The Dart

We get to walk around a bar with a arsenal of Projectile weapons ... and no one is the wiser :-)

The dart is the pointy thing that flies to the dartboard. All kidding aside, the dart is a hand-launched aerodynamic projectile. A projectile follows a curved ballistic path, due to the constant downward pull of gravity. Darts in zero-g would be easier -- they would fly in a straight line!

The dart evolved from a wooden bob with a pin for a tip and fletched tail feathers in the back. Now it is a thrown item with some of the most complex metallurgy and machining detail you'll find in a low-cost game device. A Modern dart costs more than a golf club does, gram for pound!

Despite the humble beginnings, modern dart components have gone high-tech, again, with complex materials, machining, or fabrication techniques used to create them. You can still find the simple wooden dart with fletching if you want one ... and you should try throwing one to compare it to a modern dart! Old "medium tech" darts are still around too -- and throw just fine.

Dart Types

The two major types of dart are the soft-tip dart and the steel-tip dart.


The obvious difference is that the steel-tip dart has a pointed metal tip that is designed to penetrate and stick in the fibers of a traditional bristle (sisal) dartboard. The soft-tip dart has a plastic tip designed to enter into the holes in a soft-tip dartboard.

The difference between soft-tip and steel-tip darts is more pronounced than the above would make it seem. There are design and construction and flight differences that make them different beasts from one another that live in different worlds -- and on different continents!


One not-so-obvious difference is weight. Soft-tip dartboards have a dart weight limit of 18 grams. Steel-tip darts and boards have no such weight limitation.

Why the limit? When the dart hits the dartboard the board has to absorb all the force of the thrown dart. Modern soft-tip boards can only stand 18 gr darts. There is an effort to develop soft-tip boards that can accept higher 20gr darts, but that is the future, not the present.

Another item is that soft-tip darts are constructed of a number of interchangeable parts, letting you change the flight characteristics and performance of your darts quite easily.


Steel-Tip darts are the original dart, with a history stretching back to medieval times.

One thing about steel-tips that is not obvious is that the weight is quite a bit higher than that of a soft-tip dart. Starting weights are in the 24gr range or so, and max weight is darn near 50gr!

Because of the wire dividers on a bristle board, there is a problem with the steel tip hitting directly on the wire divider and causing a bounce-out. There are no points if a dart doesn't stay in the board. To help with this problem a number of manufacturers build proprietary anti bounce-out systems built into the barrel (body) of the dart.

Why does weight matter so much?

You can throw the heavier dart on a straighter flight with less ballistic arc. This means you can throw heavier darts more accurately. That's why people want heavier soft-tip darts!

Lighter darts needed to be thrown in a more lofting or arcing flight path to reach the board.

Dart Components & Construction

One big thing to realize is that the construction of Steel-Tip darts and component based Soft-Tip darts vary considerably. This is due to history of steel-tipped darts, as well as improvements in dart technology due to the development of soft-tip darts. Modern steel-tip darts have started to use components of soft-tip darts, but the underlying nature of the beast means that quality darts of the two breeds are not interchangeable.

The common parts of a dart are

Except for the shaft-flight connection, the various dart components are assembled with joints that are threaded together. There are two standard threads used for (essentially) all darts:

Traditional Steel Tip

Traditional steel-tip darts typically do not have interchangeable components. The points are built into the barrel. Hi-tech steel-tip darts usually have some sort of proprietary attachment mechanism for the tip. It's design will depend upon manufacturer and type of tip.

The tip is softer metal which can be sharpened easily. Many tips may be replaceable, so you can replace bent ones, or choose different tip designs that might be retained in the dartboard better. This is critical for steel tip darts -- if they don't stick in the dartboard, they aren't scored!

The steel-tip dart may have a mechanism to reduce or stop bounce-outs, which complicates the design of the dart. American Bottlesen Hammerhead darts are probably the most famous example of an anti-bounce-out design. Basically if the tip hits a divider, it is pushed back into the dart mechanism a bit. This gives the tip a chance to slide sideways off the wire. When the body/barrel of the dart gets close to the board, the internal stop hammers the back of the retracted tip to drive it into the board.

There are other designs, all different, which sorta work around similar lines. Delaying the impact a bit so the tip has a chance to get off the wire, and then using the remaining forward motion of the dart to drive the somewhat retracted point into the board to score.

Newer steel-tip darts often use standard threads for shafts and flights.


Convertible darts are basically steel-tip darts designed to use modern components of tungsten soft-tip darts. Most any dart can be made convertible by screwing the other type of tip to the front. The big thing about a convertible dart for steel-tip use is that the tip will be fixed, without an anti-bounce-out design.

Convertible darts are basically used by soft-tip players who want to throw their existing darts with metal tips into a bristle board. You are still limited by the 18gr weight maximum for throwing at a soft-tip board. Soft-tip darts do stick fairly well into a bristle board; however the fine point on the steel-tip is more likely to make it into the board, instead of bouncing off a divider like the soft-tips do.

Dart Barrel

A dart barrel is the main, expensive part of a dart. It is manufactured with a heavier density metal to get a desired weight with a smaller form factor. Older darts use brass. Newer darts use Tungsten, which is a lot heavier and more expensive than brass. However, it allows you to have a heavy dart with a slim barrel, because the material is so dense.

When you buy modern Tungsten Alloy darts, the cost is for the Tungsten in the barrel. More expensive darts typically have a greater percentage of tungsten in the barrel than less expensive ones. The metal costs more ... so the dart costs more, and can be thinner for a given weight and strength.

The Barrel has a few other features, such as its shape and the grips that is

There are a couple of distinct styles of dart barrel.

Front Loaded darts are usually more expensive than the other types of dart barrels. This is because the whole barrel must be machined from a larger diameter metal stuck to end up with a heavy front. More metal is required, and more has to be machined away. It's a matter of machining.

Grip Types


A dart barrel may be shiny machined metal, or it may be treated or coated with another material. The functional part of this is to apply a coat that allows more grip than the native metal or machining does. The coat may be a smooth coat, or may have its own texture. Coatings may also be applied to allow different color metal dart barrels.

You can also have combinations -- a front loaded barrel that is scalloped.

My original Harrows Gyros are of the Torpedo style.

Many players like the thin Pencil style of barrels. I like throwing them pretty well, and they cluster nicely on the dartboard.


The shaft spaces the flights away from the barrel of the dart. It is what the flights are attached to.

The shaft has two purposes:

  1. You need to adjust how the dart flies for you, which requires changing the shaft length as well as the type of flight. This will also subtly change the balance of the dart.
  2. The shaft separates the flights from the barrel so that your hand & fingers have time to get out of the way a you release the dart.

Traditional Shafts

The shaft has male threads on one end to thread into the matching female threads in the barrel. The opposite end of the shaft is slotted to accept the fins or wings of the flight.

There two common types of dart shafts are Nylon shafts and Metal shafts.

I started with metal (aluminum) shafts and still use them on several sets of darts. I have not yet broken a metal shaft. They usually hold onto the flights nicely. The problem is that they chew up the flights quite badly when the flights come off. I've replaced many sets of otherwise good flights because of the wear that occurred from the gripper on the flight. If you use different thicknesses of flight, you will need to spend time adjusting your shafts or buying new ones that fit the different flights.

My latest darts use nylon shafts. I have kept them as is, I think they fly superbly. I have worn out flights from throwing darts so closely together that the flights get beat up on the outside edges. That's something that never happened with my metal shafts. The difference that I see is that I break nylon shafts when my dart flies funny. You have to carry spares with you. This always happens because the shaft threading is the weak part of the shaft, and that breaks off inside the barrel. I also believe that it is because of the stress applied again and again to the dart. It's a cost I'm willing to accept because of the good results!

Spinning Shafts

Spinning shafts were created so that the flight rotates. This has two benefits

  1. When a second dart lands right where a prior dart lands... The flights on the prior dart rotate out of the way so that the second dart can land, instead of being bounced out. This is a big deal when you are shooting tight groups.
  2. Rotation on release of the dart won't make it fly sideways.

Magnet Shafts

A Magnet shafts is a refinement on the spinning shaft. These shafts are two part shafts. A magnet in the barrel-connected portion of the shaft is used to retain a ferrous flight carrier that is inserted into the flight end of the shaft.

These shafts allow you to easily interchange different flight types instantly. This allows you to switch up how your darts fly without hassle. It also allows you to keep spare flight sets on hand and ready to go, instead of having to get down and do shaft/flight maintenance in the middle of a match. They also allow you to keep several styles of barrels on-hand, but not having to have the bulk of a large collection of flighted darts in a case.

The only thing that is goofy about magnet shafts is that the flight carriers can seem a little bit loose, clunk-clunk as you hold and throw the dart. That takes some getting used to -- but the darts throw superbly.

Carbon Fibre

Carbon fibre is light yet extremely strong. It is virtually unbreakable. As of 2013 a very few companies offer carbon fibre dart shafts. They should allow all the benefits of nylon shafts, with a similar durability to a metal shaft. The best of both worlds!

The only downside is the cost -- Carbon Fibre is expensive. How expensive -- ordinary shafts cos about $3 for 3. Carbon fibre shafts cost $30-40 for 3. Yowza!

Integrated Hi-Tech Shaft/Flight Systems

From the preceeding discussion you can see that the junction between the shaft and the flight is of importance to a dart thrower.

When several companies developed Cruciform Flights, the shaft picture changed a bit. The cruciform flights are pre-formed flights, plastic castings essentially. Now that the flights are pre-cast into shape, the possibility of casting in a shaft attachment became a reality.

Instead of slots cut into the shaft, there is a proprietary barb cast into the flight end of the shaft. The Cruciform flight has a corresponding receptacle that snaps onto the barb. Voila, integrated shaft/flight attachment.

These things are pretty cool and are manufactured to high tolerance. The fit and tolerances are so precise that there are two kinds of shafts -- spinning and non-spinning. The difference is the tolerance. The spinning shaft has a little bit more, and the flight revolves around it nicely due to the great bearing area of the joint! It revolves as easily as a spinning shaft, and doesn't suffer the clunk-clunk effect of the low-tolerance metal spinner joint. Nice!


XXX I need to find some nice images to illustrate the flight types.

The description of the flight types is cobbled together from a couple of sites.

Here is some data on flight wing surface area in cm^2:

Textured Flights

The texture of the flight increases drag ... but it might also make your dart fly better. If you think of the texture as a turbulator. it means that the lift on the dart flight will change less at different angles of attack.

The turbulators reduce drag by modifying the boundary air flow around the flight. In the right flight regime, this will reduce drag on the flight. It will also allow the flight to generate lift (instead of stalling) at higher angles of attack. This means that the flight will be more effective in a crooked release, slow the dart down less, and likely get it pointed in the right direction!

Huh? -- it means that if the darts are released crooked, that they might have a better chance of straigtening out. Basically the turbulators reduce

The Tip

Tuning Darts

The short form is that the shaft & flight configuration is interdependent with how you throw.

It is also dependent on your throwing and release style. Two darters throwing the same weight darts with the same kind of speed and trajectories may need different dart tuning. Why? Because they release the dart differently (or even in a different orientation with respect to the flight path) from each other. The flight size & shaft length needed will change to make the flight path stable after release.

What can you change?

  1. Barrel Type
  2. Barrel Weight
  3. Shaft Length (short, medium)
  4. Shaft Type (nylon, aluminum)
  5. Flight Type
  6. Tip Type
  7. Tip Length

What to look for

The "real dart throwers" -- those shooting steel tip English darts, tune their dart throws and shaft/flight configuration by examining the angle the dart sticks in the dartboard. The same technique can be used by soft-tip darters. The catch? You need a bristle board so you can see what angle the dart lands in the board.

Basically you look at the angle, and it should be around 10 to 30 degrees above horizontal. The faster the dart is thrown, the lower the angle should be.

How do you fix it?

A large flight will keep the rear end of the dart higher in the air so it will land nose down. For a typical throw it is a good setup -- which is why the "large" flights are called the standard flight.

If you throw faster, you'll want smaller flights -- your flight path is flatter and you don't need as much of a tail-up orientation due to that. The smaller flights also offer less drag for those faster throws. The kite flight is common flight that is used by faster throwers.

Typically shorter shafts are used with larger flights and vice-versa. That's so the combination of shaft and flight apply similar correcting forces to the dart. There is also the amount of correction the shaft length can apply -- shorter shafts tend to correct more than longer shafts.

Heavier darts will need larger flights (or longer shafts) to keep them pointed the right direction on impact.

Is faster better?

From a purely ballistic theory the answer is yes.

From observing dart throwers shoot at all levels, the answer is it doesn't matter.

I've seen champion players drill the board with fast darts, as well as champion players with slower lofting throws that hit precisely where they need to go. It is all about a throwing style that works for you, and you should make the dart adapt to your style.

Resources on Tuning

I really don't have a definitive resource for tuning. Here are some of the articles I found that talk about it.

Hi-Tech Dart Parts

Two new manufacturers of dart parts have changed the way dart components are manufactured and produced. These new manufacturers use modern hi-tech materials and manufacturing techniques to produce superb products that bring something new to darts.

The two companies in question are L-Style and Fit Flight:

There are a few things behind both companies which make these products top-notch improvements.

One big thing which isn't a component, but a philosophy is also held by both companies -- these were companies started by enthusiasts who wanted to throw better darts. There might be bean-counting behind it, but there is a lot of cool stuff and enthusiasm as well!

Molded Plastic Flights

The big thing behind both companies are molded plastic flights. These are flights which are molded as a cruciform shape for their entire lifetime. The flights are durable, maintain their shape perfectly, and prevent bounce-outs by giving a surface that subsequent dart tips and flights easily slip past to get to the board.

Non-cruciform flights are now possible -- both 3 fin and 5 fin flights have been produced. This gives a larger variety of wing area and drag coefficients to customize darts to how you throw.

A thing of the past with these flights are flight protectors; with the molded plastic following darts will just slide past the flight instead of sticking in it.

These flights are incredibly durable -- instead of going through a flight every couple of weeks, a set of flights will last for an incredibly long time.

These flights are all retained flights, held to the dart shaft by a retention system; rings of some sort or by custom snap-lock mechanisms. This reduces wear on the flight tremendously and allows you to switch flights or change flights without a moment's loss, or causing damage to the flight.

One thing about these flights is that they can't be stored flat; they aren't shipped flat, or squished flat for storage. Because of this you will need to spend money on cruciform flight cases to protect your flights and spare flights.

Shafts and Flight Retention

How Darts Fly

I'm a pilot and wanted to figure out how darts fly. So I wrote a section on that which became so long that it's on it's own web page.

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Last Modified: Fri Dec 27 18:11:06 CST 2013
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