Saturday, October 8, 2011
Regular visitors to this blog know already that, besides high-tech pursuits, I have a few of what some folks would consider rather anachronistic interests. Topics covered here have ranged from the latest Free Open Source Software, computers and networking, electronics, shortwave and amateur (ham) radio, to pre-1982 telephones and archery. Off and on during the past few weeks I have enjoyed shooting an unusual and primitive weapon: the blowgun.
A (very) Brief History:
Blowguns have been used by indigenous peoples all over the world, including those in the Americas. They originally were made from 7-10 foot lengths of cane or wood which had been bored out into a hollow tube. The darts ranged in length from six inches to over a foot in length and consisted of narrow splints made from bamboo, cane or other stiff material. The person shooting it would wind cotton or some other fibrous material on one end to serve as an air seal in the tube. These darts in some cases were tipped with plant or animal-derived poison; in other cases they were used "as is" to shoot small game. Some people took birds with a short, relatively heavy "blunt" cylindrical or marble shaped dart designed to stun, rather than penetrate the prey.
As an aside, one book I read a few years ago indicated that the native blowguns and darts brought back by European explorers may have inspired the invention of the reciprocating steam engine. Indeed, the operating principles of both ARE strikingly similar - both involve a compressed gas acting upon a movable piston.
Modern-day blowgun use:
Even today, some peoples inhabiting the Amazon River Basin and other remote areas of the world still use blowguns for hunting. Some native American tribes hold contests and give shooting demonstrations as part of keeping their cultural traditions alive. During the past couple decades in America, many people have enjoyed them as an outdoor sport. There are even organizations that promote blowgun shooting as a sport:
In the US, The United States Blowgun Association
and internationally, The International Fukiyado Association (IFA)
Parts of this site are written in Japanese.
Now, for the details of my blowgun:
The blowgun is 50 calibre, consisting of a 5 foot piece of 1/2" ID schedule 40 PVC water pipe. A 1/2" to 1.25" pipe bushing serves as the mouthpiece. The larger end was heated with a heat gun until pliable and flared slightly - this gives a more comfortable surface to seal against one's mouth.
The darts are made from bamboo kabob skewers purchased at the grocery store. The air seal cones were made from 1.5" square pieces of printer paper folded to the cone shape, then glued to the skewers. When dry, the whole dart assembly was coated with spray paint for moisture resistance.
I haven't gone into any more detail because nothing here is unique - there are many sites on the Internet where one can find details on constructing just about any kind of blowdart imaginable.
In the picture of the darts, a shorter dart made from a roofing nail is shown next to the bamboo skewer dart. The paper cone air seal is identical to that on the skewer dart. Though the roofing nail is shorter and heavier, it flies more reliably and carries a much greater impact with the target. The foam archery target cannot be used with these because, even at a 50 foot range, the nail darts bury themselves beyond retrieval into the target's surface. A thin sheet of plywood would be most appropriate for stopping these projectiles.
The "range" shown in the top picture is a parking spot in a municipal park. From the 'near' end of the white line to the wood fence where the target is positioned measures approximately 25 feet using a measuring tape. All of the targets shown in the pictures were shot by me standing as this distance, unless otherwise noted.
In one of the close-up shots, one can see that a dart pierced the air seal (cone) of another one already in the target. Almost the blowgun equivalent of "splitting the arrow" in archery.
The green circle in the photo shows where two of the roofing nail darts buried themselves into the target face. One was shot at 25 feet; the other was at approximately 45 feet. The skewers penetrate between 2 and 2.5 inches into the target.