Sling – A how to guide for making

Methods of launching projectiles are always a good laugh to try providing you stay safe and don’t damage people or property but I must admit I do like the primitive stuff as it really gives an insight into where things began and how they’ve been refined. 

What brought me to the sling was a headline I saw in National Geographic – “Ancient Slingshot Was as Deadly as a .44 Magnum”.  This story related to a dig at a hill fort in Scotland that had been flanked by Roman camps and been subjected to a massive bombardment of lead projectiles. The site dates to 1,900 years ago so it’s interesting to see how the Romans refined things from humble stones especially with the use of psychological warfare.  It was noted some of the lead had holes in and when replicas were used it was discovered that in flight the projectiles make an “ungodly” sound.  I know my parents often talked about the sound of the Doodlebug bombs in World War II and the fear the noise would cause, so it’s a real case of same idea different millennia.

I also stumbled across a thesis written by Eric T. Skov of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that summarised the extent of its use quite nicely:

“Slings have been used on every inhabited continent except Australia, dating back an unknown period of time but at least to 5000 years ago and likely further. They have been a hunting tool, a military weapon and a herding aid for shepherds.”

It’s a great piece of writing which goes into the research done around biomechanics and a whole host of other areas but I’ll leave that for you to peruse if it interests you as I’m sure what really appeals is making one and then launching stuff.  Styles vary enormously but fundamentally a sling is formed of a pouch and two bits of cord – for my project I’ve used leather throughout as that’s what I had available but you could even crochet one if the mood takes you.

To make the pouch I first made a template onto some card using pots and lids “foraged” from around the house.  The large central circle is about 10cm with the two that flank it being approximately half the size at 5cm.  I found this was perfect for a projectile the size of a golf ball but perhaps a table tennis ball is safer!

Once you’re happy with the sizing and position of your three circles join them up with some straight lines to make a shape that appeals to you.  All that really needs to be achieved here is that the centre is bigger to hold the projectile and tapers down towards the outer edges but not too thin as the cord may rip out under load.

Once you’re happy with the template cut it out – if you like you can fold it in half while cutting out to make sure the pouch is perfectly symmetrical.  Transfer the template onto your chosen material and draw round it before then cutting the final pouch out.  Mine was leather that I processed and tanned from a Muntjac deer; it was left over from a pair of mittens I made so it seemed like a good primitive match but use whatever you have.

For this sling I chose to make two holes to pass the leather cord through as I found it helped to form more of a cup around the projectile but many examples just use one hole so feel free to make your own decisions and experiments.  In leather it’s best to use a square/diamond shaped awl to avoid tearing but a knife or any sharp implement will make do.  Just make sure you’re not too close to the edge and keep an eye on any expansion or tearing of the holes after each use.  To keep mine symmetrical I folded the pouch in half and punched the two holes through in one motion and repeated on the other end.

The cord was then passed through from the side that the projectile will rest on and then back through to the starting point via the second hole.  For length I allowed for my arm to be bent at 90 degrees (like when typing at a desk) and for the cord to be somewhere at the lower end of my calf muscle before adding about 30cm to make loops, knots etc. (for me this is about 130cm but adjust accordingly).  Once passed through tie a secure knot, I used a figure of eight knot but anything you’re happy with that won’t come undone is fine.  I then passed the working end of the cord back through the loop created on the outside of the pouch as I found this is where the shaping of the pouch to cup the projectile really started to happen.

At the end of the first cord I tied another figure of eight knot as this will be the one you let go of to release the projectile.  Repeat the process for the second cord but this time you want to create a loop at the end furthest from the pouch which will slip over your middle finger or index finger if you find that more comfortable. 

Really pay attention to the length of the cords as when you’re holding them the pouch needs to hang perfectly level so the projectile doesn’t fall out or roll to either end.  When you’re done find a large space to have a go in and make sure any spectators and breakables are well out of the way because to begin with you might find they don’t necessarily head in the direction you intend – experiments also show distances in excess of 100 metres is possible so give yourself lots of room.  In terms of how to throw them there is different styles but overhand or underhand rotations seem to be the most common but have a play around with what suits you and remember to only let go of one cord preferably when the projectile will be propelled forwards!  Stay safe and have fun.

Barry Hammick- Instructor, Woodland Wayer Alumni


National Geograpghic – Ancient Slingshot Was as Deadly as a .44 Magnum –

Thesis – Experimentation in Sling Weaponry: Effectiveness of and Archaeological Implications for a World-Wide Primitive Technology by Eric T. Skov of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln –

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