Introduction: Blowguns and Paper Cone Darts

Legal note: Blowguns are illegal in Canada, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia and New York City.  Check your laws.

Safety notes: Blowguns are surprisingly powerful.  If there is a hard object near or behind the target, wear safety goggles in case of ricochets.  Make sure nobody is near the target.  Even the paper darts can poke out an eye, and certainly the nail ones can do damage.  I do not recommend using the nail-tipped ones outside of a proper shooting range (e.g., an archery range).  Children should be informed that blowguns are weapons and should only be used under close parental supervision. Do not breathe in while shooting or you may have a dart go down your throat, and instruct children to be careful not to breathe in. It can be tempting to breathe in through the nose with mouth on blowgun, but resist the temptation--the dart can go back into the mouth, or worse, then.

I will give instructions on how to make a Fukiya-style blowgun either out of CPVC pipe or a magazine, as well as on how to recycle magazines into Fukiya-style paper-cone blowgun darts of various types (paper-only, wood-tip, nail-tip and cotton-tip), using a pencil with a rubber band method to roll them (while there are other instructions, none of the ones I've seen use this very handy tool which makes good long darts).  I will also give directions for a simple styrofoam target.

While I included instructions for tougher darts, don't sneer at paper-only ones.  I can easily propel them 40 yards or so, and they stick very nicely into styrofoam.

You can make paper-only darts and a paper-only blowgun for office "warfare": you only need an old magazine and stuff you can find around the office, so this is a perfect item for entertainment in the office, assuming that your office rules won't consider this a prohibited weapon.  You can then use the styrofoam from some packaging as a target.  

I will also throw in instructions for hand-throwable darts.  Hopefully you can use those by hand in jurisdictions where blowguns are illegal.

The instructions are divided into four main parts.  First, blowguns.  Second, darts, starting with the basic paper dart which you should master first.  Third, a target.  Finally, a few notes about shooting.

Ingredients and tools for basic darts
  • glossy magazine, ideally with fairly lightweight paper (I used This Old House with success)
  • glue (e.g., white paper glue--I use Aleene's tacky glue--but for something more durable you can consider using water-resistant wood glue, like Titebond III)
  • pencil (or pen or other narrow cylinder)
  • rubber band
  • scissors or, better, box cutters
  • optional: steel ruler
Ingredients for specialty darts
  • wood-tip: toothpicks
  • short-skirt: bamboo skewers
  • metal-tip: #16 1-1/4" brads for ordinary use, or 12- or 14-gauge silver wire for zombies/werewolves (see note below)
  • hand-throwable: heavier magazine paper and some cardstock from magazine mail-in inserts or a magazine cover
  • cotton-tip: cotton swabs (e.g., Q-tips)
Ingredients for blowguns
  • CPVC pipe blowgun: 1/2" nominal CPVC pipe, at least three or four feet in length, plus pipe-cutters or hacksaw, and sand-paper
  • 100% recycled magazine blowgun: stapled magazine, ideally with heavier paper
Ingredients for target
  • 3/4" styrofoam, at least 8" x 8"
  • hot knife, or candle/burner and old hacksaw blade or some other thin, fairly rigid, long metal thingy
  • permanent marker
  • pin/nail/toothpick
  • magazine cover
Zombie and werewolf note: Use the metal-tip dart instructions, but instead of a nail, use sharpened 12- or 14-gauge silver wire (I would sharpen with a file or a Dremel-type tool).  I recommend roughing up the side of the wire with some coarse sandpaper so that it glues better into the paper skirt.  You could try both pure but soft silver (e.g., available here) and less pure but harder silver with more penetrating power (e.g., here).  Due to the lack of zombies and werewolves in my area, I have not been able to figure out which one is more effective.  If you go for the harder silver, you can get a foot for $30, which should be enough for eight darts.

Step 1: Blowgun: CPVC

Find CPVC pipe.  Choose the straightest you can find.  Don't worry about a small bend.  When shooting, you can turn it so it bends up, and gravity will bend it downward to compensate.

Japanese Fukiya blowguns have an inner diameter of 12-13mm.  In the US, 1/2" nominal CPVC pipe does the job.  

Cut the pipe (with hacksaw or, more easily, pipe-cutters) to length.  Japanese Fukiya tournament length is 120cm, though in the US you can use 4 feet.  For children or shorter-distance practice, you can cut to 3 feet or even 2 feet.  A one-foot pipe won't be very accurate, but one can still have fun with it.  The longer the pipe, typically the faster the dart will go on exit and hence the more level the trajectory, though (a) you will have more difficulties with sag, and (b) once it gets too long, you won't be able to fill it with air from your longs quickly enough.

Sand the inside of the cut to make sure darts don't get slowed down by burrs. 

If you want to share a pipe with someone, for reasons of hygiene you might want to mark which of you blows from which end.  These Fukiya-style blowguns don't have mouthpieces so they can are bidirectional.

A more expensive option, resulting in a straighter but heavier blowgun, is to use copper pipe.  

Step 2: Blowgun: Paper Only

To make a blowgun out of recycled paper only, look for a stapled glossy magazine with the toughest pages you can find.

Remove the center two pages, ideally undoing the staples to avoid unnecessary wholes.  You now have a large double page spread.

Roll the double spread lengthwise into a tube with both ends of the same size and an inner diameter of about 0.4 - 0.5".  

One way to roll it is to find some tubular object to bend the page around, say a tube with the right outer diameter.  

But you may not have such a tubular object in your office.  What you can use instead is a pencil with a rubber band looped a number of times around the eraser end.  This is a tool that will be crucial for making darts, too.  Make a rough large tube from the double-page spread, and then roll the pencil inside at one end, while pressing against the inside edge to tighten up that end somewhat, and then repeat at the other end, until the inner diameter is satisfactory.  Note: You're not wrapping the newspaper around the pencil--that would make too narrow a tube--but are simply using the pencil to tighten up the roll.

Ensure the winds of paper make ends that are as even as possible.  This will help ensure an even inner diameter for the tube.

Put paper glue on the loose flap and glue it on.  The loose inside flap will naturally press against the inside, though if you can find a way to glue it down (say, by inserting a skewer with glue), that might be even better, but be careful not to put glue inside the tube as that may destroy the smoothness.  Hold the tube on the outside to dry or use some rubber bands as clamps.

Step 3: Darts: Basic Paper Cone, Part I

Even if you're going to eventually make darts with metal or wood or other ends, first master the basic paper cone dart.  This takes practice.  Probably a few won't work out.  Even with experience, I sometimes have ones that go wrong, but they're so fast and cheap to make that it doesn't matter.

Find a magazine with pages that are light, but not way too light.  A glossy catalog I tried worked, but the paper was slightly too light-weight.  This Old House was perfect.  

Cut a bunch of pages lengthwise down the middle.  You can do this quickly with box cutters and a ruler.  

Choose a nice half-page.  Ideally, find one that is pretty and colorful on one side, and lay it with that side down.  Make sure the left edge is not jagged at the top.

Also, if you haven't already done so for making the 100% paper blowgun, make a rolling tool out of a pencil (or dowel or pen).  Just take a pencil and a narrow rubber band, and loop the rubber band around the pencil near the eraser end a number of times.

Step 4: Darts: Basic Paper Dart, Part II

Now gently, without creasing, bend-over the paper like in the first picture, with the tip of the bend about an inch from the top of the page.

Gently holding the page with one hand near the bend, insert a finger or thumb inside the bent-over portion and roll it a little into a rough cone, leaving a big loose flap, like in the second picture.

Tighten the cone as much as you can with a finger or thumb inside, while making a sharp tip.  Pull the inside of the cone away from the tip to tighten the cone and sharpen the tip some more.

Now, Fukiya darts are supposed to be approximately 20 cm (about 8") in length, and if you cut down the cone as is now to fit in the blowgun, it would probably be too short, unless your fingers are unusually thin.  So we'll need to tighten some more.   

Step 5: Darts: Basic Paper Dart, Part III

Now we need to tighten some more.  Gently holding the unfinished cone near the tip, insert the rolling tool--the rubber-band covered pencil--inside the wide end, with the rubber band end going in first.  The rubber band on the pencil should be inside the cone about 1-2" from the wide end.  How far in it goes controls the shape of the final dart will be--closer to the end, the cone is narrower and the dart is longer.

Now, roll the pencil inside to tighten up the cone.  Rolling tightens the cone.  Also, pulling gently on the pencil, using the friction between the rubber band and the inner layer of the cone, lengthens and tightens the cone and sharpens the tip (but don't overdo it, as too thin a tip will be weak).  You may want to lay the cone down on something like carpet while rolling the inside.

Continue until the pencil is fairly tightly wedged inside, but not so tightly you can't remove it.  Remove the pencil.

You now have a cone with a big flap near the tip.  Put a fair amount of glue on the flap.  Put the most glue near the tip, and then some around all three edges of the flap.  It's easy to do with tacky white glue, but for greater durability I use waterproof wood glue (Titebond III).

Roll the flap around the cone, trying to keep the tip sharp until the cone is complete.

Glue will squeeze out where you rolled the flap.  Try to smooth the cone down, and wipe away excess glue with your fingers, being careful not to damage the tip.  The glue-filled paper tip will be surprisingly tough once the glue dries.

You're almost finished with the dart.  It just needs to be cut down to size.

Step 6: Darts: Basic Paper Dart, Part IV

When the glue on the outside of the dart is dry, insert the dart in your blowgun tube, sharp end first.  The wide end will not fit in the blowgun, but put the dart in until the wide end snugly fits the opening.

Mark where the blowgun edge is on the dart, or just remember which part of the magazine pattern is at the edge.  Pull the dart a little out of the blowgun, and cut it with scissors (or box cutters against some cardboard or mat) about 1/3" down towards the narrow end from where the edge of the blowgun was.  Cut it as neatly as you can, leaving a nice square edge, but without undue creasing.  (If you cut the dart too short, you will lose air around it in the tube, and it will fly more slowly; if you cut the dart too long, it will suffer from more friction on the edges of the tube.)

And you're done with your first dart.  Measure it.  Tournament Fukiya darts are supposed to be around 20cm.  The one I did for the Instructable was 21cm.

If your dart is too long, you need to roll less tightly, or insert the pencil further into the cone, or use a thicker tool.  If your dart is too short (this was my problem until I found the pencil trick), roll more tightly or insert the pencil more shallowly into the cone, or use a narrower tool.

Wait for the glue to cure fully before using.  It's very tempting to try it out quickly, but I've ruined a bunch of darts that way.  Several hours will do if you're using paper glue, but I would wait 12-24 hours if you're using wood glue.

You can also add superglue to the wide and narrow ends for durability.

Step 7: Darts: Wood Tip

I use toothpicks for wood tips.  There are two kinds of wood tips:
  • blunt end of the toothpick forward: an excellent and very durable dart for shooting at styrofoam targets
  • sharp end of the toothpick forward: may work on tougher targets better, like cardboard and trees, but you need to be more careful.
I use blunt wood-tip darts for indoor home target shooting.

Prepare a half-sheet as in the basic instructions.  Put the toothpick and a gob of glue where the tip of the dart will be, sticking out half an inch.  Now, roll much as in the basic instructions, but taking care to ensure you are rolling around the toothpick.  You don't have to work as hard on getting a sharp tip--you just need to nicely surround the toothpick by paper.

Step 8: Darts: Metal Tip (and Quiver)

You want to use brads here, as their smaller head will fit better.  Much as with the wood-tips, you have a choice.  You can put the brad forward, which makes a durable dart for styrofoam.  I haven't actually made brad-tip darts as I am happy with blunt wood tips for this purpose.  Instead, I normally put the point outward, which makes a dart that you can shoot at trees, archery targets, and other tougher things.  

The point-first metal-tips are seriously dangerous.  Make sure you have lots of land and no children or others might be wondering about if you do this on your own land.  Don't do this on public land (probably a good idea to avoid public land for any of the darts).  Best do it at an archery or other shooting range.

The instructions are basically the same as for a wood tip.  You just put the nail on the initial half-page where the tip of the dart will be formed, with a gob of glue.  As you form the cone around the nail, try to have it very tight around the nail.  I've had good luck using Titebond III here and no nails came loose at the range.  Titebond III is a wood glue, but given how snug the nail fits, I only once had trouble with the nail getting loose, and even so it did not come out all the way (I reglued it with super glue).

I also made a simple quiver for the metal tip darts so I can conveniently take them to the range.  I just used a cut-off water bottle, with a wooden weight glued to the bottom, and a strip of cloth with hook-and-loop fastener glued around it, so I can attach it to a belt loop.  Put it on your side, not front, so you don't bend the darts when bending over.

I have to confess that when I shoot these at a tree, in some the paper breaks about two inches from the top.  I made a more durable one from a magazine with tougher pages, but it was harder to roll, and the dart speed was 22% lower (see the last step in the Instructable for how to measure speed).

Zombie and werewolf note: These are darts to use with sharpened 12- or 14-gauge silver wire.

Step 9: Darts: Cotton-tip

Instead of wood or nails, for a much less weapon-like dart, you can cut a cotton swab in half, and roll a dart around it, cotton-end out.  It could still do damage to an eye, so you shouldn't let your guard down, but it might be good for playing with in an area where you might get in trouble for pointy things.  Of course, this won't stick in a target, unless the target is a pie or something, but you can practice shooting for distance with them.

Step 10: Darts: Short-skirt

I've also had good luck with these non-Fukiya style darts.   They have a longer wood stick, with a shorter skirt.  

For these darts, take a bamboo skewer.  Again, you get a choice of sharp- or blunt-end forward.  Blunt-end forward works great for styrofoam target.

Shorten the skewer to about seven inches.  

As with the toothpick- and nail-headed darts, take a half-sheet of magazine paper put a gob of glue where the tip of the cone will be.  But now when you roll the cone, don't roll it too tight.  Just use your thumb inside, and don't bother with the rolling tool.  The result is a wider cone.  When you trim it as usual to fit the blowgun, you will get a much shorter skirt.  

Step 11: Darts: Hand-throwable

These aren't blowgun darts, but simple throwing darts.

I recommend sharp wood-tips for these.  Start by rolling a dart, with tip, in the usual way, but use heavier magazine paper if you can get it.  Also, roll the dart as tight as you can, making for a narrow dart.  (Remember that pulling on the rolling tool while holding the tip can tighten the dart.)

You will also need some cardstock.

Cut the dart to about five inches.  

Pinch the bottom 1.5 inches flat, but you don't need to crease it too heavily.  This will be for marking where the fins go.

Then unflatten the dart, and pinch it again, making sure the creases from the previous pinch line up.  The point is to make four creases along the bottom 1.5 inches of the dart, 90 degrees apart.  The bottom of the dart will look squarish.

Fold the card-stock four-times.  Cut out fins, making small tabs for attachment.  Fold the tabs neatly.  

Glue on the fins along the creases on the bottom of the dart.

Allow to dry.  Straighten the fins out symmetrically.  Have fun!

You might want to glue in some weight near the tip.

These are for throwing, but if you like the idea of shooting finned darts from a blowgun, you can use this design to make extremely narrow 4-inch darts that fit inside the blowgun, by using a thin screwdriver with a rubber band as your rolling tool, and then gluing on very narrow fins that nicely clear the inside of the tube.  Then to shoot them, insert the dart into the tube, and then insert a piece of cotton ball (or cottonwood fluff, or some stuffed-animal stuffing) behind it.  As you blow, the cotton ball will act as a sabot and push the dart through the tube.

Step 12: Target: Styrofoam

For office-use, you might just have some styrofoam from packaging of a new piece of office electronics.

If you have to buy, you can buy some styrofoam sheet.  You want at least 8" by 8", but more is better to catch misses.  I've used 3/4" thick styrofoam.  You can get this at a hobby shop, or in larger quantity in the insulation section of your large hardware store.  Or maybe you have an old styrofoam cooler you don't use or that is broken down.

For a nice target, start by cutting a piece of styrofoam, ideally about 9" x 14" or so.  If you have a hot knife for styrofoam cutting, this will be easy.  Otherwise, you will improvise.  I took a piece of broken hacksaw blade and lit a candle.  I heated up the blade with the candle flame and the blade nicely melted its way through the styrofoam.  Eventually, the blade cools down and you need to reheat it.  Since it will have some styrofoam on it, there will be fumes.  Ensure good ventilation.  Don't use a cold knife, as that makes a mess.

When cutting, let the heat do all the work.  If you do any sawing, you will make a mess.

Step 13: Target: Paper Face

If you're using wood-tips or non-sharp metal-tips, I recommend putting a replaceable paper face on the target.  Just print out a face on a printer and tape it onto the styrofoam around the edges (don't put tape on the area you're supposed to hit).  Once the paper face is worn out, just replace it with a new one.  Probably the styrofoam will still be usable.

My daughter drew the very ugly alien and put some points on it.  You can download a printable pdf here.

I made a design sized like the official fukiya target.  A color pdf is here, and a black-and-white version is here.

And you can download a zombie target from here.  Just have your PDF viewer resize it to print on 8.5x11 paper.

You can then stick the whole target to a box and maybe put a weight in the box to help it stand up.

Step 14: Target: Styrofoam Face

But if you are shooting paper-tip darts, you probably want a softer target face, and I recommend drawing one right on the styrofoam.  For a standard fukiya face, proceed as follows.

Cut a strip of cardstock (e.g., from a magazine cover) that's about 12 cm long.  Make a hole near one end (e.g., with a pin, nail or a toothpick).  Then make another hole 3 cm away from the first hole, another 6 cm away from the first hole, and the last one 9 cm away from the first hole.  Enlarge the last three holes (but not the first one) with a pencil.

Stick the cardstock to the center target with a pin, nail or toothpick, through the first hole.  With a permanent marker in each of the next three holes, draw three circles, with diameters 6 cm, 12 cm and 18 cm respectively.  Mark the point values for the regions: 7, 5 and 3.

Step 15: Target Shooting

Make sure that you're far enough from the target to avoid ricochets and/or are wearing safety glasses.  Make sure no one will walk past or be nearby.  Make sure there is nothing behind the target that will be damaged if you miss.  For instance, you can put the target on a chair, and hang a blanket off the back for a backstop.

A standard distance for competitions is 10 meters.  But for initial practice, I suggest four to six yards.

Load the dart into the blowgun.  Push it with your little finger half an inch up.  Keep the blowgun horizontal so the dart doesn't fall out.  Aim the blowgun by facing the target squarely, putting your lips on the and focusing your eyes on the target.  You will see two defocused blowgun tips.  Put the target right between these two tips.  (You will later see if  you were aiming too high or too low for the distance.)  Take your mouth off, draw in a breath, aim again, and blow.  Making a plosive sound (e.g., "phhh!") can help better propel the dart.  (Next time, you won't need the initial aiming.)

While shooting,  be careful not to breathe in.  You don't want the dart going down your throat.  Only breathe in with mouth off the tube.  It can be tempting to breathe in through the nose with mouth on blowgun, but resist the temptation--the dart can go back into the mouth, or worse, then.

If your pipe has a curve, make it curve upward.  Then gravity will decrease the curvature, and at least it won't throw you off to the side.

If you can't clear the dart out of the pipe, you'll need to trim the cone a little more.  (You can push the dart out with a long dowel.)

See where the dart lands to see if you were aiming too high or too low, and adjust where the blowgun tips need to show up on the target for the distance.

Practice, practice, practice.

In a competition round, one shoots five darts from ten meters and adds up the score.  There are six rounds, and according to Wikipedia the total score determines a rank as follows:
  • 3 kyu: 60 points
  • 2 kyu: 75 points
  • 1 kyu: 90-105 points (depends on association)
  • shodan: 105-119 points (depends on association)
  • 2 dan: 120 points
  • 3 dan: 150 points
  • 4 dan: 162 points
  • 5 dan: 175 points
  • Master level I: three 186 points scores
By US rules, if a dart touches a line, you get the higher score, and if a dart bounces off the target it can be re-shot.  If a dart sticks inside another one (Robin Hood!) it gets the score of the first dart.

You can also just shoot darts at a tree on your property or other opportunistic target, maintaining proper safety precautions.

Step 16: Removing Stubborn Darts From Target

There is no difficulty in removing darts from a styrofoam target.  But if you shoot sharp darts into corrugated cardboard, or an archery target, or a tree, you may have some trouble pulling some without doing damage.  The Japanese have a specialized pulling tool--basically, a cone you put inside the dart cone.  But you can also just take a pen or pencil, insert it inside the stubborn dart's cone, and pull by the cone.  The pen or pencil keeps you from creasing the skirt while pulling.  Depending on what it's stuck in, it might be wise to pull two-handed, with the other hand near the tip, to prevent ripping.

Step 17: Measuring Speed

Perhaps the easiest way to measure speed is to record the sound of the dart being shot at a target from a smallish distance (but where ricochet is not an issue), and load the sound into an audio editor (e.g., Adobe Audition, etc.)  There will be two peaks during a shot.  One peak is when the tail of the dart clears the tube and the other is when the dart impacts the target.  Use the audio editor to measure the distance between the two peaks (take the very beginning of the second peak, and the loudest part of the first) and calculate the speed.

For instance, I had the tip of the blowgun six feet from the target, i.e., 72 inches and was using a 7.5 inch dart.  Thus, the distance the dart traveled from the point its tail cleared the tube was 72-7.5 = 64.5 inches.  I recorded the times as 29.289-29.373.  That makes for a flight time of 0.373-0.289 = 0.084 seconds.  The speed thus is 64.5 / 0.084 = 768 in/sec = 64 feet/sec.  (Not very impressive, but I was lying on the floor so I couldn't take a very deep breath, and these darts are fun, not hunting.)

Here's how it sounds.

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