Updated December 2018
If you’re looking into getting your own set for darts, you’re going to need a high quality board. Not every board is made equally, and sometimes getting the right one can make the difference between continuing to play and putting the sport down altogether.
Of course, finding the best dart boards means understanding how they’re made, what you’re looking for, and what kind of maintenance you should expect.
Winmau Blade 5 Bristle Dartboard
Immediately, let’s look at a professional dart board. With an endorsement from the British Darts Organization, this is a high quality bristle board. The spider wire is 14% thinner than their previous model, which not only increases the scoring area but also limits the chance of deflection away from the board even if you do hit it.
The triple wheel lock and level system makes it very easy to mount the board in a variety of areas and remarkably simple to move about if you decide you’d rather have it on another wall.
The razor wiring that separates the sections is also much thinner than on the Blade 4 and has moved from a 90 degree angle to a 60+ degree angle, making it more likely to guide the dart into the board. Similarly, they have used Carbon Diffusion technology for the bullseye ring, making it about 20% stronger than before.
If there was something I could nitpick about this board, it would be nice if they had pre-drilled holes for the mounting feet to make it a bit simpler to get it set up the first time. It’s not too onerous, but rather my being spoiled by an otherwise excellent board which is drastically better than its predecessor and genuinely better than the vast majority of dart boards currently available on the market anywhere.
Winmau Blade 4 Bristle Dartboard
While not as good as the Blade 5 mentioned above, the Winmau Blade 4 is still a really fantastic staple free dartboard.
The Blade 4 is also professional level and has very thin razor wire embedded in the face to demarcate scoring while preventing too many bounce outs. Even at the 90 degree angle, that wire is still going to go a long way toward directing your dart into the board instead of sending it flying.
The super dense Kenyan sisal is top of the line in the industry. It would be very difficult to find materials better than what is used in this board, which is probably why it also carries a British Dart Organization endorsement. It’s a little more expensive than the Viper, but the quality is worth the extra money and the amount you would be saving by not having to replace your board as often will certainly make up the difference.
The biggest question with this board is less why you wouldn’t buy it, but rather why not just go for the Blade 5 instead? Mostly, it’s a price thing. If $30ish dollars makes a difference for you like it does for so many other people, then you can get a very similar experience to the Blade 5 and save that extra cash. If it doesn’t matter that much, go for the upgraded board instead of this.
Viper Shot King Sisal/Bristle Steel Tip Dart Board with Staple-Free Bullsye
The Viper Shot King is a pretty good board with a lot to recommend it. For example, this is a staple-free bullseye board, meaning that the spider is not attached to the board at the bullseye like it often is with boards in this price range. Instead it’s attached at the sides and free to move about as necessary to prevent concentrated damage.
The sector wires are reasonably thin, though not as much as the Blade 5 above, and have rounded rather than triangular sides. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the wire wasn’t also very soft, meaning that sharper darts not only bounce off of them rather than deflecting into the board, but it also tends to bend the spider more than is normal for a board of this type.
That being said, the bristles are very tightly packed and provide for a quality game experience and quick closing when you pull the darts. It’s brightly colored and easy to see from throwing distance so you can aim where you want to hit. If it weren’t for the issues with the ring, this would be a top quality board. As it is, it’s a pretty good board for the price, but there are better out there that will be a much better overall investment with stronger spiders that don’t deform quite as easily.
Viper Hudson Sisal/Bristle Steel Tip Dartboard & Cabinet Bundle
If you’re going to go with a Viper dart board, it’s worth the extra money to go for the cabinet bundle. The anchor for this is the Shot King bristle board which, as mentioned above, is good quality, but again you run into the problem with the spider being too thick, encouraging bounce outs. If you’re looking to really train yourself to only aim for the center of a scoring section and don’t mind a lot of frustration, this might be the way to go, but it will still be a bit annoying.
What makes this still worth the price is the cabinet, which is absolutely beautiful. The dark wood, pub style case looks good both open and closed. The Cricket scoring table on the right flap is a nice touch and helpful. Further, I really liked the dart storage spots in the main portion of it.
The darts that come with the set are much higher quality than I’ve come to expect with starters like this. Not great, but certainly usable. I probably wouldn’t keep them if I was very serious about darts, but if I just want a game to play with friends, they’re fine.
It’s almost a better approach to buy the cabinet, then get a better dart board. Or look into a replacement spider with thinner wire which won’t cause as many bounce outs.
Viper League Pro Sisal/Bristle Steel Tip Dartboard with Staple-Free Bullseye and Cricket Scoreboard
This is a bit of an improvement on the Shot King spider, but then it finds other ways to be a problem. It still has radial sector wire rather and triangular, but at least it’s thinner than the Shot King version, so there were fewer bounce outs. However this time the spider is stapled to the board. There’s a staple free bullseye, but otherwise the sections are secured in place.
The sisal fibers are still very high quality and tightly packed, though they’re painted instead of dyed, which means they don’t heal as easily as they otherwise could. That being said, there wasn’t much damage even after six hours of playing.
Another advantage is that it is cross-platform and can easily take both steel tipped and soft tipped darts. Both work equally well on the surface, which should last for a while.
How to Choose the Best Dart Boards
Below we cover several important things to consider before buying your dart board. But first make sure you check out our post on the best darts in 2018 so that you pick up a great set to play with your new board.
Wooden Dart Boards
While extremely rare these days, wooden dart boards can still be found in various places. In fact, what evidence we have suggests that the first dart boards were made of wood and date back centuries to England. It’s been suggested that the concentric circles that we use as a basis for scoring might have originally been the “age rings” that a cross section of a tree generally has. However, that’s still largely speculation.
Wooden dart boards fell out of favor in England during the 1970s due to an elm tree blight, but have seen a recent resurgence.
While they are classic looking and can be decorated in a number of ways, as dart boards they are not particularly good. Wood doesn’t self “heal” the way that other boards do. They tend to dry out (owners used to soak them overnight) and can crack.
However, they do fit well with many American style games. Modern wooden dart boards usually have a rotating center to move commonly hit areas around and more evenly distribute the damage. Most are also double sided so that when one side becomes damaged, it’s easy to start with a fresh one.
All in all, while you certainly could buy one of these, it’s better as a decorative piece than as a functional play board.
Cork Dart Boards
These are often thought to be the most common dart board, but they actually have always been pretty rare. They have the benefit of sticking well but, like wooden dart boards, they don’t self heal, so it doesn’t take a lot of heavy play before they really can’t be used any more. A good grouping can put a significant portion of the board out of commission.
The reason why we think that cork dart boards are common is that the bullseye on an American dart board is often referred to as the “cork.” What marketers are talking about when they discuss “cork dart boards” is more often than not “American dart boards.”
Coiled Paper Dart Boards
The first style that is actually self healing, the coiled paper dart board is made, unsurprisingly, from several long strips of paper coiled tightly around each other. Conceptually, most of the time the dart will embed itself between the coils, then when you pull it out, the two coils will close up and come back together.
While this is the case most of the time, it’s important to keep your darts sharp so that they’ll have no problem entering the board. Moreover, if you have burrs on the steel tips, then the can rip the paper coils up when you remove the darts. A related point, you also have to get used to twisting the darts when you remove them from a coiled paper board.
While these aren’t the best boards out there, if you just want to play a game or two every once in a while at home or have kids who are learning how to play, this is an inexpensive approach which will last longer than most other types of board in this price range.
Bristle Dart Boards
These are actually the most common dart boards. First invented in the 1930s, they didn’t become popular until the 70’s elm blight wiped out the supply for wooden boards. These were quickly adopted as the tournament standards and are the kind that you are almost certain to find at any bar in the world.
Bristle dart boards are usually made from a fiber called sisal which has been compressed and glued to the back of the board. These tightly packed bristles basically move out of the way when a dart comes at them, then close up again when it’s removed. While the board will eventually become damaged over time, this is the type of board that will take the longest to get to that point.
If you’re looking to buy a bristle dart board, your best bet is to get one that meets competition standards, meaning that it has enough bristles. There are cheaper bristle boards out there that save money by using fewer sisal fibers. They will work for a while, but it’s absolutely worth the investment to get a better quality board just from the amount of extra play you’ll have with it.
The wire scoring ring that you see on a lot of dart boards is usually referred to as “the spider.” It is a way to make clear exactly where you hit by separating the scoring sections in an obvious way. There are a number of ways this can attach to your board and several design features to keep in mind.
Less expensive boards will often just staple the spider to the board which is effective, but has two drawbacks: it is more metal in places that you could be scoring with your dart and it makes it harder to adjust the spider.
Much like the rotating center of the wooden dart boards above, being able to adjust the spider means that you’ll be able to more evenly distribute damage. Just because of the nature of the game, some sections will be hit more often than others. Being able to easily remove the spider means you can rotate the board and put less damaged sections in the higher percentage spots.
Top end boards tend to have staple-free spiders that attach to the dart board in a variety of ways. They also use super thin wires that are shaped like triangles instead of cylinders. The reason why this is good is that thick, cylindrical wires tend to make a dart that hits it bounce. Triangular wires will instead guide the dart into the board.
Maintaining a Bristle Dart Board
In order to keep your board in the best possible shape, start by paying attention to the lighting in the room. Bright lights will fade the colors and make the fibers become brittle and less effective at closing up when you pull the darts out. Make sure you don’t mount your dart board in direct sunlight or put spot lights on the board, even to highlight it or make it easier to see.
While you can rotate your board to move around the damage in most cases, there is one spot which remains fixed no matter how much you turn the dart board: the bullseye. Fortunately, there’s a solution to this.
Encourage your friends not to aim for the bullseye. I know, this sounds counterintuitive, but think about it for a second. Most dart games require you to aim for other parts of the board as much if not more than the bullseye. There’s a lot of mythology in popular culture about it, but with a very few exceptions it’s actually worth less than other parts of the board.
All in all, there are only a few things you really need in a board: get a bristle board with a rotating number ring and, if you can afford it, triangular razor section wire.
Darts is a great sport with a number of fantastic games you can play, so taking the time to get a dart board that balances quality with function and price is worth the effort for hours of fun with friends and family. The best dart boards are the ones that are regularly used to have fun.