Friday, June 19, 2015

Birch Darts and Duck Feathers

Until they are done I'm going
to keep them bundled together
 so they aren't tempted to bend.
 I spent the better part of the day working on the birch dart shafts.  The split birch was fairly straight, with even grain and hardly any knots.  I've tried to match the dimensions of the ice patch darts as closely as possible and the resulting shafts seem strong with a nice whip to them.  Currently the shafts are about 2 metres long, but I'll most likely trim them down to 150-180 cm.  Two of them will have detachable foreshafts and one will be all one piece.  I have an extra shaft on the go in case something goes wrong with the three that I need for the order.  If all of the darts survive, I should have an extra one for my own collection.

The dart staying in Canada
gets duck feathers.  The ones
crossing international boundaries
are getting ptarmigan.
The proximal end of the darts is very narrow - about 7mm wide and they taper gradually for a little less than a metre and then they have a more-or-less constant diameter around 1.3 - 1.5cm.  This makes a very flexible dart with a good bit of weight towards the distal end.  Combined with a largish stone projectile point and ptarmigan or duck feathers for fletching these should be very efficient projectiles.  The three I'm making are for display and teaching purposes, but it would sure be fun to try playing with these.  If anyone has tried throwing these darts, I'd love to hear from you.

I removed another couple of
millimetres in diameter after this
photo was taken.  These darts
a lot of spring to them.
I've taken some liberties with the process.  I harvested and split the birch trunk by hand and I've been working the shafts with hand tools, but they've had metal blades and I've used an electric disc sander for a lot of the shaping.  If I was making these entirely with a stone and bone tool kit, I think I would have kept splitting the wood to get smaller and smaller diameter splits until I had something close to the right diameter for the dart shafts.  The final shaping could be done with a stone scraper or flake.  It seems like the birch would be fairly cooperative with this type or reduction.  It can be little stringy if you aren't careful with the splitting, but the grain is nice and straight and the resulting staves should also be nice and straight.   The bends in the wood are pretty minor and I used a heat gun to straighten the wood several times as I worked it down.  So far it seems to be taking the new shape well enough.  I don't anticipate any bending problems.

These ducks don't migrate and they
obviously don't need these feathers
anymore, so I'm taking them.
Thanks ducks.
For references on the dart shafts and feathers, I've relied on Yukon ice patch finds.  There are lots of good references, but these two have been especially useful:

ARCTIC VOL. 65, SUPPL. 1 (2012) P. 118–135 The Archaeology of Yukon Ice Patches: New Artifacts, Observations, and Insights P. GREGORY HARE, CHRISTIAN D. THOMAS, TIMOTHY N. TOPPER, and RUTH M. GOTTHARDT

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