(This article is compiled from the personal notes of Mr Barry "Bazza" Atkinson. "Bazza" enjoyed great success in many National and International events and he was the founder and driving force behind Alana Sports).
How are Dartboards made?
Nobody knows when the first dartboard was made, but early boards were made from log ends of elm. Some were made from plastacine and had to be smoothed after each leg played with a hot iron.
Today’s boards are made of sisal fibre which are the strands from a cactus of the Sisalana family. These boards were called “Bristle boards“, which has nothing to do with pigs bristle, that was a nickname given to them in the early days. The first bristle boards were made by an English company called Nodor, which by the way come from the words “No Odor” because the plastacine board gave off a terrible smell, when smoothed using the hot iron.
What are dartboards made out of?
Nodor boards are still made by the same company, and hold the original patent. One thing for sure, nobody has more experience of making dartboards. They are by far the largest of the competition dartboard manufacturers. The actual manufacture is done in the following manner.
What is the dartboard making process?The leaves of the sisal plant are harvested and stripped of there exterior skin. Then the leaves are squeezed free of their natural liquids and the fibres combed. These metre long strands of fibre are then put into the sun to dry naturally. These processes are carried out close to the fields were the leaves are gathered.
The sisal plantations are usually in Africa, but there are others in parts of China and South America. The first thing that is done to the sisal when being made into a dartboard is as follows:
The sisal strands are put into a graded combing machine, which has several stages. It is then pulled through a second machine, which rolls the sisal like a never-ending cigarette. This roll which is about 5 inches in diameter is then sliced across into what is known as biscuits. These biscuits are about 1 inch thick and are very even. The next operation is to press the board. This is done on a flat bed press, which is oval in shape. Inside this press is placed the bands of steel the surround the board Then inside the bands the sisal biscuits are placed, the number of biscuits controls the hardness or softness of the finished product.
The next stage is to cover the biscuits in glue and place on the wooden backboard. When this is done the press is activated and compresses the sisal until it is perfectly round. The glue used has a very fast cueing rate and it can be removed from the press immediately so the next one can be made. The board is then put through a wide belt sander to level and remove any loose strands of sisal. This treatment also make the surface very smooth so that the next operation, which is to screen print the colours, gives the board a nice clean image.
The final operation is to wire the board into its different sections, and fit the number ring. Up to only a few years ago the wire used has always been 1.6 mm spring steel for the whole wire system. Now many manufactures use thin blades for all or part of the wire system, which prevents many of the bouncing darts that was common on the original wiring method.
One of the first to use this method was Alana Darts which registered the blade interlocking system with a patent lawyer on the 31st May 1991. The provisional number issued by the Australian Patent, Trade Marks and Designs Offices was P2370.
Unfortunately the patent was dropped due to the huge costs involved. The Original method of using round wires only, did have one very good advantage. That was the bristles in the board allowed the dart easy penetration by moving out of the way of the point, while still being firm enough to grip the dart well. This gave the board a very long life as little damage was caused to the bristles.
The all-bladed board also had its own advantages; few bouncing darts, higher scores, and higher averages. Also they looked better than the cluttered up round wire system. Its draw back however is that the bristles cannot move as they are locked in position by the blades. This means that when a dart strikes the point can push in several bristle fibres on entry. This results in what is called in the business, as " compacting". This is where the sisal is doubled up into the board and hard spots develop, in turn making the surface appear fluffy.
The result is a shorter life, although the good has to be weighed up against the bad. In saying this I must point out that a lot of the damage done to bladed boards could be avoided, if the players would keep their dart points in top condition, even if it means changing them on a regular basis. Unfortunately this is not done often enough, and the manufacturer of the board receives the blame for short lived products.
Another problem the modern board has, is the use of tungsten darts. Tungsten has improved the accuracy of the player due to the dart being slimmer, allowing for tighter grouping.
How long should a dartboard last?A frequently asked question is “How long should a dartboard lasts”. My answer is usually 250.000 darts approximately, but could be more or less.
When you really think about the question it’s like asking a car tyre company “How long will my tyres last”. If your car is out of alignment and requires a wheel balance and left in this state, the answer is “Not very long”.