Darts is one one my favorite games to enjoy with friends or when competing with foes. There’s nothing like the exhilaration of hitting the bullseye. It’s the classic metaphor for success. Even better, darts is a traditional pub game that pairs very well with a pint of beer.
For those who’d like to take up the game of darts, upgrade their equipment, or just learn a bit more, here’s a primer on darts, equipment, and setup.
Darts is a game of precision with many subtle influences affecting that precision. Skilled dart playing takes a combination of balance, focus, consistency, and confidence. And, of course, decent equipment also helps. But before we get into that, let’s take a quick look at the origins of the game.
Dart-like objects were historically used as weapons. Tossing spears and varying-sized javelins during battle was commonplace in the days of yore. These spear-chucking skills developed into the modern darts game.
Darts was a popular game in pubs before World War 1, with the original boards being made of wood, but these were difficult to maintain. Eventually dart boards were constructed of plant fibers compressed by a metal ring. The fibers allow the dart holes to close up when the dart is removed. Lees expensive boards are also made from cork or paper.
For the purposes of this article I’ll be talking about steel-tipped darts and bristle dart boards. I’ll cover plastic-tipped darts and electronic boards another time.
Darts are constructed from 4 elements. The point, barrel, shaft, and flight. They all work together along with individual throwing style to determine final accuracy.
The dart configuration you select is going to be a very personal choice. If you’ve played some darts in the past, you’ll have a good idea for what feels best in your hand. But if you haven’t played much the main thing you’ll need to consider is weight. You don’t want to start out with darts that are too heavy or your arm will get fatigued and sore. While heavier darts tend to be more accurate and less likely to bounce out of the board, it’s best to gradually work up to the heavier weights.
As you become more accurate with your throwing, you’ll also want to consider things like barrel shape, knurling, and flight variations.
Darts points come in two types: fixed and movable. Movable tips aid in reducing the number of bounce-outs when the point hits a wire on the board. Most dart play these days is on boards with very thin wires and bounce-outs are rare, so a fixed-point dart will be fine for most situations.
Dart Barrels are made of combinations of brass, nickel/silver, and tungsten. While accuracy can be achieved with any dart, tungsten is a great choice for darts because its density allows for small size but heavy weight. The heavier weight offers a more stable throw and the smaller size allows clustering in a tight area. Tungsten darts come in varying densities expressed as a percentage, such as 90% or 95%. The more tungsten, the more expensive the dart. Tungsten darts also have the benefit of being more durable and less likely to wear or chip.
Barrels come in three different shapes: cylindrical, cone, or torpedo. This is a personal choice depending on how you grip and release the dart. The release is really the most important aspect of throwing, because even if you do everything else correctly, a poor release will impact your precision. Wider barrels may be easier to grip but they also take up more room on the dart board. I’ve tended to favor cylindrical barrels.
Knurling is grooves cut into the dart barrel in various patterns. They help to improve the grip. It will take some experimentation to figure out what best fits your style.
Darts can weigh anywhere from 15 to 50 grams with most intermediate players using darts in the range of 20 to 30 grams. Dart weight is important to consider for beginning players because a dart that’s too heavy can cause fatigue and soreness.
Shafts connect to the barrel and hold the flight. These can be made of plastic, nylon, or metal and come in varying lengths. Shafts are pretty straightforward but their length will affect a dart’s trajectory, so some experimentation may be necessary.
If you want to get fancier with your shaft, there’s also spinner and magnetic shaft upgrades.
Spinner: allows the flight of a dart on already on the board to spin out of the way instead of deflecting a thrown dart.
Magnetic release: allows the flight to be ejected if landed in close proximity to another dart on the board whose flight would have otherwise caused the thrown dart to ricochet.
Flights are generally made of plastic and come in a variety of shapes. Some flights have a dimpled surface which can lend stability to the flight path. Most beginners use the basic shape which is usually adequate, but as you get more precise with your throwing you should experiment with various flight shapes to see what work’s best with your particular dart characteristics and throwing style. The shape of the flight will also affect the dart’s stability and ability to cluster.
The best dart boards are constructed of bundled fibers. You may also see cheaper corks boards available, but these are a poor substitute for a good bristle board. The most important features of the board are wire size and bristle construction. Well-constructed bristle boards will take years of abuse without losing any fibers or grip. The best boards will have thin wires between numbers and no staples holding the wires to the board. The thinner the wire the less chance for bounce-outs and the frustration that goes with them.
You’ll need something to write down the score after each throw. I’ve used everything from a piece of paper to a chalk board, but I’ve found the best surface is the Dry Erase Scoreboard. It’s easy to use and keep clean. A chalkboard is the classic method but they can be messy with chalk dust.
You can either use the board on a flat surface or hang it on a wall. The best placement is where a player can be tallying their score out of the way of the next player throwing. You also want the score to be easily visible to the player who is throwing, since there’s usually some strategizing happening at the throwing line.
Dart Set-up and Location
The location of a dart board is an important consideration.
You’ll want to have bright, even light over the board. A florescent strip works well for this. Directional light such as a spotlight doesn’t work well because it creates shadows which makes it difficult to see which side of the wire darts have landed. You’ll want to do everything you can to eliminate shadows on the board as they are generally confusing. You’ll also want to ensure lighting is out of the way and can’t be hit with a dart.
The spot where you install the board must be on a sturdy wall where minor wall damage is acceptable. Errant darts will inevitably be thrown within a couple foot radius around the board. Also consider that there will be darts landing farther from the board and bouncing off the board, so keep a clear area around and in front of the board.
Damage can be reduced somewhat by using a dart board cabinet, but even then, there’s always somebody who’ll miss completely and stick it in the wall.
For best performance the thrower should stand on a hard surface, but it’s important to have a softer surface such as carpet or rubber underneath the board for darts that miss, bounce-out, or fall. Dart tips can be damaged or blunted when hitting a hard surface. Not only can this affect the dart’s ability to stick in the board, a bad tip can also damage the board by pulling out fibers when the dart is removed.
A line of some sort will need to be drawn to indicate where the thrower should stand. This can be any type of marker or tape on the floor.
An optimal setup will allow at least six inches from the top of the board to the ceiling. Most darts are thrown with a slight arc and taller players will have the possibility of damaging the ceiling, especially when shooting at numbers near the top of the board.
Mounting the Board
Quality dart boards come with an installation kit containing a mounting bracket and screws. The bracket should be attached to a wall stud or heavy-duty screw anchors should be used.
Height and Distance
The board should be hung so the the center is 5 ft 8in (1.73 m) from the floor
Throwing distance – A line should be placed 7 ft 9¼in (2.37 m) from the face of the board
Dart and Board Care
Extend the life of your board by removing darts from the board after each playing session. Also, be sure to rotate the board periodically, so frequently used areas do not wear out.
Don’t let darts land on a hard surface dulling the point. Use a dart sharpener, which is a small hollow grinding stone used to keep points sharp. A sharp dart will stick more securely in the board and will pull cleanly out of the board without damage to the board’s fibers.
- Darts can be a dangerous projectile.
- Never throw when children or pets are present
- Wear shoes with puncture proof top.
- Be aware of darts bouncing back off the board or falling out of the board.
- Brewhead says: Never play when overly intoxicated.
I hope this article provided helpful insight into the game of darts and above all makes you want to get set up and toss a few. I’ll be covering dart technique, game play, and psychology in a future article. Until then, happy darting!
Dart games and rules