Two Games with The Same Name

The two major types of darting are the soft-tip dart sport, and the steel-tip dart sport. While they share the common name of Darts, and the same games are played in both sports... There are factors that make the two sports different.

Steel Tip

Steel-tip darts are how the game began in ancient times. You throw the darts into a sisal bristle board. The metal points wedge into the bristles. You record the score of darts remaining in the board after all darts have been thrown. The scores are recorded by hand on a traditional chalkboard scorer. Steel-tip darts are the most common game on the Isle of Britain, the home of darts as a sport.

The wire dividers between the segments on bristle boards cause a problem which is still unique to the sport of Darts.. the dreaded bounce-out. A bounce-out occurs when a dart strikes the divider and bounces off the board, recording no score for the dart. At least this causes a wasted dart and doesn't hurt the game. At the worst it causes a loss of game, because your opponent has three darts to score compared to your two.

In other words bounce-outs are a serious issue. Darts are big money in playoffs, with international competition, which is a factor behind all major sports. Bounce-outs can change the outcome of serious money games. This is such a important issue, that a number of companies have developed their own lines of anti-bounce-out darts!.

To simplify the issue: the solution to the bounce-out problem is to create a dart with a movable tip. If the tip strikes a wire divider on the board, the tip moves. This gives time for the tip to move off the wire. Then, the mechanism has to use the remaining forward motion of the dart to drive the moved tip into the fibers of the board so it stick and scores.

As an example, one of the most well-known anti-bounce-out dart designs is the Bottlesen Hammerhead dart. The tip is held in place as normal. If the dart enters the fibers of the board normally, the tip is held in place and it appears to be a fixed-tip dart. If a divider is struck, the tip receives a blow that is of much higher force than normal fiber penetration. This causes the tip to be pushed backward into a recess in the dart barrel. This gives the dart tip time to deflect sideways. Then, as the barrel of the dart continues toward the board, the barrel strikes the internal end of the tip, and drives the tip into the fibers to hold the dart to the board.

The other development to stop bounce-outs is ever-smaller divider size in the bristle board. Modern high-tech bristle boards do not use wires at all, but embedded blade segments in the board. These tiny dividers reduce the size of the divider to a small size. They also eliminate the tie-down wires which hold the dividers into place. These advancements in dart technology continue to this day.

Soft Tip

Soft-tip darts are a relative new-comer to the block. They seem primarily a phenomena of coin-op amusement vendors in the US and Japan. There are two inter-related factors that led to the soft-tip board. They are the need for electronic scoring so that the game can be charged for on a pay for play basis.

The soft-tip board has individual synthetic floating segments. There is one segment for each bed of the dartboard. Each segment is perforated by many holes. The soft-tip dart points fit into the holes in a segment. The effort required to slow down and stop the dart causes a segment to be momentarily depressed by an individual throw. This movement triggers a detector to tell the board into which segment a dart landed.

There is also a miss sensor, typically a vibration detector attached to the back of the dartboard. If the miss sensor is triggered and no segment is triggered, the dart hit the face of the board and bounced off, for no score. A sensor usually can not detect a dart which completely misses the board. Some boards may have motion detecting sensors that see a flying dart ... or it just seems they do!

One problem with soft-tip boards is a stuck-dart error. In other words, the segment didn't return to neutral after the dart hit it so the detector is going off continuously. In this case, the offending segment has to be fixed (typically by pulling the dart out) to reset it.

Lest you think that bounce-outs are not an issue with soft-tip darts ... think again.

One big difference is that the electronic scoring is the arbiter of the game (except for one situation). That means that darts that hit the board, score, but bounce back off the board, are legitimate hits -- unlike the scoring with Steel-Tip darts. The flip-side is true also -- if a dart sticks but is not recorded by the machine -- it is not scored :-( The one unusual situation is a winning dart that hits the board and stays in it, but wasn't recorded. If that occurs, a referee (or team captain) is allowed to touch the dart so the board records it to make the game win legal.

This can cause weird side-effects that nothing can be done about, but can be fun to know... You can score on a bounce-out, since the segment can be triggered by the dart hitting between the holes. A score can sometime occur by hitting a dart already in the board, which re-triggers the segment for the next dart.

If you have a reliable throw which scores and causes a dart to bounce out ... it can be really handy for 3 in a beds and hat tricks. After all, if the prior dart bounces out there isn't anything to get in the way of your next dart!

Some Differences

You can't throw steel-tip darts at a soft-tip board. Wrong kind of tip & way too heavy. End of story.

Throwing soft-tip darts at a steel-tip bristle board works just fine. The soft-tips will penetrate the bristle board just fine. They will have a higher bounce-out percentage on the dividers due to the stubby end of the soft-tip tip.

Convertible darts thrown at a steel-tip board work OK. They aren't as heavy as real steel-tip darts, and don't have anti-bounce-out mechanisms ... so it isn't really like throwing steel-tip darts.

The one thing that throwing soft-tip darts at a steel-tip bristle board will not help you with the throw of your soft-tip game. Why? The bristle board will accept darts at almost any angle. The soft-tip board is less accepting of what angle darts will enter the board than a bristle board is.


If you want to throw soft-tip darts well, throw them at a soft-tip board.

If you want to throw steel-tip darts well, get real steel-tip darts and throw them at a bristle board.

You can use soft-tip darts on a steel-tip bristle board to improve your soft-tip targetting. The double and triple segments on the bristle board are smaller than on a soft-tip board, and require more accuracy.

The steel-tip bristle board is a great tool for solving problems with your soft-tip throw and for Tuning your darts. That's because you see the angle the dart arrives at the board face with. That information allows you to work both on fixing/improving your throw, and on tuning your darts so that they fly properly.

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Last Modified: Fri Dec 27 15:26:52 CST 2013
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