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     Long shafts, short flights and fat barrels?

    Darts & Stuff of InterestErik writes "What does it all mean?

    When asked about dart parts, John ‘Darth Maple’ Part writes:

    “Beginner's must eventually get their own equipment. When you are just starting out, this may be the most pleasurable part of the game. Many times in my darts travels I've had people come up with pride and show me their darts. On the other hand, very few have with an equal zeal tried to show me the darts working.
    Go out, find something you like, dress it up right, and have fun. Stick with a basic concept or style though, as too many drastic changes early on in your career may interfere with your ability to develop consistent grips and mechanics. Lastly, ignore those who ridicule your pink flights. They are only jealous.”

    John Part

    Thanks John, I’ll stop I promise!

    So You’re standing in a store with a bunch of darts and dart paraphernalia and you’re wondering what is it all for? Well, hopefully I can help enlighten you just a little on the whys and wherefores of dart parts so that you might make some good decisions on what to try and what to smile at and ignore. After all, it’s bad enough being a new dart addict with cash in pocket in a dart store – that cash just seems to burn holes like hot embers on a lawn chair (don’t ask!). Furthermore, I can’t imagine how much money I’ve spent on dart stuff over the years but I’d wager it’s more then what I pay in gas annually! -- And that’s no small feat with gas at three thousand dollars a gallon! -- Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration but this article won’t be (gas is only two thousand dollars a gallon).

    First, lets look at a dart itself.

    Contrary to popular belief a dart is not made of a feather, shaft, weight thing and nail, but that’s close. It’s actually comprised of a Flight, Shaft, Barrel and Tip (or point). I’ll break these down and explain some of the options for each, however if you really have to make your own dart the afore mentioned components will work to some degree, just ask my friend Biggy who made a dart out of duct tape, 10 gauge wire and a pair of snips!

    The Flight
    You’ll notice that the ‘fletches’ or ‘feathers’ of a dart are actually called ‘flights’ instead. Having played darts for some 30 years I can’t remember ever calling them anything else or why they are called flights rather then ‘fletches’ like they are on an arrow, but well, there it is: Flight. Perhaps when Accudart came out with the ‘modern’ flight the naming changed but since that happened so long ago I forgot what people used to say.

    The Flight is obviously very important, but why the different shapes and sizes?

    Each shape brings different characteristics into play just like the wings of an airplane. Big flights provide more drag, little flights less. Smooth flights less drag and rough flights more. Each style of flight is designed to do the same thing to a different degree: stabilize the dart in flight.

    For example: someone with a VERY smooth throw and fairly straight delivery can get away with very small flights because they have less to stabilize whereas someone with a violent snapping delivery will have a very unstable dart and will need bigger flights to settle it down. I have also found that some combinations of dart weight and shaft length don't combine well with the small flights. Usually heavy barrels tend to require a larger flight, but this makes some sense – consider a large bodied plane, it needs big wings right? Same principle here sort of.

    The composite of the flight makes a big difference as well. That is the ‘texture’ of the flight itself and the difference is again just degrees of the same thing. For example, a Dimplex flight with its rough surface creates more ‘drag’ on the dart then a Ruthless flight with its smooth surface.

    The Shaft
    The shaft is like the fuselage of a plane. It connects the wings and rudder to the main body – or more correctly the flights to the barrel.

    There are many types and shapes of shafts but the rule of thumb should be: longer = more stable, shorter = more responsive. In virtually all darts thrown there is somewhat of a wave or swing to their flight (like a sine wave). They go up and then go down in a sort of wobble as they fly through the air and it is this wobble that can be accented or retarded by the use of shorter or longer shafts. It’s sort of the fulcrum/lever thing of old. Give me a big enough lever and I can move the world! -- Or in this case “give me a short enough fulcrum and I can hit the 180’s”

    Consider this: If you hold the dart by the flight and move it up and down at the tip what happens? It rotates on the flight right? Ok, now increase the length of the shaft and what happens? It rotates less right? No? Is it more? In the air the effect is somewhat opposite of what you might imagine; the longer shaft seems to narrow the rotation down a bit (perhaps due to angle of rotation) thus making the dart a little more stable in flight. Imagine a kids ‘teeter totter’ in the park, if it has a very short ‘seat’ on it then you tend to see the kids going up and down very quickly right? But if you make it longer then they do this at a slower rate. They may or may not go as high or higher with the longer seat (shaft), but they will take longer to make the movement. It’s physics.

    The longer the shaft, the more stable the flight path of the dart – but beware, too long a shaft can cause other problems and darts are limited to 12” – so no, you can’t throw arrows at my dart boards!

    Why on earth would you want a shorter shaft then? Perhaps your brain exactly times that wobble in your throw and to reduce it would mean a less accurate throw! The mind is amazing, really, and most pro’s shoot with a medium or intermediate length shaft. Some play with short shafts, but I doubt any shoot with super shorts, stubbies or the like. So bear in mind that while it may be tempting to try 6 inch long shafts to see how they perform, your mind still has to figure out how to make them hit their target in less then 7 feet! The best thing to do of course, is to try different lengths (and weights – nylon vs. aluminum) to see what suits your style of throw the best.

    The Barrel
    The barrel of the dart is of course one of the most crucial elements of the dart there is! The size and shape is very dependant on the size and shape of your hand and how you grip the dart. Some like long barrels, others like them short. There are teardrop-shaped, carrot-shaped, straight- and bomb-shaped barrels. In fact, there are barrels of nearly every shape and size and material! So what to do? Start by trying as many as you can.

    The most common material used to make the barrel is Tungsten because of its relative small size and heavy weight. A tungsten dart weighing 24 grams will actually be smaller and thinner then a brass dart weighing just 19 grams. This can be very good. But there are barrels made of brass, nickel/silver, tungsten, titanium coated tungsten and a new coating called latinum. The options are nearly endless but all come down to one thing: what size and feel you prefer.

    If a dart is very ‘front’-heavy like the Unicorn World Champion John Lowe pictured below, then it tends to have a very stable flight and will drop to the board at the end of the trajectory in a very predictable manner. However, this same type of dart might be difficult for some to throw if they have more of a wrist snap and violent release (which is common amongst the better players) because the short heavy (relative term) barrel will have a tendency to rotate (swing) on it’s wave in a more pronounced movement. Thus the wobbling pattern of the dart to the board will make it harder to be accurate and cause the dart to land more steeply in the board when it strikes. However, darts like the Unicorn World Champions - John Part, Bob Anderson, and Phil Taylor - are considered ‘mid-weighted’ darts and tend to have less arc in their wobble but perhaps a higher frequency. This may suit those who can’t throw the front-loaded darts as consistently, or who want their dart to land a little straighter in the board. The sine wave wobble of the dart will be more predictable and less pronounced for these throwers.

    It is important, however, to try them all out to see what works best for you and to not fall for the claims that this dart or that dart is better for you – or will make you a pro. It simply isn’t true!

    It is also important to recognize that in truth no dart is truly anything other then ‘front loaded’ in a true sense of the word, but there are different degrees of this and for easy of understanding the characteristics of a specific dart we like to call long straight barrels ‘mid-weighted’ while we tend to call short barrels ‘front loaded’. The reason for this is that the shorter barrels shift the weight of the dart further forward on the axis of rotation (the wobble) when flying through the air making it more pronounced.

    The Point
    The point, or tip as it is usually called, can be long, short, movable or even soft. It can be black with a coating, or chromed - or not - and the type of tip really depends on the type of board you will be throwing on. For example, if you are throwing on a Unicorn Eclipse Pro dartboard (SEWA’s winner of the Dartboard Comparisons test) then movable tips are simply a waste of money. However, if it’s a round-wired Unicorn Maestro then perhaps movable tips aren’t such a bad idea since they may reduce bounce-outs (which are bad).

    I find coated tips a waste of money because I wear the coating down anyway – especially when I roughen my tips (needed often) so they stick in the sisal of the dartboard better – and I find excessively long tips throw the balance of my dart off. However I have known many that could throw with the long, hypodermic-looking tips rather well, though I would mention that no pro uses them (that must be for a reason).

    Soft tips are obviously designed for soft tip boards and though there are many types of them out there I won’t go into them in detail because honestly I don’t play soft tips enough to do so. Though I will mention that the Voks tip (which can only be used in a Voks soft-steel dart) and the M3 tip seem to be the toughest tips made for soft tips.

    So there you have it! The parts of the dart and what changing them may do for you. Just remember there are as many different combinations as there are people, however the majority of the pros typically seem to use standard flights, medium shafts and straight barrels – there may be a reason for that.

    Erik K. McVay


    "Long shafts, short flights and fat barrels?" | Login/Create an Account | 3 comments | Search Discussion
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    Re: Long shafts, short flights and fat barrels? (Score: 1)
    by HotelNeptune on Thursday, October 12 @ 15:39:57 UTC
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    Hi! I'm a beginner here (at the site and to darts in general as well), and I just wanted to say thanks for all the info! I've already purchased my first two "real" sets that I'm pretty happy with, a 27 gram Dart World Strict 9 with a fat barrel, and a 23 gram Unicorn Control with a slightly thinner barrel. My girlfriend also set up a weekly "dart night" with some of my friends on Tuesday nights at the local pub, and I created an online forum for them. One of the guys (we're all beginners) mentioned he needed to pick up a set of his own, and I immediately sent the whole group the link to this article... I'm sure it will really help them make a much more informed decision. Great info, and very thorough... thanks again!

    Re: Long shafts, short flights and fat barrels? (Score: 1)
    by sullyx ( on Tuesday, October 17 @ 15:48:27 UTC
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    good article Erik but what happened to the pic of John and his darts below?

    Re: Long shafts, short flights and fat barrels? (Score: 1)
    by Knewt5 on Tuesday, November 21 @ 11:14:47 UTC
    (User Info | Send a Message)
    Great article!

    There is one point where I had a diferent theory than yours. That's the drag created by Dimplex flights. The Dimplex flights have an iregular surface that I believe creates some increased drag but also increases a particular kind of lift rotating bodies are subject to, Magnus lift. I'm basing all of this on the phisycs of the flight of a golf ball which, I believe , is the reasoning behind the Dimplex surface. That surface, at least on a golf ball, has an effect on the trajectory of the ball. If the same applies to a dart, the effect on the trajectory would be one that leads to a more dart friendly termination of the flight.

    All that said, does any of this translate to darts...I don't know but I think it's possible. I just thought it might be an interesting point of view to consider.

    Here is a website that talks about this as it relates to a golfball.

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