project here. This type of spear will serve you well for hunting or for defense.
If You Want to Make a Fishing Spear …
Suppose you decide you don’t want to make a simple javelin, but would rather design a fishing spear with multiple prongs. When you have more than one spear prong, you increase the probability that you will actually strike your prey.
This video will teach you a simple method for splitting the end of your spear shaft and inserting crossbars and securing the lot using a piece of twine or thin rope. You can do all this using very simple tools and materials. Three-pronged and four-pronged spearheads work great for fishing and are ideal if you find yourself stranded out in the middle of nowhere needing to hunt to survive.
Or a Barbed Spear …
Interested in a barbed option for a spearhead which will keep your prey from escaping once you have struck it? Barbed spears sink into your prey’s flesh and hold fast, resisting the energy the animal exerts to try to escape (and causing additional damage along the way).
This video includes quite extensive instructions for making a throwing spear with a two-pronged wooden head. The splitting technique is the same as that used for the fishing spear above. The creator of this spear has taken the additional step of shaping two barbs along each of the prongs using a knife.
If you are interested in making a barbed spear, I also suggest that you check out this academic research paper on prehistoric barbed spears, harpoons, and arrowheads. In particular, you will find great information you can absorb quickly and easily in the page one chart listing average dimensions and numbers of barbs for different types of thrown weapons, including multi-pronged spears and harpoons. On page two, you will find images of a number of different types of barbed points. These will give you some inspiration for carving your own barbed spearhead.
Fire-Hardening Wooden Spear Tips
While a metal point is obviously going to be an excellent choice for your homemade throwing spear, it is worthwhile to take a moment to talk about how you can make the strongest and most effective wood spear tip. Why? Well, right now you may have the luxury of working with metal supplies in your own garage, but if you ever find yourself lost in the woods someday in a survival situation, you may be forced to work with nothing but the sapling branches you find.
So let’s say that you have found a branch which is suitable to function as a spear shaft, and you have sharpened the tip. You are going to want to fire-harden the point to strengthen it. This does not actually lead to a structural change in the wood as many people believe, but simply dries out the wood. This has the effect of hardening it (kind of like how bread hardens when it dries out and becomes stale).
Doing this really could not be easier. Think about how you sit at a fire pit to toast a marshmallow. This is basically the same action. You want to hold out the spear over the flames and turn it slowly so you can “bake” the wood evenly—but you need to be careful not to let it catch fire. You want the wood to darken ever-so-slightly so that it seems “toasted” in appearance. You do not want any blackness or char, just a light tint of golden brown. You can then finish up by rubbing a little oil on the tip and resharpening.
In case you’re wondering, leaving the bark on a spear like this is not a bad idea. It can improve your grip by providing you with a bit of friction, but you can peel it off if you do not like it. It’s a matter of personal preference.
Can a wood tip really penetrate hide like a metal point? Believe it or not, the answer to that question is a definite “yes.” You can kill a deer with a wooden point, so if it is down to whether you will be able to eat or not in the wild with a spear like this, you are good to go so long as you can get close enough and make a strong throw!
Throw Your Spear Faster and Farther with an Atlatl
Speaking of throwing your spear, let’s talk about atlatls! What is an atlatl? It’s a tool you can use to boost the velocity and accuracy of a spear throw. In essence, it can turn your throwing spear from a short-range weapon into a long-range one. With an atlatl, you can achieve speeds up to 93 mph! Modern sportsmen throwing for distance with atlatls have managed distances up to 850 feet!
Like spears themselves, spear throwers have cropped up all over the world throughout human history. Just as the spear was one of the earliest tools invented by human beings (or chimpanzees), the spear thrower was one of the earliest mechanical tools!
The spear thrower is known by different names in different cultures. In Spain, it is called estolica. In French, it is known as propulseur. In German, it is called speerschleuder, and in Australia, woomera or miru. The most common name, atlatl, comes from Nahuatl, which is the language of the ancient Aztecs.
If you are new to atlatls and want to know just how much of a boost you can expect from a spear thrower over a traditional hand throw of your spear, then you should check out this video by Bob Berg, who professionally crafts atlatls and owns the company Thunderbird Atlatl.
Like a throwing spear, an atlatl is something you can make at home. It is a simple shaft which has a spur, loop, or cup at one end. This spur supports the butt of the spear, dart, or other projectile which you are going to throw. The atlatl is an extension of your throwing arm, adding length and acting as a lever. It literally leverages your own strength and throwing motion. This imparts a greater force, which translates to coverage of a longer distance at a greater speed. This in turn improves accuracy.
While the atlatl shown in the video above is somewhat complex (but still something you could make on your own), the simplest version is just a strong, curved wooden stick with a spur on one end. This photo shows the spur clearly:
As you can see, your projectile (in this case your throwing spear) needs to have a small hole drilled in the end which is a fit for the spur. Thus you can lock the spear into place on the atlatl, hoist it, and throw.
It is essential to get the right weight when you are making your atlatl. Remember, the spear is going to be a lot longer than the actual atlatl, so the atlatl needs to counterbalance the weight for an accurate throw.
If the spear thrower is too light, the atlatl is not going to provide enough of a counterbalance to the spear, and your throw will angle upward. If on the other hand the atlatl is too heavy, the spear will angle downward when it is thrown. If you achieve the ideal weight, the counterbalance of the entire system will be perfect, and you will achieve an accurate throw.
It is well worth your time to try carving a simple atlatl to go with your throwing spear. It will turn your spear into a far more powerful weapon. If you are hunting, you will not need to approach nearly as close to your prey, and if you are defending yourself, you will have a leg up on an opponent who is not equipped with a spear thrower.
Practicing Throwing with a Spear
Once you’ve crafted a throwing spear, the first thing you’ll want to do is test it! Be sure to get a soft target such as a hay bale.
1. Locate the balance point of your spear with it rest on your palm.
2. Grip the balance point, wrapping your hand around the spear with your thumb toward the back of the spear, away from the point.
3. Keep the spear parallel to the ground as you throw it. Your wrist will function as a pivot.
4. As you release the spear, let go with your index finger and thumb last, and be sure to follow through. Do not lean forward or draw your shoulder forward, get up on your tiptoes, or throw across your body.
Technique is similar with an atlatl. If you are using one, be sure you are gripping the sides of the spear and not the top, or you will not get it to release properly.
Now It’s Your Turn!
You now have the materials and instructions you need for creating a simple javelin with a tempered metal point. You also have everything you need to guide you in making a javelin with a fire-hardened wood tip, or a hunting or fishing spear with multiple wooden prongs and barbs. To top it off, you can create an atlatl to turn your spear into a long-distance projectile.
So give it a shot! If you feel intimidated, just start with a simple wood spear carved out of a sapling with a fire-hardened tip. When you feel ready, advance to the simple javelin project or try one of the multi-pronged approaches. After you create your spear, be sure to practice your throws. It takes a great deal of time and effort to hone your technique. Leverage not just the power of the atlatl, but the power of practice to perfect your throws. If someday you ever should find yourself in a survival situation, you’ll be glad you did. Be sure to share your completed projects with us in the comments!