The bristle dartboard is the most common type found, composed of sisal fibres or boar bristles and cork, although some low quality boards can be made from paper. The regulation for all boards is that they have to be 18in (45.72cm) in diameter and have to be divided into twenty sections. These sections are divided using a thin metal wire, with the same material typically used to mark the numbers of the scoring sections, although sometimes the numbers are printed directly onto the board.
The standardised rules for darts indicate that the dartboard should be hung so that the bullseye is 5ft 8in (1.73m) from the floor, which is eye level for a six-foot man. The line behind which players must stand ('the oche') is 7 feet 9.25 inches (2.37m) from the face of the board, but this will be changed to 8ft (2.44m) or 8ft 6in (2.59m) in some British pubs. These measurements are set for professional games or competitions, and many casual games will use different measurements due to rounding up of a distance or just human error.
The wires and staples fixed all across the dartboard are referred to as spiders. The dart cannot penetrate the spiders, so if it hits these it will bounce off the board (meaning no points are scored with that dart). Manufacturers have produced retractable tips on some darts to solve this problem (see below). Dartboard makers are also trying to deal with this issue by making the spiders thinner and imbedding them inside the board. They will still be visible, but the chances of the dart hitting them is greatly reduced.
Electronic dartboards have become increasingly popular in recent years. With these boards, a sensor detects where the dart has hit and automatically tallies the scores. Originally only soft tipped darts could be used with electronic dartboards. However, technology has advanced so that bristle and electronic boards have been combined, meaning that steel tipped darts can be used but the board will still use a sensor to total the score.
In professional competitions, the level of accuracy needed is high, and therefore this type of combination dartboard is widely used. They still provide the traditional style of darts, but with a much greater precision for scoring.
Darts are made up of 4 main components. Varying these contributes to the performance of the dart, and adjusts the handling and throwing skills of the player.
The point of the dart is either a fixed or movable part, and can be steel or soft tipped. Fixed points are more popular, but they increase the chances of a bounce-out (when the dart hits a wire or staple and bounces out of the board). To prevent this from happening, manufacturers have produced a retractable or movable tip, which retracts slightly back when the dart hits a wire or staple. The back end of the dart provides enough momentum for the dart to enter the dartboard.
Soft tipped darts do not have a sharp tip like the steel darts, but instead are usually made from a flexible material like plastic. Most bristle boards will take these types of darts, but they are especially designed for electronic dartboards.
The shaft is the main body of the dart which you hold when throwing. It is usually made out of plastic, aluminium or a combination of both of these. Plastic is the cheapest option and recommended for beginners, as it does not damage if hit in tight groups. However, they do have a tendency to break or crack when they impact the board, which is why they are priced so cheaply (about £1 each). Aluminium shafts can be bent back into shape if they are damaged, and are more durable than plastic options. This means that they are slightly more expensive, at around £2-3 each. With composite shafts, the tops are made from aluminium while the base is plastic, costing roughly £1-2 each.
Spinning shafts are also available. These spin when the dart is thrown to prevent it from being damaged during tight grouping. These are slightly more expensive - ranging from £1-5.
The grip is seen as the most important component of the dart, with grooved grips providing the best push when throwing the dart. The job of the grip is to give the player a better hold on the shaft, which in turn gives them better control over the dart. Each player will have their own preference as to which grip they think works best for them, and this will influence how they hold and throw the dart.
The flight is the term used to describe the fin-like attachments which are positioned at the back end of the shaft. Initially, feathers were used as the traditional flight, but now synthetic materials like nylon and polyester have replaced these. The flight gives the dart’s path drag so that it has better stability when moving towards the dartboard. The flight’s performance will depend on how the player throws the dart (lob or straight). Like the weight of the dart, you need to practice with different flights to see which one suits your throw. It is best to buy just one set at first and build up your collection as you become more experienced.
Darts can be composed of many different materials; each affects its performance within the game.
- Wood - This is the traditional material for darts, with turkey feathers used for the flight. The lightweight wood darts weigh about 12 grams, and some pubs still use them.
- Brass - This is the lightest material used. The alloy is made up of copper and zinc, which are both very malleable materials, meaning that they are easy to shape. These darts are easy to thrown and are therefore popular with beginners. Their affordability, each darts costs about £2-£8, also makes them popular with amateur players and in pubs.
- Nickel-silver - These darts actually consist of a metal alloy of nickel, zinc and copper. They are reasonably tough, and are consequently popular with players who have some skill and have been playing for a while but are still at an amateur level. These darts can get slightly more bulky as their weight increases, also making them suitable for more intermediate players. They are slightly more expensive than brass darts, costing around £5-£15.
- Tungsten - These darts are slightly denser, making the dart heavier whilst keeping it slim and compact. It is also a tough material, meaning it can withstand a great deal of use whilst wearing less over time. This makes them popular with more experienced and professional players. Nickel is sometimes added to the tungsten in varying amounts to make the dart cheaper. Those darts with approximately 50% tungsten are around £10, those with 80% tungsten are around £15-20, whereas those with 90% will not be sold for less than £25.
Selecting the darts for you
If you wish to play darts to a high standard then the weight of the dart you use is a big consideration. The best way to find the right one is to pick out a dart at random in a darts shop and play a few rounds with it. Most darts shops have a board especially set up for this. Throw it at any score which is approximately eye level, for example the bullseye, triple-11 or triple-6. If the dart is landing a few inches below where you are aiming on each throw then it is likely that the dart is too heavy for you. Likewise, if they are landing a few inches higher than you are aiming then the darts are probably too light. Play around with different weighted darts until you find the one that is most suitable.
If, when you throw the darts, they are hitting the board a couple of inches either to the left or right to where you are aiming then try a different shaped flight. The larger the flight the more drag there is on the dart, so adjust it according to how much you find the dart is flying at an angle. Most beginners will start with a standard shaped flight, but as players progress they will usually change to slim or speed flights as they provide greater speed and take up less room.