Nature's Secret Larder - How to make a Catapult - Tutorial

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Bushcraft Blog

How to make a Catapult - Tutorial
26th April 2009

Catapults (sometimes known as a slingshot) are something I grew up with. In my spare time I was always out and about in the countryside with my granddad learning how to shoot with a catapult, and over the years I became very accurate with them. In fact, my granddad and I used to shoot bottle tops at well over one hundred feet away and rarely miss. Once mastered the humble catapult is a highly efficient hunting weapon that is rivalled by none.

My granddad always had a catapult in his pocket, it was a way of getting something for the pot back in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, although he used them regularly up until the 1980’s. I still have his catapults, all handmade and shiny with years of use. In fact, one of them is nearly 100 years old!

His enthusiasm for the traditional catapult rubbed off on me, and I too have made them for many years. You can of course buy them, but making them is much more fun.

The following information will follow you through the first steps in the process,  The tutorial has taken a long time, and although simple in terms of writing, you have to bear in mind that the wood needs to be seasoned, which can take months. So this has been made in several sections and blended together for easy reading.

I will point out that although catapults look fun (and they are), they are also very dangerous and should not be used for anything other than target practise or, if for food, hunting. Never shoot at anyone and always consider the environment you are using them in.

I hope you enjoy it, and please feel free to leave your comments below.

Finding the right catapult shape growing in the wild seems straight forward, and indeed it is if you’re not too fussy, but some can be weak, odd shaped, not comfortable and not very accurate. This means you may need to carve the catapult into the shape you require. This can take a long time, and you will see what I came up with in the final image.

catapult


Once you have found your ideal catapult you need to cut it free from the tree, taking great care not to damage the tree in anyway. This can be done with a knife, but I prefer to use a saw. It’s a good idea to make sure the catapult will be suitable for your hand size first.

cutting a catpault from wood

Once you have your catapult it’s time to both remove the bark and season the wood. I always remove the bark first as its easier.

Now it’s time to carve your catapult into shape. Take a lot of time here, especially if you’re fussy like me.

carving a catapult

carving a catapult

Sand the catapult down and you will be left with a nice smooth finish.

Sanding down the catapult

And there you have it, one finished catapult which took a long time to complete!

Handmade Catapult

Adding the elastic to a catapult, is probably the easiest step, but one that can be done in several different ways. 

Firstly you need to consider the type of elastic to use, there are many out there, but for me the modern tube elastics are the ones that are to be avoided, and the square or flat elastic should be the one of choice. The main reasons being, that the square or flat stuff is by far, in my opinion a more accurate and predictable elastic when being used on a primitive catapult frame.  Tube elastic is good on a “slingshot” style tool, but usually requires an arm brace for ultimate accuracy.

The most rustic way of adding the elastic would to simply tie the elastic to the prongs. This is usually the option used when in a survival situation, but when making them for fun, this is not only slightly dangerous, but also offer unpredictable firing, often resulting in stones veering off to the left or right.

One of the best methods is to strap a strong, but short piece of leather to each prong, and then fix the elastic to this.  In simple terms to create a small free moving area that allows the elastic to propel forward, hurling the ammo freely and providing a more accurate shot. I find that strong, but thin cord such as this one is a good choice, but you should not use any type of glue in conjunction with it, as it will degrade the elastic.

Another option, would be to simply strap the elastic the prongs and using the natural property of the wood to create enough friction to hold the elastic in one place (in conjunction with the strapping), but this will, over time cause weakness in the elastic causing it to break, but it’s simple enough to change if it does.

Either way, always take great care when using these tools, as if the elastic comes loose when in use, it can cause serious injury to you, or others.  

Thank you to my friend Andrew for taking the shots of the process for me.

Catch you on the trail
Kris


Comments

Alex on 03/08/15

Hi can someone help me are there any cheep ammo, elastic suppliers and how to calculate the ammo to band, tube set that would be greatly appreciated if it matters I only use naturals I just love the feel and the look of the grain and how they differ in the shape and size thank-you

Clever Moniker on 28/11/14

Great tutorial on making a natural slingshot!! Will share this. :)

cheers,
Clever Moniker

Clever Moniker on 28/11/14

Great tutorial on making a natural slingshot!! Will share this. :)

cheers,
Clever Moniker

Kris on 07/07/14

Hi Johnny,

Many thanks for your much appreciated support :)

Kris

JOHNNY on 02/07/14

Kris great site ,and well put. The thing you whirl round you head is a sling, yours is a catapult, I've never heard it called anything else in England. Abi 0 Kris 10. Paul 0 Kris 10. Nit pickers will always abound, so keep up the good work Kris.

Gareth Clayton on 04/12/13

Thanks so much!
I'll be heading out over xmas to find me some suitable forked sticks. There are woods near me which were clearly copicced at one point. Should provide some good examples!
Thanks again and great job on the website!

Kris on 28/11/13

Hi Gareth,

I season the wood by leaving it for a long while to completely dry first, although I strip the bark off when still green. It needs to be stored somewhere cool and dry, such as a garage or shed.

You can carve it when wet, but I like to carve and sand it down to leave a nice smooth surface, which can only be done if dry.

I hope this helps out.

Gareth J Clayton on 28/11/13

You talk about seasoning the wood? Do you actually wait a number of months to dry the wood out before using it? Or just go ahead and carve and use immediately?

Thanks for the tutorial! Yours looks great!

Kris on 09/03/12

Abi,

By definition, youre right. Globally these would be called a slingshot. But, the history and tradition of where Im from, they are, and have been called a catapult for longer than the mainly Americanized term sling-shot has been used. Which is why I always call them a catapult.

abi on 02/03/12

this is a slingshot not a catapult

Kris on 28/01/12

OK, messages are enabled again. I have added some text regarding adding the elastic to the catapult, but no pictures on this yet. I hope this is some help!

Kris on 14/07/11

Please, no more comments on this article. As I have stated many times before, I will add the elastic section when I get time to do so. I know it's been a long time, but it will be added at some point. Until then, messages for this article are closed. Thank you.

Jay on 14/07/11

Paul, See the red highlighted text above your comment. Surely common sense alone is enough to understand how to attach the elastic?

paul on 12/07/11

I can't see the point of trying to explain how to make a catapult while leaving out the most important bit of how to fit the rubber. Surely you should not have attempted this article until you could finish it. I can agree that a'stone' could be sent well over 100 feet with a catapult but I suggest the hard part would be to actually see a bottle top at 100 feet. Also, stones are very different in shape and this would have to be allowed for with each shot. Surley it would be better to use ball bearings etc ?. Well done anyway for an interesting article.

Kris on 12/11/10

Thank you June, im pleased you like them. Hopefully I will have time to add more soon!

June on 11/11/10

loving your tutorials, thank you:) just ignore the negative people!

jack on 29/10/10

i have made lots and lots of catapults and thanks for the tips

Kris on 01/10/10

Hi Trev,

I always think natural drying is best is if you can wait. I hope to start on the elastic section soon, I have some great elastic now and will try to get the images and instructions on as soon as I can.

Cheers
Kris

trev on 01/10/10

hi kris,been baking my stick to dry them out do you think its better to let them dry for 6 months or is baking them ok also agree with you need good eyes and wife to spot the right fork hope you do add how to fit elastics would finish your site off nicely cheers trev.

Kris on 03/08/10

Heather, thank you for your kind comments. Please let me know how you get on trying to make a catapult. Enjoy your weekend :)

Heather on 03/08/10

Thankyou for this brilliant resource!

My boyfriend and I have always been interested in exploring bushcraft and wild camping, which we're actually going to have a go at this weekend, and your site has been a lot of help! After reading this article, I now have an idea as to what I can do on our trip - I'm quite looking forward to having a go at carving our own tools for future trips :)

Thankyou again!

mick on 28/02/10

many thanks. if it was not for people like you these old age arts would be lost forever more please.

chris on 12/02/10

hello m8 thanx alot for your information i cant understand people being bitchy to you must have nothing els to do very sad all the best chris bristol uk.

Rob on 30/01/10

For elastic you can do no better than surgical rubber tubing it stretches to at least 6 times it's original length and will fire a 1/2ounce ball bearing at tremendous speed.I've killed many rabbits using it.

kalvin on 22/01/10

what a great site excellent. when you get a min could you email on how the best way to attach the elastic to a catapult or slingshot?

Hugh on 27/10/09

I’m referring to the post from Nick T. What a stupid, rude and ignorant thing to say. Maybe I would be right in saying you’re from the US? The reason I say this is because a catapult if far different, and much more accurate than that of a slingshot.

Kris, thanks for the useful information and great website – from a visitor who does appreciate it!

Kris on 27/10/09

Nick, first of all thank you for the negative comments, you obviously have lots of spare time on your hands! First of all, I make no mention of the ‘elastic’ being 100 years old! Only the wood, although there are some types of synthesized elastic which lasts very well indeed. Secondly, if you are able to select decent stones then its most certainly possible to hit a bottle top at a 100 feet. If you don’t feel this is achievable, then please keep practicing, as we never had trouble with it.

nick t. on 26/10/09

I'm calling BS on his intro, bottle caps at 100 feet is a very hard target, and especially if he were using rocks, which are unpredictable. and how old was your grandfather? surely the rubber they had 100 years ago would not survive to today... sounds like you used quite a fair amount of poetic license there!

colin on 24/10/09

hiya i am very interested in making my own catapult its been years since i made 1 could you please give me the benefit of your experience into which type of wood is best and how to best attach the elastic many thanks Colin

Kris on 06/10/09

Dear Rob,

I will add this when I get a moment, to help you and everyone else out, but as I will need to include illustrations, it will take me a bit of time, and unfortunately I have a very hectic schedule at the moment, although in the next month or so I do hope to get some time to work on things! (fingers crossed).

Rob Knight on 05/10/09

Hi Kris,

Please do finish - what is the best way to attach the elastic?

Many thanks,

Rob Knight

Kris on 12/09/09

Leigh,

I find the best to be Hazel or Ash. Birch is quite soft, but should still work fine.

Hope this helps, but please feel free to contact me if not.

Leigh Holbrook on 12/09/09

Hi,
I'm currently using a Milbro (Brass) catapult for a little extra help when Ferreting as I'm working on an airport so I cant use a gun. I need another one but refuse to pay the rediculous cost and quite fancy making one, which wood do I need, would birch be strong enough?
Thanks, Leigh

Kris on 07/07/09

Hi BLUPA,

I will send you some details when I get a moment (often teaching). The main keys are...

1) finding a good bit of wood to start with.

2) take your time. I can spend days on one item at times. Carving the shape you want is sometimes required.

3) the smooth finish is sometimes finished off with sandpaper.

For me, the main points are 1 and 2 above.

I will try and get an e-mail to you soon. In the mean time for short replies please feel free to leave questions here.

Thanks
Kris

BLUPA on 07/07/09

how do you make it that good, mine are terrible. Please email me more detailed instructions.

jondav on 15/06/09

very interesting ive started tomake homemade catapaults but as i live by the coast i look for driftwood to make the fork you never know what exotic wood will turn up onthe beach. ive had some reaslly nice hardwood which makes lovely ones.Its great to make something beautiful and functional at the same time . i never use any of them on any living thing

Kris on 17/05/09

Hi,

I have not had chance to finish this one yet, so hope to add how to attach the elastic soon. There are several ways, but I will cover them as soon as I get some spare time.

Cheers
Kris

suburban bushwacker on 17/05/09

You made a lovely job of that, which method do you use to attach the elastic?
SBW


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