How To: Make and Throw an Iron Javelin

Make and Throw an Iron Javelin

Greetings, my good public. In this article, I will show you how to recreate one of the most effective weapons of the Iron Age. I'm talking, of course, about the iron javelin.

It should be obvious that the modern sport of javelin throwing derives from ancient skills of war. Long before the javelin was used for sport, it was a serious weapon used by almost all warriors over a very long period of history.

Let's look at some actual historical examples of the iron javelin. First, this one, used by Spanish Celts:

The Romans called this weapon "Soliferrum", meaning "only iron" in Latin. It was said that this weapon could turn any wooden shield into splinters, no matter how thick.

Here is another one, which I believe is of Roman origin:

Notice how phallic-shaped it is...not too surprising, considering who invented it. Sometimes, people would use smaller iron javelins, which were almost like large darts:

So, why would this weapon be any better than a normal javelin?

First, because of the extra weight. Second, because they used an ingenious method of launching the spear with more force than the human arm can produce on its own. The method involved using a strong piece of cord, attached to the spear, which is wound around the hand like so:

When you throw the javelin, and pull on the cord, it makes the whole javelin spin, so that it becomes a spin-stabilized projectile. It is not very different from the way that a bullet spins as it leaves the barrel of a gun.

This weapon can be easily recreated for fun and friendly competition, using a 3-foot concrete spike. They look like this:

These things are available at most home supply stores. I got mine at Lowe's for about 5 bucks. You might notice that it has small holes drilled through it at regular intervals. This is extremely convenient for us, because it gives us a place to attach our loop.

Now, I know this is not the most historically accurate way of recreating this weapon, but unless you feel like building an ironworking forge in your backyard and gathering up a whole bunch of coal to melt the stuff, this is your easiest way.

So, why do this at all?

Because, simply put, it is a lot of fun. When thrown correctly, these javelins will turn old wooden furniture into a pile of splinters. It can be a great stress reliever to pick up some old abandoned furniture from beside the dumpster and smash it into toothpicks. Also, it can be a lot of fun to get some people together and compete at throwing the spear.

Step 1: Preparing the Javelin

Make sure your concrete spike is straight when you buy it. Do this by looking at it end-on:

As you can see, this one is pretty much straight. If yours is not straight, do not worry. You can probably stick it between two tree trunks and bend it right again. To do this, first find two thick tree trunks that are good and close together:

Since my javelin doesn't need straightening, I will show you with a stick. To begin with, take one end of the javelin and stick it between the trunks:

Put the bent part against the tree closest to you, as shown above. This is important because next you are going to pull on it like so:

Pull it towards yourself. You should be able to feel the metal bending. It will require some strength to do this, but not all that much. As soon as you feel any bending, look at it end-on and check it for straightness. It is best to bend it a little at a time because metal can only bend so many times before it breaks, which means that the less bending you have to do, the better.

Now, you will need to attach your throwing loop. This is the small loop of rope that spin-propels your javelin, as described in the introduction.

Choosing the right cordage for this is quite important. I recommend 550 paracord because it is thin, strong, and smooth.

Whatever you use, it should fit these three criteria. A thick, rough rope would be too awkward and might bind up in your hand when you throw it. A thinner, smoother rope will provide a cleaner release. However, the rope must be very strong to avoid breaking, so this creates a problem. The Irish solved this problem by using pure silk, which has an extremely high tensile strength.

We, however, don't need to go ripping up silk shirts and braiding the strips together, because paracord is more than up to the task. One strand can support 550 lbs, so it is very unlikely to break. Look for it at military surplus stores or on the internet.

Now, you may be wondering which holes to put the paracord through. To figure this out, you must find the point of balance. To do this, Take your spike and balance it on two fingers like this:

It might take you a minute to find the right place to hold it. When you are able to balance it on two fingers, put a little piece of tape around the stick, right where your fingers are. This marks the point of balance.

Now, go about a hand-and-a-half back from the tape and put your rope through the nearest hole. You may need to adjust it later, but for now, that's it.

Step 2: Throwing the Javelin

Okay, now that you have this thing ready, you will need to learn how to throw it.

Start by putting a cardboard box out in your yard and throwing at it. For this first time, go ahead and throw it in whatever way comes natural to you. DON'T even try to use the loop yet. you must learn one thing at a time. What is important is that you try to make it fly straight and hit the target. Of course, safety must be considered, so be absolutely sure that there are no people or animals in front of you, and make sure that you won't go through someone's wall or anything when you miss. Do that for a little while before you come back and read the next paragraph.

Unless you have prior experience in the art of spear-chucking, you probably didn't have much luck, did you? Even if you have thrown sport javelins before, you may have had a hard time because this thing is much heavier than its Olympic counterpart. It takes a certain technique to make this thing fly right, and I wanted you to see that firsthand. I am not sure if my technique is the only way, but it's the only way that works for me, so here it is:

If you look at certain pieces of ancient art, you can see the basic posture for spear use:

Now, my way of throwing is not exactly the same as that of the ancient Greeks in those pictures, but pictures like these gave me a place to start from when trying to teach myself the use of this weapon. The only thing I have modified is the footwork. So, start in this posture:

With your feet like this:

Most of your weight should be on the back knee (in this picture, that's the knee with the rip in it) and your empty hand should be stuck forward as if holding a shield. You can use this hand like a sight, to help you aim at your target. If you have studied Karate, you will notice that the foot placement here is a lot like a back stance.

The throwing technique works like this: You step forward, lunging all your weight forward as you go. As you do, bring your javelin hand up over your head:

And around again as you complete the step.

If you have been fortunate enough to study the exquisite art of Ninpo, you will see that the basic technique is very similar to an Ura Shuto strike. For those of you who have no idea what an Ura Shuto strike is, just watch this video:

This video shows me going through a dry run, just to show you the technique. You should practice this movement a few times without actually throwing the spear, much as I am doing here.

Here is what it looks like when you actually throw it:

I hit that large orange water cooler. You can't really see it in the video, but it did some serious damage. The whole thing was cracked almost in half as the spear passed all the way through.

Now then, after you have done some dry-practice, I want you to go outside and throw at that cardboard box some more. This time, use the technique I just showed you. Don't expect to get it perfect the first time. Be diligent and keep trying, but as before, DON'T USE THE LOOP. You need to learn how to throw the spear without the loop before you learn how to do it with the loop. Your target should only be about ten or fifteen feet away, if that. Once again, you must crawl before you can walk. You can always work up to a farther distance later on.

When you are able to at least make the javelin fly straight and hit the target, you are ready to try using the loop. All you do is put your index finger in the loop and wind it 3 times around the spear, like this:

Now, once again, head outside to that poor, battered cardboard box and throw some more, only this time, use the loop. Just wind it up like I showed you, take your stance, and step forward as you use all your body weight to hurl that thing. As before, don't expect to get it right the first time. Here are a few little troubleshooting tips:

  • Make sure that only the tip of your finger is in the loop. Otherwise, it might catch as you release the javelin, which is both incorrect and potentially dangerous.
  • Time your throw so that you release the javelin at the same time your front foot hits the ground.
  • Remember that the step and the throw must be done simultaneously. This is what allows you to put your weight behind the throw.
  • Just before you release the javelin, give it a slight pulling motion so as to spin that sucker like a drill bit. If it does not spin, you didn't do it right.
  • If you absolutely cannot get the thing to fly straight, you might want to try attaching your loop in a different hole. Experiment a bit until you find just the right place.
  • The farther away your target is, the farther up you will have to angle your throw. A spear travels in an arc rather than a straight line, so if you are coming up short, aim up!

Having warmed up a little, I decided to up the ante. I WAS going to do the standard thing and turn some old wooden furniture into splinters, but to be honest, I don't want to ruin it for you. When you get this just right, the wood will fly apart with such force that it almost looks like it exploded. It is a beautiful thing the first time you see it, and as I said, I don't want to spoil that for you.

Instead, I will demonstrate the power of this weapon by piercing an old DVD player. Observe:

This video also gives you a better idea of the weapon's effective range. Now, check out the damage:

The javelin went completely through the DVD player and out the other side. This player was made of both steel and plastic parts, but both were pierced completely through with no problem.

I have noticed that, when throwing this javelin at anything other than wood, it will not fly apart the same way. Instead, it will pierce a big, clean hole through the target, like the one you see above.

Wood, of course, consists of many grains side-by-side, and so it splits far easier than metal or plastic. The penetrating power of the javelin plus the tendency of wood to split along its grain equals an enemy shield flying apart. This equation was used to good effect by the ancients, and you can bet that, when they stopped using wooden shields, this weapon was a big part of the reason why.

So, that's about it. From here it's all about practice. As I have said repeatedly, it will take you some time to really get it right, so don't sweat it if your results are terrible at first. Just keep on trying until you get it right.

The real fun will begin when you get your friends and set up a little throwing contest. I assure you, once you whoop their asses real good in that contest, they will catch the spear-throwing bug, too. As long as you refrain from throwing at one another, this simple little spike can become a great source of fun and stress relief for all involved.

So be safe, and have fun destroying stuff.

2 Comments

Very cool tutorial on this home made javelin and the history surrounding it's use. I'ma gonna go out and make me one of these rite now!

Thank you so much for sharing this! It was incredibly helpful as I wanted to use a javelin as an example in a workshop this past weekend but couldn't afford a real one. Loved seeing the pictures and reading your excellent explanation too! Thanks so much for the time you put into creating this!

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