Ever since I was an older kid, I cut, split, and stacked wood. There was never a shortage of axes, mauls, or camp hatchets around, and they always fascinated me. When I was alone, I’d take one of those axes or hatchets in hand, take careful aim at a nearby oak, and let it fly. I can probably count the number of times it stuck on one hand (much to the pleasure of the trees that surrounded the woodpile). Suffice it to say, I never learned how to throw an axe, and it’s a badass skill I’ve wanted to learn ever since.
Recently, I received a tomahawk-style camp axe from a subscription service. Truth be told, it’s cool as hell but useless for anything other than driving a tent stake or maybe an absolutely badass home defense weapon (sending serious The Patriot vibes, here). Rather than allow it to collect dust like so many other things in my office, I decided I’d learn to throw a hatchet or axe.
And, even better—my kids could come along for the axe throwing experience.
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Table of Contents
- 1. Done right, it’s safe to throw an axe
- 2. If you’re going to throw a hatchet or axe, you need a target
- 3. You need a sharp axe
- 4. Want to throw axes? It’s not about power
- Prepare the Lane
- The One-Hand Technique
- The Two-Handed Technique
- Axe Throwing Tips for Safety
1. Done right, it’s safe to throw an axe
Most people are probably thinking that throwing axes with your children is insanely dangerous, and I would agree: Throwing axes can be a little sketchy. But having just one axe to throw and a decent target to throw it at is safe. You can control the pace, who handles the axe, and where everyone is positioned. If you don’t think your kids are mature enough to handle that, or a very sharp axe, then you probably should wait.
But, if your kids can handle it, an axe throwing experience could quickly become a hobby the entire family can enjoy that also builds an appreciation for the great outdoors, eye-hand coordination, and even a sideways understanding of ranged weapons.
Who doesn’t want their kid mastering ranged weapons?
2. If you’re going to throw a hatchet or axe, you need a target
There are a ton of axe-throwing businesses out there that allow people to show up and throw axes at their targets in an indoor axe throwing facility. These targets are typically made of nothing other than straight-grained, relatively knot-free framing lumber. If you want to throw a hatchet or axe, you can build one of these targets for just a few bucks. There are a few things to know, however:
Make sure the target is large enough to safely protect anything under, over, or to the side of the target. Generally speaking, my children had no problem keeping the throwing axe on a target that was a little over 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. That said, I would prefer a target at least 1 foot larger in both directions, though that would cut down on its portability. It helps to mark the front of the target with a circle about the size of a soccer ball.
Screw Through the Back
When you assemble your target, DO NOT screw through the front of the target. Instead, screw through the cleat in the back. If you run screws through the front of the target, you will most likely damage the axe when it strikes one.
Make Sure Your Backstop is Sturdy
Make sure whatever you’re strapping or leaning the target against is stable for the best possible axe throwing experience. I set my target up against a barn door to start, and the bounce from the door prevented axe bits from sticking. This can get frustrating and make it very difficult to learn how to throw a hatchet properly.
Note: Do NOT throw hatchets, knives, axes, or anything at live trees on purpose. The result of a blade hitting a tree can cause a wound that harbors infections and parasites. That’s a move only a guy who sucks would do.
Note: Should you accidentally nick a tree, you can cover the wound with wax from a toilet ring. Fruit farmers have grafted trees with this technique for decades. The wound will heal underneath.
3. You need a sharp axe
Okay, this is obvious, but you need your own axe. Admittedly, my children and I threw what most would consider a camp hatchet, not an axe. While there are Big Axe competitions, it’s best to start with a smaller hatchet that both you and your kids can handle (no pun intended).
I used the Bare Bones Camp Axe, which I believe is sold out everywhere (and it may be more expensive than it should be). However, I also threw an inexpensive model from Lowes (available here) as well as a fiberglass-handled model from Home Depot (available here). I would not recommend a fiberglass handle as it they can be awfully springy if they hit the ground. Here are a few other models worth checking out if you’re interested in purchasing your own axe:
Best Axes for Throwing
- SOG Throwing Tomahawks (available on Amazon)
- Cold Steel Hatchet (available on Amazon)
- Cold Steel Tomahawk (available on Amazon)
- Cold Steel Competition Hatchet (available on Amazon)
- Kobalt Steel Camp Axe (available at Lowes)
- Husky Premium Camp Axe (available at Home Depot) – Keep in mind that this one does have a fiberglass handle
There are plenty of others, but these are all a good start. Just make sure to use a sharp axe as a sharper axe is less likely to bounce off the target, making it safer.
4. Want to throw axes? It’s not about power
When Mel Gibson awesomely hucked that tomahawk at the British attacker, he whipped the damn thing. That’s not necessary. Believe it or not, the rotation coming out of your hand is always almost enough to get the axe to stick.
Truly, it’s about technique and adjustment, not power. If you want to learn to throw with that much power, you’ll have to nail down the technique first. Also, if your bit is refusing to stick, it could be because the target has too much bounce. Sturdy it up a bit.
Prepare the Lane
In regulation axe throwing, the space where you throw axes is called a lane (just like bowling). While you don’t need a regulation lane for axe throwing, let’s refer to whatever space you use as a lane for continuity.
Hang your target and mark the distances
Hang your target on something sturdy like a tree or fence post. You want it to be as stable as possible, so don’t be afraid to use some ratchets straps to hold that thing in place.
Next, use sticks, stones, or other items to mark distances from the target. Regulation throwing is at least 12 feet for hatchets, which can actually feel too close for comfort. But, remember that this is the distance that the pros (yes, there are pros) throw from.
These marks matter because instead of adjusting your throws, you’re going to adjust your distance. You need something to base your adjustments on. I suggest markers at 12, 14, and 16 feet, but do what feels right. If you venture to throw a Big Axe, you’ll need a mark at 20 feet.
The One-Hand Technique
I found the one-hand technique the easiest axe throwing stance to get the hang of, so you might as well. As the name suggests, you’ll be throwing one handed. Remember to start in the exact same spot for your first throws and adjust as necessary (I’ll go over that in a future article).
1. Find the right grip before you start axe throwing
Take the handle of your hatchet or camp axe in hand, and line the bit (the blade of the axe) up with your knocking knuckles. These are the knuckles you use to knock on a door. Hold the handle near the bottom. You’ll find that different axes with different axe lengths and shapes feel different, but this is a good start.
2. Bring your toe to the throwing line
Find your 12-foot mark or line on the ground and bring the toe of the foot on the same side as your throwing arm up to the mark. Right arm, right toe. Left arm, left toe. Some folks prefer to use the opposite foot, so do whatever throwing motion feels good.
3. Create two right angles
Create two right angles: one between your upper and lower arm, and one between your lower arm and the axe handle. You’ll naturally adjust this as you throw, but be mindful of this shape to start.
Be sure that when you do this that the axe bit is aiming for the target. Don’t let it veer left or right.
4. Bring it straight back
Maintaining your hand positioning and the right angles, rotate your arm at the shoulder and bring the axe straight back. If you’re explaining this to your kids, ensure that they know that letting the axe head drop or angle to either side could mean a haircut on the way back through.
I joke, but seriously, tell them they can take their ear off if they aren’t careful.
5. Bring the axe overhead and let it fly
With good form and elbow locked, bring the axe forward and let it fly. Don’t flick your wrist at the target. The axe will want to slip from your hand at the right moment, so don’t fight it or try to overpower it. Allow it to slip.
6. Repeat and adjust
Watch how the axe hits the target and adjust forward or backward accordingly. If the blade hits parallel to the target, you nailed it. Keep in mind that if you’re ahead of the 12-foot mark, you’re no longer in regulation distance, and it could get slightly more dangerous. I’ll discuss how to adjust your throw later in another article.
The Two-Handed Technique
Kids might prefer using the two-handed throw. Also, if you’re throwing a big axe, this is definitely the method to master first (how badass is one-handed big axe throwing, though?). Most of the same rules apply to the one-hand throw as the two-hand throw, so use the one-hand guide above for reference if necessary.
1. Find the grip for axe throwing
Two-handed axe throwing requires a perfectly comfortable grip. You’ll still want to hold the axe slightly up from the bottom and line the bit up with the knuckles, but which hand goes on top and which goes on the bottom is up to you. I used the same grip for a baseball bat, which is my dominant hand on top and non-dominant hand on the bottom.
2. Toes on the line
Find the distance markers you placed on the lane. You’ll want to start at the same distance many times before adjusting, so get this part right. Square your shoulders, hips, and feet with the line to start (you can take a step forward at some point, like throwing a baseball).
3. Create three right angles
Just like the one-handed throw, you’ll want to create a right angle between your upper arm and lower arm, as well as the lower arm and axe handle. The only difference is you have to form it with both arms.
4. Bring the axe straight back over your head
Before you throw the axe, you need to bring it straight back over your head. Rotating at the shoulder, slowly raise the axe back, being sure not to bop yourself in the forehead with the axe butt.
5. Bring the axe overhead and let it fly
Bring the axe forward toward the target and allow it to slip out of your hand as it rotates. Don’t flick your wrist. The weight of the axe head will pull it from your hands naturally.
6. Repeat the throw and adjust
Throw the axe a few more times from the exact same point, using the exact same technique. Watch how the axe strikes the target and adjust your distance accordingly. Move a half a step forward at a time if you’ve over rotated, or half step backwards at a time if you’ve under rotated. With more axe throwing experience, you’ll be able to make faster adjustments and dial in your throws quicker.
Axe Throwing Tips for Safety
There are a few things you need to consider before throwing an axe with your family. After all, you want this to be as safe as possible, and an axe blade can spell disaster if used improperly.
Throw One Axe: Just one!
If you’re throwing axes with your children, use just one axe. One. Just one. Don’t even bring another axe out of the shop or truck. With one axe, you can control exactly who is handling a weapon at all times. You’ll know where all the sharp, pointy objects are.
Create a safe zone before axe throwing
When you’re throwing, you’ll want to know where your family members are. Create a safe zone at least 15 feet to the left or right of the throwing lane and tell your kids that’s where they need to stand. I like to use my vehicle as the safe zone, requiring them to lean against it while they aren’t throwing.
Some more basic rules:
- Don’t throw if someone is down lane
- Don’t throw with someone behind you
- Don’t throw with someone within arm’s length of you (maintain at least 15 feet)
You need a first aid kit
Axe throwing is safe, but things happen. Even advanced axe throwers know this to be true. Be sure you have a fully-stocked first aid kit nearby. Make sure it has all the bandages, band-aids, and tourniquets you could ever need should someone receive an injury from an axe blade.
Make sure someone else knows where you’ll be
If you’re heading to the woods for some axe throwing, make sure someone else knows where you are and when you’re coming home. I’m a big proponent of this, and it could save both your life and the life of one of your family members.
Q, Is axe throwing hard?
There is definitely a slight learning curve to throwing an axe, but it’s not hard. Once you dial in your correct distance from the target, you’ll have no problem getting repeatable results.
Q. Do throwing axes need to be balanced?
There’s a misconception that you need to use an axe specifically designed for throwing. The reality is that you can throw any axe. Lumberjacks started axe-throwing competitions with a rudimentary felling axe centuries ago. A balanced axe blade meant for throwing might help, but it’s not necessary.
Q. Is axe throwing fun?
Axe throwing is a lot of fun, and anyone can learn to do it. It’s relatively affordable to start and requires very little equipment. If you head to an axe-throwing business, you might pay a little more, but there will be pros there to help you hone your technique.
Q. Is it safe to throw an axe?
Axe throwing with your family is safe if you do it correctly. Here are some quick tips:
- Use just one axe to limit the chaos
- Make sure that no one is down lane or directly behind you. It’s best to have your kids stand at least 10 yards away from you. I make mine lean against my vehicle to ensure I know where they are while I throw.
- Keep a first aid kit nearby. Throwing an axe isn’t dangerous in and of itself, but things can happen. Having a fully-stocked first aid kit (including a tourniquet) can be a lifesaver, quite literally.
- Use a sharp axe. Sharper axes are more likely to sink into the target than bounce, making the activity all-around safer.