Horsehair!? It still surprises me how many people think that dartboards are made from horse hair, pig skin or other crazy minor materials that are (clearly?) the obvious choice. In this article we’ll explore what some of the most common dartboard materials are and why they get chosen over their counterparts. The short answer is;
Modern dartboards are typically made of sisal hemp fibers from the Agave Sisalana plant. Other, less common, dartboard materials are, plastic, cork, paper, clay and softwoods.
The longer answer requires a bit more detail.
Sisal Fiber Dartboards
Sisal fiber is the now the most common dartboard material. Sisal fibers, sometimes called sisal hemp, come from the Agave Sisalana plant where the plant is stripped back to its internal fibers.
These fibers are then dried out and tightly wound into dense cylinders by machine. Did you know that Sisal fibers have a really high tensile yield strength of typically 400-700MPa, for context, steel used in construction is often closer to 355MPa, so sisal fibers are stronger than steel (but obviously much thinner, and a hot rolled steel beam is going to be much stronger than an equal size sisal beam as the sisal wouldn’t be a continuous material).
The sisal cylinders are then compacted together to form a large enough surface area before being sanded down and surface finishes applied.
Advantages of Sisal dartboards
- Sisal is a very strong material in tension and as such makes for very durable dartboards. A well sued sisal dartboard can last for 2 to 3 years and even longer if used infrequently.
- As the sisal is would in layers, when the darts strike the board, they push the sisal to the side so the dart tip can embed in the board. When the dart is removed the sisal will try and force its way back to its starting position, this gives the dartboard a ‘self healing’ affect so long as the sisal remains taught.
- Sisal fibers are very coarse. This means that they act to ‘grip’ the dart tips as the dart strikes the board. This helps reduce bounce back and is why sisal board are often loved by players of all abilities.
Disadvantages of Sisal dartboards
- Sisal is more expensive than simple wooden or cork boards so new players often don’t spend the little extra to get a quality product which can improve their score due to the extra ‘grip’ sisal gives.
Watch a sisal board get made in this video
Cork is a fantastic renewable material which comes from the bark of cork oaks. Cork oaks are harvested every 9-12 years and stripped of their bark. This bark is then boiled and flattened. From there, shapes can punched from the cork or the cork ground up and pressed together to make cork agglomerate (this is what larger cork items are made of).
Cork dartboards will often be seen down at your local pub or youth centre as they make great inexpensive boards which can take a real beating.
Advantages of cork dartboards
- Cork dartboards are cheap. Cork is a cheap and readily available material which doesn’t require as much refining as some of the alternative materials such as sisal hemp. This means that cork dartboards are cheap to produce.
Disadvantages of cork dartboards
- Cork doesn’t have the same ‘self-healing’ properties of sisal, once the cork is punctured the mark won’t go away. This means that cork dartboard deteriorates much faster than sisal boards as they eventually become peppered with so many holes that the darts start to bounce and paintwork starts to fade and flake.
Plastic dartboards are full of premade holes all over the board which can receive dart tips. In electronic boards the area below the scoring areas have contacts which register an electronic impulse when activated which the dartboard can use to keep track of the score.
Advantages of plastic dartboards
- Plastic dartboards are very durable. The plastics used in these dartboards are typically much higher density than you will find in a plastic water bottle.
Disadvantages of plastic dartboards
- You are typically limited to soft tip darts with plastic dartboards. Harder tip darts will damage the plastic face of the board
- Having pre-prepared holes in the board reduces the area which a dart will stick in and increases the bounce likelihood.
See what’s inside an electronic dartboard in this video:
Paper dartboards aren’t that common, they work on a similar design theory to sisal dartboards. The idea being that the papers is prepared in lots of thin layers which are then compressed together.
When the dart strikes the dartboard it should push the paper to the side and the paper should spring back when the dart is removed to improve durability. Personally I find that paper dartboards have a much shorter lifespan than sisal dartboards and don’t tend to use them because of this.
Advantages of a paper dartboard
- Wound paper dartboards are typically cheap to buy and are included in lots of kids dart sets.
- Paper dartboards are also very lightweight. They won’t cause your wall any problems when being hung and can be easily moved around if you want to throw one under your arm and walk it to a friends house.
Disadvantages of a paper dartboard
- I find paper dartboards to be less durable than their sisal counterparts so you will need to be prepared to regularly buy new boards if you want to use a paper board.
Historic Softwood and Clay Dartboards
Whilst not widely used in modern boards, historically, dart boards were often made from a softwood tree log, such as elm, which could then be marked with scoring areas and darts thrown at them.
These dartboards were commonplace in old English pubs as they were relatively cheap to make, and sturdy. I’ve never personally used a wooden dartboard but I can imagine you need to throw your darts with some power to get them to stick into the board!
A later development in dartboard technology was the introduction of clay boards. Clay was much more malleable than wood which meant darts would grip and stick in the board much more readily. Clay boards were also easier to repair which gave them a much longer lifespan than wooden boards of the time.
Other items used in dartboard construction
There are two final considerations to give to a dartboard. The first is the paint used to add the distinctive, black, red and green markings on a dartboard.
Often darts is played in poorly illuminated areas, if that’s in your home or the corner of your local pub, so it’s important that the paint used on a dart board is matte in finish and doesn’t reflect the light too much, otherwise you’ll find it difficult to make out all the details of your dartboard. Generally most major manufacturers now have well developed products and this isn’t much of an issue.
One item that can still cause problems is the wire thickness and strength around a dartboard. Dartboards have to follow strict dimensions to meet regulations, therefore the thinner the dividing wire between the scoring segments the more dartboard you have to aim at!
Harder wires are also preferential as when a dart strikes hard wire it’s likely to be deflected without losing too much of its power, increasing the chance that the dart is deflected into the board. Most wires will also now be designed to have a point facing the player so that the dart is less likely to bounce. Cheaper boards will often have thicker wires without the point which will reduce your scores without changing your action.
What Is the Best Dartboard Material?
If you’re not familiar with dartboards you might have already guessed this from the way I’ve spoken about different types of boards, but I heavily favour dartboards made from sisal fibers. Sisal dartboards have good durability, are relatively inexpensive and can be marked with clear ink patterns making them easy to read. It’s no wonder the official PDC and BDO dartboards are both sisal boards!
If you’re looking to replace your dartboard or purchase a new board, we highly recommend the latest Winmau Blade 5 which you can check the latest prices of on Amazon.
Winmau Blade 5
The Winmau Blade 5 is a high quality bristle (sisal fiber) dartboard with razor thin wires to maximise scoring areas. Winmau boards are known for excellent high quality manufacturing. You can check the latest prices on Amazon here.
I hope you found this roundup of typical dartboard material useful, happy throwing!