Assuming you are playing steel-tipped darts, you should buy a bristle or sisal dart board. While wound paper dart boards are much less expensive, they do not last very long and are not very playable. There are several good brands with the British manufacturers Nodor and Winmau being the best known. These boards use a slotted bracket which is mounted on the backboard or cabinet wall. A single screw is inserted in the middle of the back of the dart board which permits the rotation of the dart board when it is hung on the bracket. Rotating the board on a regular basis helps prevent uneven wear. When the board is turned, the wire number ring is removed and replaced so that the 20 is always in the 12 o'clock position and is always over a black wedge.
There are two popular misconceptions about bristle dartboards which will be put to rest here. The first is that the boards are made from pig bristles hence the origin of the name "bristle" board. This is absolutely false. The material these boards are made of is sisal or hemp. While sisal grows in many countries it is not of consistent quality. Nodor, for example, imports white sisal from Africa because of it's specific qualities.
There is a misconception that involves softening the board by wetting it. DO NOT WET A SISAL DARTBOARD!! The sisal will swell and dry up and the board will quickly be destroyed. Furthermore, when the board is not in use, the lighting used to illuminate it should be turned off because the heat generated by the lights will cause excessive drying. Properly maintained, a good board should last a long time relative to it's use.
Before Nodor's invention of the sisal board, dartboards were made of wood. It was common practice to soak these boards to prevent drying and cracking.
This is probably where the notion that dartboards should be wet originated from. (See also section 16: Dart Trivia.)
Plastic, automatic scoring dart boards are also available, which require the use of special soft-tip darts. See section 18 for more information about soft-tip darts.
Wayne Newberry (firstname.lastname@example.org) says: "I have seen boards [that do automatic scoring with steel-tip darts] here in Massachusetts, and from what I understand, they are both accurate and reliable. One Thing I don't know is how they score a bounce-out or a dart that drops out after it originally stuck into the board. About a year ago, there was even an attempt to set up a small league involving those bars/pubs that had these boards. I didn't follow up to find out if it actually got going or not. My view of these boards is much the same as for the plastic boards, not because of accuracy of the equipment, but because they are too mechanical to fit well with the game that I love. Part of it is that scoring is a part of the game. I know from watching some score keepers that it can be a very painful experience to score an '01 game, but to me, it goes with the territory.
Sharpening your score keeping skills helps you to do the quick calculations so that you can adjust after a missed triple and go to the next best choice. The Other point, for me, is something that a few others have made. Pumping coins into a machine all night is a waste as far as I am concerned. I'd Rather spend that money on new flights or darts, and have an extra beer or two. While the bars are certainly entitled to make money any way they can, if they waited for me to patronize either kind of machine, they'd lose."
Bob Lanctot adds:
"The coin-op steel tip electronic darts machine you [Wayne] are referring to is manufactured by Wellow Leisure Products in the UK and distributed in the U.S. by T.O.P. Dart Systems, Inc. of Rochester, New York. It sells for around $3000(US). It uses a special sisal dart board impregnated with graphite to make it electrically conductive. Each scoring area of the board is a separate component. If the sensors in a component fails, that component is replaced rather than the entire board.
The biggest problem is that after playing on the board for a time, the graphite tends to stick to the points turning the player's hands black. The light coloured areas of the board also get messed up as the graphite is dragged to the surface when the darts are removed.
It's a brilliant idea, really, but needs a little works to make it more congenial."