Norsaq vs. rolling stick

I found a pretty nice piece of vertical grained oak from a pallet and decided it’s time to carve again. Before I delve too deep, what are your thoughts regarding traditional norsaqs versus something like Chris Cunningham’s rolling stick? As I understand it, a norsaq’s primary function is as an atlatl, with a secondary ability to be rolled with. Cunningham came up with his design that is solely for rolling with. But are there drawbacks? Are there actually benefits to having less surface area/resistance in learning norsaq rolls and the progression to hand rolls?


If you don’t throw harpoons…
… it doesn’t matter. Either type - or any variation thereof will work - and be custom sized for whatever you want.

Personally, I like the more traditional look and more interesting/versatile shape of the Norsaq.

I should make a new one…

I own a few “rolling sticks” such as those made by Betsie Bay, norsaqs that I have made, and the genuine article from Greenland. I prefer the norsaq. While you don’t need the bone/plastic/hardwood fittings that are needed for throwing a harpoon, the full-length groove that runs along the bottom is very useful for rolling. This groove provides a very good finger grip. This feature is usually omitted from many “rolling sticks”, which is a shame.

FYI for throwing a harpoon you hold a norsaq at the wide end. For rolling, most Greenlanders usually hold a norsaq in the center, or toward the narrow end.

One old link with images to help making a norsaq is at

Greg Stamer

Hand rolling paddle
Years back, Betsey Bay used to sell a hand rolling paddle which was the end of a damaged paddle made into a hand paddle. You can make a historical artifact repro or use a ping pong paddle etc. You just want to be able to use it to train yourself for hand rolling. Better big and safe so you can roll up with it from a settled position if you fail with a hand roll. It beats having to pull out a spare paddle plus it trains you towards the hand rolling movements. Or you can just roll with that for kicks.

I found that it was easier
to learn the norsaq roll with a rolling stick similar to Cunninghams mainly because I could make the stick as wide as I wanted. I made my first stick with the finger indentions on the end, like Cunninghams but I found it to be more comfortable gripping the stick more towards the middle. So my next stick has the finger indentions near the middle of the stick. The wider the stick the easier it will be to roll with. Once you have developed the technique you will be able to do it with a smaller stick. I also found it to be easier to learn the layback norsaq and hand rolls rolling with my palm down. It gives you a much farther sweep with your hand. Once I had this technique developed well I was able to learn them palm up. Good luck.

Thanks gents.
I think I discovered another benefit to the traditional design: ergonomics. Try holding a paddle at the root of one blade and point with it. If the wider end is at your fingers, your wrist has to cock to point the paddle straight ahead (the wider the blade, the more exaggerated the angle). If the narrower end is at your fingers, it feels much more natural and relaxed. Also, you have more leverage over the far tip and sculling motions are easier.

Maybe a hybrid hour glass shape could get the best of both designs?

rolling stick
I have more of the rolling stick variety, but since learning the forward recovery handroll, I have discovered the benefits of the middle grip on the stick. I would suggest having matt johnson make you a rolling stick if you don’t have one and want one.