Stick­ing Points

Mak­ing Spear Heads and Div­ing Into Their Re­spec­tive Uses

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Contents - By Kevin Estela

Mak­ing Spear Heads and Div­ing

Into Their Re­spec­tive Uses

We all have that one friend. Any­time you take him into the woods, the first thing he does is break out his knife and grab a stick to sharpen it into a “spear.” When you ask him what he’s do­ing, he usu­ally re­sponds with, “this is in case some­thing jumps out at us” or “so I can stab a bear.” While the ef­fec­tive­ness of such a spear is ques­tion­able, there’s no doubt it gives your friend a sense of se­cu­rity — and for good rea­son.

The spear is per­haps the first man-made weapon; ex­am­ples of sharp­ened sticks date back hun­dreds of thou­sands of years. Spears are just as ef­fec­tive to­day as they were in the days of prim­i­tive man. The prac­ti­cal­ity and pur­pose of dif­fer­ent types of spears hasn’t changed, al­though the man­ner in which they’ve been pre­sented over the years has. We did our re­search, com­ing up with six dif­fer­ent types of pointed sticks you can use for pro­tec­tion and food col­lec­tion.


Be­fore you get started, you need a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of the wood you’ll work with. Wood can be bro­ken down into two cat­e­gories: green or sea­soned and liv­ing or dead, re­spec­tively. You can work with ei­ther to make your spear, but un­der­stand that green wood will be eas­ier to carve. The trade­off is wa­ter weight and dura­bil­ity. Some

of this weight and dura­bil­ity can be al­tered with fire hard­en­ing, but that’s gen­er­ally done just to the tip.

Sea­soned wood will be more dif­fi­cult to carve as it will be harder, and it will also have less flex­i­bil­ity. Con­sider the type of wood you’re us­ing too. Seek out good hard­woods (non-ever­greens) in con­struct­ing your spears. Also, re­mem­ber that too thin of a shaft will eas­ily snap, while too thick will take too much carv­ing to re­duce down to a fine point.

If we had the choice and time, we’d se­lect green wood we could fire harden while leav­ing some flex­i­bil­ity in the shaft to pre­vent snap­ping. We wouldn’t strip the shaft of all the bark, as the ex­tra tex­ture can serve as a han­dle. We would, how­ever, re­move any knots and high points to pre­vent in­jur­ing our hands in use and slow­ing down de­liv­ery speed if it slips in our hand.


What that friend we all have prob­a­bly makes when he sharp­ens a stick is a re­ally crude ver­sion of a spear or javelin. As pre­vi­ously stated, there’s no ex­act date as to when prim­i­tive man first sharp­ened sticks into a tool or weapon, but the Clac­ton Spear, a sharp­ened wooden spear point, is on dis­play in a Lon­don mu­seum and dates back 400,000 years. Over time, shapes evolved and var­ied in length, thick­ness, and wooden ma­te­ri­als used.

When mak­ing a sin­gle pointed spear, start with large power cuts to re­move a sig­nif­i­cant amount of ma­te­rial as you ro­tate the spear­head around. Four to six good power cuts will give you a crude tip. Move your blade to the shoul­ders cre­ated where the power cuts meet and knock them off. Con­tinue re­mov­ing shoul­ders un­til your spear head is round. De­pend­ing on the type of wood, you can use the sap­wood (the “spot” in the cen­ter of the wood with dif­fer­ent col­oration) as your cen­ter point. Con­tinue to re­move bark down the shaft un­til the point where you want pen­e­tra­tion to stop.

Spears were used for com­bat and de­fense in many civ­i­liza­tions. Over time, stone and then steel heads re­placed sharp­ened sticks. To this day, steel spears are still used on some boar hunts and in the hands of indige­nous peo­ple in Africa.

Straight Sin­gle Barb

It’s un­cer­tain when the in­no­va­tion of the barb was added to a spear, but it was likely in­spired by ex­am­ples in na­ture. Stingrays, for in­stance, have a barbed spike, and some bird talons are barbed as well. Wher­ever it came from, a barb in­creases the re­ten­tion at­tributes of spears by hook­ing into the prey’s flesh and bone, pre­vent­ing it from es­cap­ing.

Carv­ing a barb re­quires knowl­edge of a stop cut. This cut runs per­pen­dic­u­lar to the spear shaft, with its depth de­pen­dent on how large of a barb you want. If you have a Swiss Army Knife or mul­ti­tool equipped with a saw, this will make the pro-

cess much eas­ier. Af­ter a stop cut is carved into the shaft, take your blade and cut to­ward it in the di­rec­tion of the tip. The stop cut will pre­vent the knife from cut­ting past it, and the barb will start to take shape. At this point, you can leave the point barbed with a shelf or un­der­cut it to create a hook.

Many hunt­ing spears from the Philip­pines have been made this way and show great vari­a­tion through­out the 7,600 plus is­lands. Barbs can be cre­ated with wood, bone, and steel. Op­ti­mal barb size, shape, and quan­tity are largely de­ter­mined by the prey hunted.

Har­poon with De­tach­able Head

A barbed spear dras­ti­cally in­creases the chances of pre­vent­ing prey from es­cap­ing. Should you be lucky or skilled enough to im­pale an an­i­mal, you don’t want to let go. Some­times though, let­ting go is your best op­tion. Take, for ex­am­ple, the Thule Inuit peo­ple who hunted Green­land mam­mals from kayaks. We can’t imag­ine how an­gry and vi­o­lent a seal or whale be­comes when stuck with a sharp­ened stick. This is why the tech­nol­ogy of the har­poon was cre­ated. The har­poon is the rea­son why the Thule thrived in the North At­lantic, and the lack of har­poon tech­nol­ogy is likely the rea­son why the Norse aban­doned their ef­forts to set­tle in Green­land.

To create a har­poon, you need to make three seg­mented com­po­nents: the barbed har­poon tip, har­poon shaft, and strong cordage. The tip is fric­tion-fit­ted into the har­poon shaft. This can be ac­com­plished by wedg­ing it be­tween a split in the shaft or a hol­low made into the shaft that the smaller di­am­e­ter shaft of the har­poon tip slides into like a cork into a bot­tle. The tip can be at­tached to the shaft with the cordage, or the shaft can be “dis­pos­able” and break free with only the har­poon stuck in the prey and cordage in the hands of a hunter, much like fish­ing with a hand line. The hol­low is cre­ated with the tip of your blade and re­quires a rel­a­tively thick har­poon shaft.

Check out his­tor­i­cal ex­am­ples of har­poons from New Eng­land whal­ing, and you’ll see flag-pole–sized main shafts. The wedged har­poon is much eas­ier to create, al­though it lacks the same mass as the hol­low har­poon shaft. The ex­am­ple we cre­ated for this ar­ti­cle is made out of wood for demon­stra­tion pur­poses. In re­al­ity, bone or steel would be a bet­ter op­tion for a har­poon.

The de­tach­able-head har­poon should be used on an­i­mals that’ll likely thrash about when hit. The cordage tether will let you give it space and let it tire out as you close the dis­tance and dis­patch it with other means.

Split Pin­ning Spear

Large spears work on large an­i­mals, but with large an­i­mals come a greater chance for in­jury to the hunter. Smaller game isn’t as eas­ily punc­tured with wooden tips; hide and fur can slow down and limit the pen­e­tra­tion of a spear tip. Dis­hon­est por­tray­als of spears be­ing thrown through a small fish sus­pended in the wa­ter are a dis­ser­vice and have been re­peated over and over in movies and tele­vi­sion shows. Fish­er­men will tell you that even with a sharp­ened me­tal hook, bait­ing small fish is dif­fi­cult. Wooden tips aren’t as fine, sharp, and durable, and a swim­ming fish isn’t sup­ported the same way it is when held by hand as it’s baited. A bet­ter op­tion to punc­tur­ing spears is pin­ning spears.

A ba­sic pin­ning spear is eas­ily con­structed. Cut a 1-inch­wide spear shaft to length. Ide­ally, it should be as tall as the hunter, if not taller. More com­pact “hand spears” can be

use­ful if you're pur­su­ing prey that live in tight quar­ters and un­der rocks. Once the cor­rect length is cut, wrap the shaft with cordage, tape, or an­other tight bind­ing ma­te­rial about 8 to 12 inches from the thicker end.

If you wrap a green piece of wood, you’ll likely have to re­wrap it as the wood dries, shrinks, and the bind­ing be­comes loose. Use the thicker end to put as much mass for­ward while pin­ning. Af­ter bind­ing, re­move the bark from the thicker end to the tip. At this point, use a blade with the as­sis­tance of a wooden ba­ton to split the thick end down to the bind­ing. The bind­ing will pre­vent the split from trav­el­ing too far down the shaft. Bevel the edges of the forked ends to pre­vent them from splin­ter­ing, and place a small twig or carved wedge in the fork to keep it open.

Vari­a­tions of this forked spear in­clude us­ing hawthorn thorns as barbs or heavy blackberry bram­bles af­fixed with resin or thin twine. The spear is used by pin­ning the prey to the ground, where it can be picked up with your hands or dis­patched with an­other tool.

Four-Prong Pin­ning Spear

The split-tip spear gives you a chance to pin an an­i­mal be­tween two points. With a cou­ple ad­di­tional steps, it’s easy to con­vert a split-tip spear into a four-prong pin­ning spear, in­creas­ing your chances of wedg­ing an an­i­mal. Fol­low the same steps as the split-tip spear up un­til the shaft is split in half. At that point, take your blade and turn it 90 de­grees on the split tip for the next split to run per­pen­dic­u­lar to the first.

Once you split the tip down to the wrapped sec­tion, with both splits in the wood, squeeze the tip to­gether and sharpen it to a point. Then, spread it open with a cou­ple twigs. An op­tional step is barb­ing each of the four prongs. This type of pin­ning spear is slightly less durable than the sin­gle split tip spear, but it’s highly ef­fec­tive against small rep­tiles and am­phib­ians. If the four prongs are sharp­ened to a point and used against a thin-skinned an­i­mal, it’ll create four sep­a­rate wound channels.

Gaff Hook

This next one isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a spear, but it works at the end of a long shaft and ap­plies the same skills as some of the pre­vi­ously men­tioned tips. The gaff hook is dif­fer­ent than a tra­di­tional spear — in­stead of thrust­ing out and away from you, pull it back to­ward you. Com­mer­cial fish­er­man use the gaff hook as large game fish come close to their boats, and this tool works ex­cep­tion­ally well to har­vest fish and wild plant ed­i­bles just out of reach.

The most im­por­tant ma­te­rial needed to create a gaff hook is a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring fork in a tree. If the fork is too wide, it can be lashed tighter and steamed or dried into a more par­al­lel gaff hook and shaft. A forked tree limb can be cut at the joint, pre­serv­ing the two forked branches. Cut one branch ap­prox­i­mately 6 to 12 inches from the joint, leav­ing a “J” shaped piece of wood. Some­times, a growth of branches will create three branches orig­i­nat­ing from a sin­gle knob, and you can use two of the three branches as hook points. Some­times, the hook will work as de­signed, and other times it’ll scoop in­stead. In ei­ther case, the ob­jec­tive is to bring the prey or har­vest to you.


A true spear is much more than a sharp­ened stick. Learn to fash­ion var­i­ous spear points and tech­niques to max­i­mize the re­turn on your in­vest­ment of time and en­ergy. Don’t just make some­thing “in case you have to stab some­thing.” Make a ded­i­cated spear to func­tion in ex­actly the way that you need.

Right: The author uti­lizes a nat­u­ral fork in the spear shaft as a thumbsup­port. This greatly im­provescom­fort and the amount of force that can beap­plied.Spear/javelin tip

Sin­gle barb spear

A de­tach­ablehead is the dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of a har­poon. For this ar­ti­cle, we carved one out of wood. Ide­ally, a har­poon head should be made from steelor bone.

Gaff hook

Two-prong split pin­ning spear forfish­ing

Four-prong spear for fish­ing, small rep­tiles, or small game

The Craw­ford Sur­vival Staff is a mod­ern mul­tipur­pose spear. Avail­able spear at­tach­ments in­clude a sin­gle blade, tripleprong, and gaff hook.

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