Designing A Slingshot

    The content of this post was originally part of a now retired YouTube series. I repurposed the content in a more traditional blog post format to make it more accessable.


    This is the first post about a new project I'm working on purely for fun. It's called Dead Eye Club. It will make top quality mischief — things like slingshots, playing cards, dancing skeleton sticker packs, modified nerf guns, and whatever else that sounds fun to design and make.

    I started with the slingshot. This post represents a work in progress and not the finished product. I will post more updates as progress is made.

    Initial Ideation & Concepts

    The first step in this process was to figure out what, if anything, we could bring to the table with a new slingshot product. I hired an industrial designer to help brainstorm some ideas that we could talk through.

    Branded Strap

    Screenshot-2018-06-17-09.09.47-1
    This was one of the more simple ideas proposed. It would likely be possible to manufacture this out of a single piece of metal and bend it into shape. The strap would add grip and would also be a good spot to add some branding.

    Slide Activated Aiming Help

    Screenshot-2018-06-17-09.12.54-1
    Being accurate with a slingshot involves using vertical and horizontal reference points. Lining these reference points up with your target, then making adjustments based on how far away your shots are, lets you quickly hone in on what you're shooting at. In this concept, there would be some hidden slide activated reference points that, in theory anyway, would help you aim.

    Slingshot with built-in carabiner

    Screenshot-2018-06-17-09.21.10-1
    This concept is fairly simple but I thought it had some potential. You'd be able to quickly clip the slingshot onto your bag strap for easy access.

    Catapult

    Screenshot-2018-06-17-09.24.22-1
    More of a traditional "catapult" than a slingshot. It could be an interesting desktop toy but not exactly what I had in mind for this product.

    Laser sights

    Screenshot-2018-06-17-09.25.47-1
    Another concept to help aiming in theory. A laser sight can be activated and pointed at the target. To me this feels a bit too gimmicky and probably wouldn't work as well in practice. The trajectory of the payload depends more on the angle of the slingshot band, rather than how straight the slingshot is being held.

    Built in ammo storage

    Screenshot-2018-06-17-09.28.57-1
    A hidden door at the bottom of the slingshot reveals internal ammo storage. It could be handy but it would add some thickness to the profile of the slingshot, and the ammo would rattle around inside. Not ideal.

    Built in ammo with spring

    Screenshot-2018-06-17-09.30.52-1
    A similar concept, but this time the ammo wouldn't rattle around. Could be spring loaded help push up ammo up from the bottom.

    Pocket folding

    Screenshot-2018-06-17-09.33.44-1
    Inspired by a pocket knife...meet the pocket slingshot! The forks could fold out, making the folded version much more compact. Great for conserving pocket space, although this is likely one of the more complicated concepts to actually make work. Having bands on the slingshot also complicates things significantly.

    Honing in on a concept

    Whilst the designer was working on these concepts I was trying to learn as much about slingshots as I could. I read books about slingshots, watched hours of YouTube videos about slingshots, and bought and tested different versions.

    Slingshots are super fun to play around with but I found one aspect frustrating — installing and swapping out the bands. There's a few common ways of doing this currently and each method has advantages and disadvantages. This seemed like something that we could focus on trying to improve. After discussing with the designer, we agreed this would be a good direction to go in.

    Before we got too far into the process I wanted to do some shape ideation to figure out what the final slingshot might look and feel like. This was important because it needed to feel right for the brand. Also whatever band swapping method we came up with needed to work with the final shape.

    2-shape

    Some early shapes we explored. None of these made the cut.

    I found the perfect iPad app to help with this. Amaziograph lets you sketch mirrored images, making it super easy to sketch and refine slingshot shapes.

    sketch-slingshot-shape

    I spent some time refining the shape until I had something that felt right. Then, I traced the shape with paper, rolled out some clay, and made a physical version that I could hold in my hand.

    slingshot-concept

    The first attempt at a concept that made it easy to swap out bands.

    The thinking here was that having small screw operated slits cut in the forks would let people swap bands quickly without any additional tools needed. I liked the direction but the concept needed to be refined a bit more.

    The Sandwich

    6

    We named this concept "the sandwich".

    This concept was getting pretty close. The construction was super simple meaning that there wasn't much that could break or go wrong during use. This really appealed to me because I planned to offer a lifetime warranty with the slingshot, so I shied away from having any potentially breakable plastic parts.

    The sandwich secures the bands between the two layers, but it also hides a hidden magnet, and a channel for the lanyard to run through.

    13

    We were almost ready to make a prototype.

    We refined the concept a little bit further, adding some more grip to the teeth (being careful not to have any sharp edges that could decrease the life of the bands) and a debossed logo on the inside. There's also some very subtle (inch/cm) notches on the inside that can be used to measure out the length of the bands before installing.

    The Prototype

    We sent the tech pack to a manufacturer in Hong Kong that the industrial designer had a good relationship with. Then waited anxiously for it to be made, and sent halfway across the world so I could play with it!

    Screenshot-2018-06-17-10.57.18-1

    The production slingshot will be cast from aluminium, although the prototype was created by a CNC machine. This is to avoid having to buy an expensive mold — especially important, because we figured we'd need to update the design after we saw the prototype, meaning we'd have to buy another expensive mold.

    1

    The first "real" prototype.

    After months of looking at renders of slingshots on a computer screen it was AWESOME to be able to see it in person.

    Hidden Feature

    If you're having trouble hitting your target, or if you're just a bad shot in general... you can secretly upgrade the performance of your slignshot by installing a lucky penny inside of it. The debossed logo was sized to fit a 1 cent coin in perfectly. This is guaranteed* to make you a better shot.

    hidden-feature

    * I can't actually guarentee that this will make you a better shot but it MIGHT help. :)

    Testing & Issues

    After installing my lucky penny I took the prototype down to a quiet spot by the Mississippi River and put it through its paces.

    shooting

    Shooting the prototype was great fun but it revealed a few issues with the design. The ergonomics of the slingshot needed to be improved. The edges of the design made the slingshot uncomfortable to use for extended periods of time so they needed to be rounded a bit more. That was an easy fix.

    fork-issue

    A bigger issue was that the top of the forks were not flush with each other. With the anchor points' location, there wasn't enough force pushing down on the tops of the forks to fully close them. This issue is harder to solve and will require a rethink of the design.

    Next Steps

    The design needs to be tweaked to solve the fork issue, we need to finalize the material and finishing choices, decide on a lanyard and pouch shape/material, and order another prototype to test! :D

    I'll be posting more updates as things start coming together.


    If you found this post interesting, you can follow me on Twitter here. Also, subscribe to my email newsletter below.

    Jon-Paul Wheatley

    Jon-Paul Wheatley

    Product focused founder. Brit in the USA.

    San Francisco

    Designing A Slingshot

    Subscribe to Jon-Paul Wheatley

    Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox