Imagine the idealized rough and tumble boy depicted in literature, movies, and TV shows. Go ahead. Do it. Done? Whether you imagined Tom Sawyer, Dennis the Menace, or Bart Simpson, chances are you pictured him with a handmade slingshot dangling from his back pants pocket.
The humble slingshot has been a fixture among boys across cultures and across generations. The first modern-type slingshots probably didn’t make an appearance until vulcanized rubber was invented in 1839. 19th century boys used old rubber tire inner tubes as the bands to catapult their rocks and pellets at cans and unsuspecting cats.
The popularity of the slingshot really took off though after WWII and commercially-made slingshots became widely available. While we typically associate slingshots with bucktoothed, freckled-faced boys, placed in the hands of a skilled user, a slingshot can become an efficient hunting tool and even a guerrilla warrior weapon, and 80% of slingshot sales in the post-war period were to adult men, who used the slingshot for hunting and also took part in emerging slingshot clubs and competitions.
Manufactured slingshots are still available today, but, because they require very few materials and tools to make, slingshots were and are the perfect toy/weapon to make yourself. There are hundreds of variations and tweaks you can try when crafting your own slingshot, but today we’re going to show you how to make the old classic natural fork variety. Whether you’re making it for yourself or for your kid, this is a great weekend project that takes only about 60 minutes to complete and will provide hours upon hours of entertainment for you and your family.
Materials & Tools Needed
- A Y-shaped tree branch with at least a 30 degree fork
- 1/4″ latex surgical tubing (available at Home Depot)
- Leather strips
- Dental floss
- Awl (optional)
- About an hour
Step 1: Find Your Fork
The first step in making a natural fork slingshot is finding a Y-shaped tree branch with an adequate natural fork. Look for hardwoods like oak, ash, dogwood, hickory, and (hard) maple. Buckthorn bush, an invasive plant, creates some good solid Y-shaped branches too, and the wood is pretty strong.
Don’t worry if you can’t find the perfect Y-shaped frame. Chances are, you’re not going to find it. As long as the fork forms at least a 30 degree angle, you’re good to go.
Sometimes you can find branches lying on the ground, but if there’s a dearth of grounded tree limbs, you’ll need to cut one off a tree. I’ve got a bunch of oak trees in my front and backyards, so I strolled around with my saw in tow looking at the low-hanging branches for my fork. I chanced upon this beauty below:
Step 2: Dry Your Wood
Branches that have just been cut from trees will have a lot of moisture in them which gives them a bit of flexibility. That’s not good for a slingshot frame. We want something that won’t bend while you’re pulling back on the bands. So we need to suck all that moisture out of the wood.
The natural way would be to just set the branch somewhere and let it dry out for a year. Since we want to finish this project in a weekend, that’s a not a good option. A faster natural drying method would be to start a campfire and set your branch near the flames. As soon as you hear your fork stop hissing, you’ll know the water is all out of it. While certainly faster, this method will still take hours or even a day before the fork is completely dry.
To keep your slingshot project under an hour, we’re going to utilize a bit of space age technology: your kitchen microwave.
Step 3: Carve Notches in Your Fork
Step 4: Cut Your Tubing
Step 5: Attach Tubing to Fork
Step 6: Create Pouch
Step 7: Attach Pouch to Tubing
You may have to adjust the length of your bands so that you get the right amount of force. The latex bands will degrade after extended use. Replace them as soon as you see any wear and tear. The last thing you want is a band to snap and smack you in the eye.
It goes without saying, but be smart and safe when you or your kid play with a slingshot. At the end of the day, a slingshot is a small weapon that hurls projectiles at fast speeds.
Before you try your hand at hunting squirrels or other small varmints with your slingshot, check your local hunting laws to see if hunting with slingshots is permissible and if it requires a license.
In researching this post I was surprised to discover that there’s a vibrant and extremely helpful community of slingshot enthusiasts out there. If you’re interested in learning more advanced slingshot making techniques, I highly recommend you check the following websites:
Slingshot Forum. This place is amazing. Lots of useful guides and friendly folks to answer all your slingshot questions.
The Slingshots Page. Don’t let the rough and simple web design of this site fool you. It’s packed with some fantastic advice on making your own slingshot. The most useful sections are on how to attach your bands to the fork and how to attach your pouch to the bands.
Last updated: May 9, 2013