Projectile weapon consisting of a dart with a point on one end and some kind of flight on the other, fired by placing it in a long thin tube and blowing a powerful blast of air into the tube. These weapons can be compared to slingshots in effectiveness, but offer many advantages over them. The firing tube is often called a blowpipe, a blowdart gun or a blowgun.
Blowdarts have been used by many tribal peoples for hunting purposes, with and without poison. This writeup focuses on practical construction and application of an effective modern blowdart, rather than their history as a hunting weapon. Note that when I say "comparable to a slingshot in effectiveness" that a powerful slingshot can very well kill someone, and that both these weapons should be treated with similar respect to a firearm. The directions below can be used to construct a highly effective and dangerous blowgun and darts for under $30. Commercial blowguns can be purchased, but are not covered by this writeup.
Materials: 1 straight metal tube, dimensions dependant on user's maximum lung output rate.
The gun is simply a long, thin tube, but the volume of the inside of the tube must be tailored to the lung capacity and maximum output pressure of the user. The best effect I have seen was achieved using a 1.5 m long steel tube with an inside diameter of 1.5 cm, but this can only be used by someone with a very large lung capacity. If the output rate of your lungs drops before the dart has left the gun, the dart won't travel very fast. Curtain rails may serve if they are thin enough. Otherwise an appropriate tube can be purchased from a hardware store or steel supplier. Experimentation will probably be needed to find the ideal blowgun for your lungs. Since metal tubes often have sharp ragged edges, sand each lip of the tube with fine sandpaper or a file so that you can't cut your lips.
Materials: 25 cm long bamboo skewers, superglue or similar adhesive, some paper or plastic, a marker of some kind. For hunting darts, small snappable stanley knife blade, a spool of nylon thread or similar.
The darts themselves are based on 25 cm long bamboo skewers with a plastic or paper cone attached to one end. For the blowdart gun described above, the cone will end up being 4 cm long. A good material for the cone is Doritos packets or similar, since paper cones often tear after one use. Construct the cone by getting a triangle of whatever material you are using which is larger than you need, applying some superglue to one edge and rolling the material into a cone with a 2 mm hole on the small end. The cone should flare at a 25-30 degree angle, and the large end should be too big to fit into the blowdart gun. Now slide the small opening of the cone onto the pointed end of the skewer. Attach the cone to the skewer by applying superglue to the circle where the cone meets the bamboo. When the glue has set, drop the skewer into the blowdart gun so that all that is visible of the dart is the flared end of the cone. Use the marker to mark the circle where the cone contacts the blowgun. Remove the dart and cut the cone just before the marked circle, so that the large edge of the cone is only just barely smaller than the inside diameter of the blowgun. This is referred to as a stun dart, and can be used relatively safely: it won't break the skin. To add extra weight to the dart to increase power and range, put a big gob of glue (epoxy resin such as Araldite works well for this, and superglue does not) on the front end of the dart.
To construct a hunting dart, perform the following modifications to the stun dart. Do not add the glue to the end for extra weight. Instead, get the small snappable stanley knife blade and snap off a section. (These blades are about 6 cm long and 1.25 cm wide. They are sharp along one edge, and have chiselled cuts in them diagonally so that when the end of the cutting edge becomes blunt, it can be easily snapped off to reveal an unused edge. The snapped off sections are small 2 cm long diamonds with a diabolically sharp edge.) Make a 5 mm lateral incision in the front end of the dart, so that the blunt end of the blade section can be inserted. The sharp edge of the blade section should now be the leading edge of the dart. Bind the front 1 cm of the skewer with fine thread and secure the tip by coating the thread with super-glue. This is now a very dangerous weapon. Do not fire it at a person or animal, unless you wish to kill or maim them. Read on to discover why.
Firing and testing
To fire the dart, place it pointed edge first into the blowgun. Crease the cone first so that it grips the side of the tube and doesn't fall through. Fill your lungs to 80%-90% of their capacity, place the end of the blowgun on your lips and aim. Seal your lips against the tube, and blow a pulse of air through the tube at the highest pressure you are able to. Don't blow like you are trying to dry something out or blow out the candles on a cake, but pulse air through the blowgun. Practice this to achieve your maximum power. A good shot will travel 20 metres requiring only minor correction for gravity. Maximum inaccurate range has not been assessed, but suffice to say, this is a dangerous weapon.
The potential effect of a maximum-power shot on a human has been estimated by firing a hunting dart into a raw pork roast through the skin. Pig skin is much tougher than humans', and the dart went in 13 cm deep. Therefore, shooting a human in the torso would have a high chance of causing organ damage.
A blowgun and dart has two main advantages over a slingshot; it is easier to aim, and less difficult to fire. A high power slingshot with no arm brace is very hard to hold straight, and your aim degrades as the strength of the rubbers is increased. After firing several shots with very powerful rubbers, your hands are too tired to use the slingshot with maximum force and accuracy. A blowgun can be fired many times before your diaphragm tires out. Lining up shots is more intuitive with a blowgun.
Safely and responsibility
If you intend to use this design for evil, there is nothing I can write to stop you, except perhaps to say that if you shoot humans or animals with such a weapon, you will probably get arrested and tried for assault and battery or a similar charge. If you do not intend to use this design for evil, here are some pointers on avoiding injury and trouble.
- Do not fire a dart above the level of your fence. If a dart goes over a fence, it may hit a person.
- Do not fire a dart unless there is no person or animal in a 180 degree arc in front of you. Darts can be deflected from hard objects, and may ricochet into a person anywhere in front of you.
- Do not fire a dart unless everyone in the vicinity knows what you are doing. If they don't, they may endanger themselves unwittingly, and you will be to blame.
- You probably shouldn't make a hunting dart at all. They are very dangerous.
- Blowgun + alcohol = trouble
- In general, when a blowgun is being used, treat it with similar respect to a firearm
Legality and morality
In my area, it is legal to own and use a simple slingshot, but not a slingshot with an arm-brace. I do not know if it is legal to use a blowgun to shoot targets, but since this design is made entirely from innocuous materials, the only way anyone is likely to get in legal trouble for using one is if they misuse ot by firing it at people or animals. In many areas even shooting people with a blowgun in self defence will have legal repercussions.
Use of a blowgun for sport hunting is likely to injure animals without killing them instantly. Unless you are incredibly good, using blowdarts for sport hunting is not appropriate.
For extensive information on primitive blowdarts and blowguns, check out http://www.perigee.net/~benjamin/blowgun.htm