Differences in Darts (Soft & Steel)

Other than the proverbial "How high do I hang my dartboard?" question, the ones that come in tied for second are "What dart should I buy?" and "What is the difference between dart 'A' and dart 'B'?" Considering I'm still getting question number one and I've had that information posted at this site for a very long time, I know this will not eliminate the second question altogether, but should cut down on the amount of them. I was going to split this page up into two parts, soft & steel, until this little light went off and I realized the only difference between the two are the points and weights. So one page it is and it has been divided into the following sections:

Send me an email and let me know what you think.

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What Darts are Constructed of

With the exception of wooden darts, both soft and steel-tip darts are made of the same materials. The major differences that will be discussed between them are weight and cost.

Wooden Dart

Wooden Darts

Wooden Dart

You don't see these around very often but they are a lot of fun to throw with. They are made of lightweight wood shaft with turkey feather flights (no parts to replace). I have four sets I ordered from Al's American Darts for use with their wooden dartboard. They weigh around 12 grams so they really aren't that much lighter than electronic darts. They work just fine with any bristle board.

Brass Dart - Steel

Brass Darts

Brass Dart - Electronic

Brass is the lightest of the three metallic darts listed here. It is a soft alloy (copper & zinc) which makes it easy to for manufacturers to shape and work with.

Nickle - Steel

Nickel-Silver Darts

Nickle - Electronic

Nickel-silver is yet another light dart that is an alloy consisting of nickel, copper and zinc. Like brass, it is easy for manufacturers to shape and work with.

Tungsten - Steel

Tungsten Darts

Tungsten - Electronic

Tungsten, unlike brass and nickel-silver, is a very heavy and dense metal. It is usually mixed with nickel so you will see on a package something like 80-20 (80% tungsten/20% nickel). It is harder to work with but will last longer than the other two (especially the knurling). On average, a 20 gram tungsten dart will be ½ the size of a 20 gram brass dart which will allow for tighter groupings on the board. This is the reason most of the really good throwers use tungsten darts but if you're just starting out, you won't be throwing tight groupings anyway, regardless of the dart you're using.

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Weights

First let's look at the legal weights for darts.

Steel-tip darts can weigh up to 50 grams, though you will have a very difficult time locating very many varieties above 30 grams. Most people throw darts that weigh between 20-25 grams.

Soft-tip darts are a different story, you will need to check with your local leagues for the weight requirements. At the time of this posting, 16 grams darts seem to be a safe bet no matter where you are throwing. You can get a heavier soft-tip dart, but some leagues and tournaments may ban them due to the construction or restraints of the machines that are being used. An opponent can challenge the weight of your dart if they feel it is too heavy.

Recommendation: If you're throwing soft-tip darts, go to the 14-16 gram varieties to play it safe. If you're just starting in steel-tip darts and do not have the ability to try out different weights to see what you like, I would start off with a 21-22 gram dart.

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Points

Steel-tip: You have two options, fixed-point or moveable-point.

Recommendation: When I first started throwing back in the mid to late 80s, the boards were made differently. They had big round wires and lots of staples, especially those big ugly ones holding in the double-bull. Moveable-point darts were definitely the way to go. Now, things have changed a lot, board manufacturers have redesigned the boards themselves. Now you have staple-less boards (including staple-less bulls), diamond shaped wires, and even boards whose wires are completely embedded (can you say " The Bandit Board?"). If you are always throwing on real hard boards, or older type boards that don't have all the nice features, moveable points may be for you. If, like me, you're lucky enough to only throw on the higher quality dartboards, then they may not be worth the extra money. They do have one main advantage over fixed point darts and that's the ease of replacing the points when they are worn or damaged. Well, there's my two cents worth! :-)

Soft-tip: Now, unlike steel-tip, the difference is in the width of the opening of the barrel, not the action of the point. Your two choices here are ¼" and 2ba.

Recommendation: Unless you just love the set of darts you are using that has ¼" points and you can not find a set that uses 2ba points, I would just stick with the 2ba darts. They are much more common which makes finding someone with a spare point or two in the middle of a match easier should you run out. Note, if you like hammerhead steel-tip points, they will normally screw into most soft-tip 2ba darts.

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Prices

One of the biggest misconceptions amongst new throwers is that if the dart costs a lot, they are more accurate. This isn't like a car, the more bang for the buck! You can pick up a set of 18 gram brass darts for around $10 and throw them as well, if not better, than a set of $140 tungsten darts. Prices are based on a number of items like: the material the dart is made of; any extras like moveable-points; special paint jobs; etc. Also, you will notice that the same set of darts in some catalogues may have two different prices attached to them depending on the case you want them sent in.

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Recommendations - The Bottom Line

If you have been throwing for awhile, you've already know what you like. If you are new to the sport and are trying to figure out what to buy, I would recommend you do one of the following:

  1. If you have friends that throw, see if they will let you throw their darts some so you can see what you like and what you don't (specifically concerning weight and knurling).
  2. If you are fortunate to live in or near a large city, see if there is a dart store in town. If so, all the ones I have visited have boards hanging on the wall and will let you try out darts they have for sale (just like test driving a car before you buy it).
  3. Now if 1 & 2 aren't options, then you'll just have to hit & miss by picking a set out of a catalogue or off the Internet. I would suggest selecting one that weighs 21-23 grams (steel) or 16 grams (soft) with some knurling. I find it very difficult to throw a perfectly smooth dart. Like I mentioned above, there's absolutely no reason to spend $100+ on your first set of darts, they aren't going to make you a pro overnight!

Different Styles

Below are some pictures of different dart barrels. These are only a few of the thousands of different styles you can find out there.

Steel Dart Soft Dart

Steel Dart Soft Dart

Steel Dart Soft Dart

Steel Dart Soft Dart

Steel Dart Soft Dart

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