Every so often, a darts customer will ask if we stock “REAL” dartboards, the ones made of Pig Bristle. ( Or Camel-Hair Dartboards. Or Horse-Hair Dartboards.)
The common answer in the darting industry is: “Sorry, all of the Red & Green Horses & Camels have gone extinct, so we must now use sisal fiber.”
Humor aside, the fact is: there have NEVER been any such animal fiber boards.
Bristle dartboards were developed by the Nodor company in the 1930’s, using sisal fiber. The original concept was to make dartboards from bundles of readily available sisal rope. After some experimentation, the idea evolved into the modern bristle dartboard. The word “Bristle” simply refers to the stiff natural sisal fiber, the same material still used to make cheap scrub brushes, twine, and rope.
As a seafaring nation, England imported lots of rope-making materials, but very few camels!
Although similar to hemp in appearance and use, sisal fiber is made from the leaves of the Agave plant. The fiber used in Nodor and Winmau dartboards is imported from Kenya, while some other dartboard manufacturers may use fibre from Brazil or other countries. Sisal is commonly used in making rope, twine, brushes, carpet, and wall coverings.
However, no matter what history and experts have to say about this, there will always be a few darters who will swear, adamantly, that their grandad’s old dart board really is made of camel hair, pig or boar bristle, horsehair, or some other kind of animal bristle or hair.
It does not help that a famous darts pro once stated in a book that dartboards are made of pig bristle. Perhaps he meant it as a joke, but it nonetheless helped feed the urban legend about animal-hair dartboards.
If you still believe in “Hairy Dartboards”, consider the qualities of the different materials:
Cost: Sisal is a natural plant fiber, produced in great quantities by many countries, as an agricultural crop. Bulk sisal rope fiber is very inexpensive, and is commonly used in cheap twine & rope.
Camel hair brushes are used by artists, and even small genuine camel hair brushes can cost $$40 to $100 or more. Due to scarcity and cost, most “camel hair” artist’s paint brushes are actually a blend containing squirrel, ox, or goat hair. Camel hair is also used to make high-end jackets, which sell at prices ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. A real camel hair dartboard would cost hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars.
Availability: Sisal is grown as a crop, in many tropical countries around the world.
How much camel hair would needed to make even a few dartboards? Ever hear of entire herds of horses or camels raised for their hair, to make dartboards? Horse hair for brushes is carefully cut from the manes of ponies, and is not available in any great quantity.
Properties: Dart boards require inexpensive, long, straight, stiff fiber of uniform diameter.
Animal hair is soft and smooth. Steel dart points would slip right out of a hair dartboard. Camel hairs taper to a fine point, which is why artists like them. However, fiber with such an uneven diameter would not compress evenly or tightly enough to make a good dartboard. Pig bristles have naturally split ends and a slight curve. For fine brushes, pig or boar bristles are arranged so that they curl inward, making a natural point at the brush end. Such shaping would not be desirable or even possible in dartboard manufacture. Plus, most pigs don’t have much long hair, so gathering enough long pig bristles to make a dartboard would be prohibitively expensive.
Sisal is inexpensive, stiff, has a coarse texture that grips dart points well, is easy to handle, and readily accepts glue and ink. It is readily available in large quantities from plantations that already produce sisal for other purposes. Even the equipment used to make sisal rope only needed to be slightly modified to make the sisal “biscuits” used in the manufacture of dartboards .
Nope.. those legends are just not true. There are no animal hair dartboards, and never have been.
Genuine bristle dartboards have always been made of Sisal rope fiber!