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.
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.
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.
Sand the catapult down and you will be left with a nice smooth finish.
And there you have it, one finished catapult which took a long time to complete!
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