Can You Use Soft Tip Darts on a Bristle Dartboard?

So, your family have just got you a new dartboard but you’re a soft tip darts player, you’re used to different throwing distances and a bigger board – can you still use the soft tip darts with your new toy?

You can use a soft tip dart on a bristle (sisal) dartboard. A soft tip dart used occasionally won’t cause lasting damage to your bristle dartboard but if used consistently over time can wear your bristle board faster than a steel tip.

Fortunately, soft tip darts can be used safely – no angry relatives this time!

If you’re not familiar with soft tip darts, or how the soft tip game is different to the steel tip game we’ve prepared a brief guide for you

What is a soft tip dart and how is it different to a steel dart?

Soft tip darts, as the name suggests have a different design for the tip of the dart.

Whereas steel tipped darts have a sharp stiff end generally made of steel, a soft tip dart tip is made of a slightly flexible material. Usually a kind of plastic. Some people prefer soft tips because of this, generally a soft tip will cause less damage to your wall or floor if you stray a little with your throws or get some nasty bounce backs from your board.

Having said that, they aren’t still what some people would call ‘safe’ and can still damage furniture if they strike.

Soft tip darts are also usually considerably lighter than their steel tipped cousins. You’ll find that a typical soft tip dart will be between 16-20 grams in weight compared to a heavier steel darts which can come in weights right up to 40 grams, although I don’t know anyone who throws so heavy, most of us will use something around a 20-26 gram dart, switching between the two can sometimes cause players problems adjusting to a different weight.

Soft tip darts do have one significant disadvantage to steel tips, I have found that you can break the tips every now and then so make sure that you’ve got a few spare in case you find yourself a dart short.

What’s different about a bristle board compared to other dartboards?

Most modern dart boards used in the steel tipped dart world are bristle boards. Bristle boards get their name from the texture and way that they’re produced.

Bristle boards are sometimes known as sisal boards, sisal after the name of the plant the fibers which make up the core of the dartboard body comes, Agave Sisalana.

Bristle, or sisal boards start life as a spikey green plant commonly grown in brazil or parts of Africa. The leaves are beaten down and the fibers extracted. These fibers are then wound into tight clumps called buns which are then themselves clumped together and sanded down to form the boards we see. I’ve written an article about why this makes bristle boards susceptible to cracking which you can read here.

Bristle boards are generally favoured by all players due to a few key benefits:

  • Durable – Sisal boards can partially ‘self heal’. When a dart strikes a sisal board, soft tip or steel tip, it pushes the sisal fibers to the side so it can lodge into the board. When you remove your dart, the sisal fibers will try to return to their original position which can help remove the pierce left by your dart. If you are using a paper, cork or wooden board you will get significant scarring quickly on your board meaning that you have to make more frequent replacements.
  • Reduced bounce outs – Sisal fibers are coarse by nature. This is beneficial to us as darts players because we can not change anything about our action but get increased throw averages! When your dart strikes the board, the tip needs to embed itself in the board, if the sisal wasn’t as coarse it wouldn’t ‘grip’ the dart as well which would leave some players with darts dropping out of the board face.

Are there any risks to using a soft tip dart on a bristle board?

Short term there are no risks to using a soft tip dart in a bristle board, they will hit home just the same as a steel tip (with a slightly higher risk of bounce outs).

The only caveat to this is that typically a soft tip dart will not come to such a sharp point as a steel tipped dart, therefore they will be working your sisal fibers harder as a soft tip will have to dislodge more fibers than a steel tip potentially stretching them further and reducing their self healing capacity.

This is not something I’ve been able to test over any significant period of time and is based more on my opinion than any hard evidence. When I have used soft tips on a bristle board in the past it’s only been for a few days here and there. If you are planning to use soft tips on your dartboard regularly I would recommend a rigorous board turning regime to make sure any damage is evenly spread out across your board cutting down the risks of any long term damage.

Can you use a steel tip dart on a soft tip dartboard?

I would not recommend using a steel tip dart on a soft tip dartboard.

Typically a soft tip dartboard is made of plastic and they are often now electronic allowing for different games and tracked scoring. There are then premade holes in the plastic board facing which allows the soft tips to hit home and get stuck into the board.

Throwing a steel tipped dart at a plastic board will very quickly damage the plastic facing which just isn’t designed to withstand the kind of force a sharp heavy dart can hit it with.

Even if the plastic facing does survive the barrage of darts, if your system is an electronic one, you risk the steel tips penetrating the contacts beneath the plastic face and ruining your board’s additional electronic functionality. You also can’t typically rotate a plastic dartboard so even if the plastic housing managed to survive the initial damage over time it would deteriorate very quickly meaning you would need to purchase a new board very regularly.

I hope this article has covered off why you can use soft tip darts with a bristle board, and you are aware of the potential long-term risks, even if you are unlikely to have any short-term problems. I hope, probably more importantly, you’re aware that you should never use a steel tipped dart on a soft tip board. You might just be chased out by any soft tip throwers around if you even try! Happy throwing!