Many cultures have utilized the blowgun as a tool to capture or stun wildlife or as a weapon to defend their tribes. Various indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia, the Amazon and Guiana regions of South America, and Guatemala in Central America are best known for their use. Blowgun projectiles for these weapons vary from seeds, clay pellets, and bamboo skewers to darts dipped in poisonous substances. Projectile sizes range from .40 cal (10 mm or .4 inches) to .625 cal (15.8 mm or .62 inches) in diameter while blowgun lengths typically fall between 3 ½ – 4 ½ feet in length. Making a homemade blowgun, or an on-the-go blowgun while in the wild, is a fairly simple project and provides an excellent weapon for hunting small game.
The longer the blowgun, the more powerful and accurate it will be. Too long, however, and the weapon will become unwieldy and hard to power through breath alone. The borehole size must be carefully constructed in order to allow for pressurization of the air when the shooter blows into it.
How to make a Bamboo blowgun
Start with a piece of bamboo or river cane that is approximately ½ inch wide by 5 feet long.
- Over a flame, heat the end of a steel rod that is about 1 foot longer than the bamboo piece.
- Insert the steel rod into the bamboo until it reaches the first joint membrane. Continue to force the rod through, reheating as necessary, to clear (smooth out) each of the inner joint membranes.
Natives use a similar method to make blowguns but instead of a heated steel rod, they use a rough metal rod, typically with some sort of handle attached to one end, that they twist and turn to slowly drill out a hole through a straight hardwood tree branch. However, using this method, it can take up to 3 days to drill through the wood.
How to make a blowgun from wooden sticks, halved and joined together with glue
A wooden stick, halved, then joined together with glue is another common method of blowgun construction for natives of the Amazon.
- Begin with a straight stick of sufficient width to allow a 12 mm (about ½ inch) hole to be bored through it while still maintaining structural integrity. If the stick is covered in bark, remove the bark using a knife. Then sand the stick to create a smooth outer surface.
- Split the stick in half using a saw or machete.
- Using a chisel, carve a hollow channel on both halves of the stick maintaining an equal diameter throughout the length of the stick.
- Sand the inner channel until it is smooth.
- Glue both halves back together making sure all joints are completely closed and airtight. Pine pitch can be used as glue in a survival situation.
A heated steel rod can be pushed through the hole to remove any slight imperfections.
How to make a PVC Blowgun
A more permanent solution, one that is simple to construct and durable, is a blowgun made from plastic PVC pipe.
- Cut a 3’ section of ½“ PVC pipe to form the blowgun tube. Sand ends to remove burs and imperfections.
- Attach a ½” female adapter onto one end of the 3’ tube. This will serve as the mouthpiece.
- Fit a ¾” rubber washer into the female adapter. This will help keep the dart from falling out of the mouthpiece and also provide comfort while blowing through the mouthpiece.
- Cut a 2” wide section of foam tubing and wrap it around the PVC tube about 12 inches from the female adapter. The foam piece may be used as a dart holder (simply stick the darts into the foam).
A second foam piece may be attached further down for a handhold if desired.
Darts are typically constructed from hardwoods in the wild but even bamboo skewers can use used. The dart’s fletch, which helps stabilize the dart and act as a ballast as it travels through the air, can be made from feather tips or animal fur. Fur works well for blowgun darts because it helps create a better seal. The fletching material can be glued on or attached by wrapping it with dental floss, thread, or thin wire.
- Take a small piece of 3-inch paper and roll it into a tight cone shape.
- Cut off the small end leaving a hole just large enough to slip a nail through.
- Push a nail through the hole so the head of the nail is inside the cone while the pointed end protrudes from the end. Aluminum roofing nails work well because they are lightweight.
- Use glue to tack the head of the nail so it stays attached to the paper cone material.
Duct tape may be used in place of paper to form the dart’s fletch.
Cotton balls can also be wrapped around the ends to form the fletch.
Place the projectile into the end of the blowgun pushing it through the mouthpiece, place closed lips onto the blow hole, build up pressure in your mouth and release quickly to blow out the dart with a powerful burst of breath.
Types of blowguns
As a primitive weapon, there are no set dimensions for a blowgun’s length and diameter. However, generally there are several defined blowgun sizes:
Fukidake — diameter is 13 mm (.51 cal) in Japan. Tournament length is 120.0 cm, but for practice, one can use a 50 cm tube. No mouthpiece is used; users wrap their lips around the tube. International versions can be slightly more flexible, allowing a tube of 121.92 cm (4 ft) and .50 cal under IFA rules. Darts consist of a paper cone 20 cm long, weighing 0.8 gram.
Cherokee – made of river cane, six to nine feet long. Dart is 6 to 22 inches long and made of locustwood or other available hardwoods such as oak, ash, maple, walnut, etc., fletched with bull thistle down or rabbit fur, that provides an air seal.
Jakaltek wooden blowgun averages 1.29 m long with a sight placed 30 cm from the end. Clay pellets are the most common type of ammunition and clay is sometimes added under the sight when the diameter of the blowgun is too thin for more stability and a better aim.
Modern (US/EU) — typically has a diameter of 10 mm (.40 cal), however, both the 0.50 cal. (12.7 mm) and 0.625 cal. (15.8 mm) are admitted for competitive shooting, with restrictions on barrel length and darts dimensions/weight; with varying lengths having distance restrictions imposed. Bell-shaped mouthpiece. Standard length limited to 121.92 cm (4 feet) in IFA sanctioned competition.
Pipe (conduit or aluminum) can be used for blowgun tubes too. With a length of about 4 foot, a blowgun built using these materials can also double as a hiking stick. Electrical tape can be wrapped around the pipe for grips.
Darts can also be constructed from piano wire, coat hangers, bike spokes, or bamboo skewers.