My earliest experiments with the plumbata began after I purchased 2 of these weapons from a website. Not knowing anything about plumbata, I bought them purely based on how they looked. Let’s face it, I thought they looked cool and couldn’t wait to get them and start throwing them. These plumbata were 11 inches long, made with a ½ inch rattan shaft that was 6 ½ inches long, had 4 leather fletchings, and had ¾ of an inch shaft extending behind the fletchings. They looked good, but did not fly well and I was too inexperienced to know why. They also fell apart after just a few throws so I knew it was time to start making my own to keep experimenting.
For my first effort I deconstructed the ones I had bought, made a longer ½ inch shaft, and put them back together. These flew slightly better but not by much. I kept rebuilding them with longer shafts with more of it extending behind the fletchings and each new design flew further than the last. In all of my throwing tests with these weapons I found that they flew further when thrown underhand than overhand. All of the research I had done to this point showed the same result. At this point I did a presentation for Athenaeum to share what I had learned to date. Shortly after this, Bruce Pruett, a fellow plumbata researcher, found this presentation online and contacted me.
After a couple interactions online, Bruce and I finally were able to speak on the phone. In his direct way, he basically said I was wrong (and everyone else that had been doing flight tests on plumbata), hope you’re not offended. Since I didn’t hang up at this point we continued our conversation. I knew my data was accurate for the weapons I had used, but I soon discovered that my designs were basically flawed. Based on his own experience, Bruce suggested longer and narrower shafts with a longer grip behind the fletchings should improve the aerodynamics and produce longer throws. They did. I also found that, because these new designs were more stable in flight, an overhand throw did fly further than an underhand throw. I had confirmed Bruce’s data, and we were on our way to becoming friends.