Luke Nicoli continues his regular darts blog at www.harrowsdarts.com, with part one of a chronological look at dart evolution and the game’s various accessories…
The forthcoming PDC World Championship at Alexandra Palace will showcase the very best steel tip darts has to offer; be it an eye-catching design, the latest in tungsten barrel technology, or simply a flight of fancy.
With technological advances this past decade, the boundaries are constantly being pushed in pursuit of darting excellence, which is a far cry from the 1920s and 1930s when the game first became mass entertainment for people.
Back then, brass darts were the order of the day, of varying weights, models and styles. It’s hard to comprehend now, but they would take flight thanks to an amalgam of turkey feathers and shafts made of cane. Those early prototypes slowly evolved to the point where, in the 1950s, the more streamlined canes were accompanied by folded cardboard for flights.
As it did with many strata of social life, the 1960s saw experimentation and darts was no different; production of injection moulded plastic shafts had begun, likewise a simple polyester flight, with the result being a dart that was visibly similar to what we see today. However, fast forward a decade and the result was a darting revolution, not just on our TV screens but in terms of what the players found at their fingertips.
“By the early 1970s, tungsten was discovered as the material of choice for manufacturing dart barrels for serious players,” recalls Harrows Sales Director and darting aficionado Robert Pringle. “Tungsten has the benefit of being twice the density of brass, so if you put a 23g brass dart and a 23g tungsten dart side by side, the tungsten one will be half the size.
“This breakthrough happened at a time when darts was becoming more organised centrally by the BDO, which started in 1973, with the organisation creating a nationwide league and super league structure. Players started to hear about tungsten and the good players realised that if they wanted a treble 20, there would be a much higher probability of doing that with a tungsten dart rather than a brass one. It was an absolute revolution and with Harrows at the forefront, we haven’t looked back since.”
At the same time as tungsten being discovered as a suitable material for barrels, shafts also went through a sea change in design and were drastically slimmed down. Aluminium rod was now being machined to produce slim strong shafts, while different styles of polycarbonate shafts also entered the market. Flights also evolved, albeit somewhat rigidly in terms of design: own up, who didn’t own a Union Jack set of flights back in the day?
As darts reached millions of households via televised tournaments back in the BDO’s heyday, so darts accessories became more sought after than ever. What worked for the talismanic world champion Eric Bristow would, in theory, work for everyone else, and the Crafty Cockney was only too happy to aid the development, thanks to his partnership with Harrows.
“Eric was very helpful,” Robert recalls. “Even though he had his own unique throwing style, we’d send him development ideas for darts, and accessories, to try out. He was only too happy to give us invaluable feedback from the Oche.
“Earlier players had made their names throwing brass darts, so when Eric came along, he changed the landscape. He used a slim, pencil profile tungsten barrel from the start, which remains the classic pro-player dart to this very day. “Eric was the innovator and trend setter. He certainly played his part back then, not just on the Oche but off it – a true pioneer of the sport. This was recognised by Her Majesty The Queen when Eric was made a Member of the British Empire (M.B.E) in 1989,” Robert concludes.
Above: How we used to throw…