If you’re hearing about it for the first time, axe throwing may not seem like it would be the safest of recreational activities you could participate in. That probably has something to do with the fact that axe throwing involves hurling a sharp, powerful object at a target. It makes sense.
But axe throwing, when done correctly, is one of the most exciting activities around. In fact, its growth in popularity is becoming a global phenomenon.
In this post, you’re going to learn everything there is to know about axe throwing—from the rules of the game, to its history, along with tips to keep you safe along the way.
Let’s get started!
If you’re going to be throwing axes recreationally you may as well know where the activity comes from in the first place, right?
While axes and hatchets have been around for over a million years, they have served many uses.
To visualize these uses, depictions of old nordic Gods with huge battle axes come to mind, or maybe the more modern, plaid-clad lumberjacks hacking at trees are a more familiar visual. Either way, there are as many different types of axes as there are historical uses for them.
The throwing axe originated around the 5th century, when the Franks, a Northern European tribe began using it as a weapon. Each soldier would roll into battle with multiple axes and fling them forcefully at foes.
Similar iterations of the throwing axe were developed later in human history: The Franziska, an especially menacing-looking axe was commonly used in the middle ages, while in North America, Native Americans made use of tomahawks, a special type of hatchet.
Believe it or not, throwing axes and tomahawks were even used by soldiers during the American Revolution!
Ok. Enough with the war stuff.
You’re planning an recreational axe throwing excursion for fun!
Needless to say, even axe throwing as a sport is steeped in history.
The sport was invented by the ancient Celts in Europe, and has been popular in nordic countries ever since. It’s even been used by the boy scouts!
Later, in the 19th century, forest workers and lumberjacks—who were often isolated from the general population and at a loss for fun activities to pursue in their free time—would compete amongst each other by throwing their double bit axes at self-made targets.
The evolution of this activity in modern times particularly took hold in Canada, where the axe-throwing craze started before arriving in the United States.
Nowadays, axe throwing is for everyone.
Whether you’re axe throwing as a corporate team building event or looking for something fun to do on a Friday night with friends, you’ll be able to brag about your knowledge of the sport’s history to your group.
How popular is axe throwing, exactly?
Popular enough that two major associations exist to service the sport and facilitate competition between axe throwing clubs.
The World Axe Throwing League (WATL), which boasts international membership, was formed to “unite indoor urban axe throwing facilities from around the world under one professional axe throwing association.” The League also seeks to standardize rules and business practices for the sport at all levels.
The National Axe Throwing Federation (NATF), has over 3000 members worldwide and also seeks to unify competitors, promote safety and standardize rules.
Believe it or not, not all axes—even the ones used for throwing—are created equal.
Hundreds of types of axes have been created and used throughout human history, but we’re going to focus on the ones most commonly used for axe throwing.
There are tons of different kinds of hatchets, and just as many uses for them.
Small hatchets or forest axes are often designed to cut through small obstacles like tree branches. These smaller hatchets often weigh less than two pounds and measure around or just over a foot in length.
Small hatchets are the most common type of axe used in recreational axe throwing establishments. They are lightweight and easier to throw, and therefore easier to get the hang of as a beginner.
Tomahawks were created by Native Americans for battle and hunting. They are typically thinner and lighter weight than a regular hatchet.
In modern times, Tomahawks are multi-use tools. They can be used similarly to small hatchets for camping tasks, cutting through brush and tree branches, but are also used in some very specific modern wartime operations due to their versatility.
Tomahawks are often used for recreational axe throwing, although most establishments feature more traditional hatchets.
Splitting axes are a lot easier to describe because their primary use is splitting and chopping firewood. They are designed with a sharp edge that cuts along the grain of wood. The axe head then quickly tapers out to push a piece of wood apart where it’s been cut.
Conjure up that Nordic God imagery we were talking about earlier:
Double bit axes are the most menacing-looking of axes, but really, there’s nothing too scary about them at all.
Double bit axes were used most commonly by forest workers in the 19th century. They feature two edges because they are meant to be multi-purpose axes—essentially a 2-in-1 combination of a hatchet and a felling axe—so that workers could get everything done without carrying two axes around.
Today, apart from the fact that they are still useful for work and outdoor adventure purposes, double bit axes are the primary type of axe used for competitive axe throwing. The Lumberjack World Championships are a great example.
Ultimately, the types of axes you are most likely to see in an indoor, recreational axe throwing facility are smaller-sized hatchets. They are lighter, more versatile and easier for beginners to throw.
As we’ve just learned, axes come in many different shapes and sizes.
However, the general makeup of an axe is pretty similar across all types.
Here’s a great diagram of an axes parts, provided by Gransfors Bruk in their publication, “The Axe Book”:
For the purpose of axe throwing, it’s most important to know that every axe has a handle and a head.
The axe head always has a cutting edge that will be differently shaped depending on which type of axe is being used—and is fastened to the axe’s handle.
The shape of the handle will vary depending on the axe’s purpose. Double bit axes feature a straight handle, whereas hatchets commonly feature a slightly curved handle with a pronounced end knob.
This is the easiest part. Are you ready?
Here’s a list of all the things you will need to enjoy an axe throwing:
But what kind of axe?
The good news is that axes will be provided at top axe throwing centers, so there’s no need to BYOA, thank goodness.
Regardless, you now know just about everything there is to know about the best types of axes out there for throwing.
There’s not much fun to axe throwing unless you have something solid to throw at that facilitates your competition.
While some outdoor axe throwing competitions use targets made out of actual cross sections of tree-trunks, it’s more common for indoor recreational axe throwing targets to be made up of multiple vertical wood boards. These boards can be replaced if they become overly damaged and axes no longer stick in them.
Like axes, indoor facilities also have on-site targets ready for use. No need to create your own!
Your safety is priority #1 during all axe throwing activities.
Don’t throw axes on your own unless you are trained by a professional and plan on adhering to the highest level of safety standards.
All indoor axe throwing facilities should have a trained professional to train you on how to throw an axe correctly in order to ensure safe, enjoyable experience for all.
Thinking you may want to take the DIY route? Awesome!
Just make sure you adhere to all of the safety standards described in this post, because we won’t be there to help you (unless you invite us).
Believe it or not, going DIY with your Axe Throwing is easier than you would think. In a couple hours, and for a pretty low cost, you can create your very own target with materials from your nearest home improvement store.
For measuring the target (pick one):
Line up the five 68” planks vertically, with the 10” side flat to the ground. Make sure they are lined up perfectly and pushed together.
Then, grab your two 50” boards and place them both horizontally on top of the five vertical boards. Position one to be on the very top, and the other to be at the very bottom. Make sure they are overlapping completely with the vertical boards and are are lined up at completely perpendicular to the vertical boards.
Proceed to screw the horizontal boards into the vertical boards, using two to three heavy duty wood screws per plank to ensure that the horizontal boards are holding the vertical boards together securely.
The base of your target is now built.
If you want to save time and make your life a bit easier, and don’t mind going a bit over budget on your project, you can purchase the official WATL target stencil from Amazon. To use the stencil, all you have to do is find the center of the board and then rotate the stencil using a marker in the hole to draw perfect circles that will form your regulation target.
If you prefer to go the less expensive route, the process is relatively simple as well:
Take your 30” wood strip and line up your tape measure along it. Use your marker to mark dots at 2”, 4”, 8”, 12” 16” and 20”.
Once you’ve made these marks, drill into all of them so that you now have six holes in your wood strip.
Separately, measure the exact midpoint of your target. The midpoint will be 25” in from the right or left edge of the target, and 24” down from the bottom edge of the wooden plank across the top of your target. The point where these two measurements intersect is the center of your bullseye! Use your marker to mark it down.
Now, take your WATL or DIY stencil and line up the 2” hole with the center of the bullseye. Temporarily screw or nail it in, so that it stays in position but can still rotate. Now, rotate 360 degrees around the target with a marker in each hole. You officially have your target drawn out!
Use black paint and your paint brush to go over every line and make it darker. Then use red paint to fill in the bullseye.
The Kill Shot rings, which are the blue rings often seen around the top left and top right of an axe throwing target are also pretty easy to add:
They need to be centered within the outermost ring of your target, at a height of 37”, and should be 3” in diameter.
In order to make sure you get these rings positioned correctly, measure 37” up from the top edge of the bottom horizontal plank that holds your target together. There should only be two spots where that height lines up perfectly with the center of the outermost ring of the target, and they will be on the upper right and upper left side of the target. These exact spots are the centers of your two Kill Shot rings.
Now, measure 1.5 inches out from these spots and create a circle around them with that radius. Fill the circle with blue paint and you’ve officially finished drawing out and painting your target!
Yes, axe throwing is an actual sport—and a fun one at that.
Thankfully, the rules aren’t nearly as difficult as most major sports to learn quickly and follow.
Let’s dive into the most important axe throwing rules!
While gameplay rules may vary from facility to facility, competitive axe throwing adheres to rules created by the NATF or the WATL.
In accordance with the WATL, competitors each have their own throwing lane and are allotted 10 throws per match. Players are supposed to trade lanes after their first 5 throws to ensure that they both get an equal advantage or disadvantage if a target is less operational.
The winner, as you can probably guess, is the player with the highest number of points after 10 throws.
In the case of a tie, players continue to throw in sudden death rounds until a winner emerges.
If you want to play the right way, you’ve got to follow the rules. There are various specifications on throwing distances and dimensions of axes and targets that are important if the game is to be scored correctly.
Throwers need to stay behind the indicated line, 12 to 15 feet back from the target in order for a throw to count.
There should always be at least 6 feet between any two throwers.
Regulation-sized targets are built from 5 vertically aligned 2” by 10” boards that are 4 feet long. The bottom should be two feet off the ground.
Axe heads should weigh no more than 2 pounds and the blade should be no longer than 4.75".
Additionally, the entire axe should be no shorter than 12".
It’s easy to score a round of axe throwing. As you would probably guess, it’s all dependent on where an axe lands on the target.
Every black line awards the number of points that are associated with the inside of its ring.
Some targets have small blue balls inside the fifth ring. Hitting these is known as the kill shot, and is worth 10 points in the final round of an axe throwing competition.
Alright, here comes the fun part!
Axe throwing is a bit more nuanced than simply flinging a hatchet at a wooden target, but the good news is that it’s pretty easy and quick to learn.
Let’s get started!
Make sure that your grip on the axe is tight so there is no risk of the axe falling out of your hand before you are ready to release it.
Also, make sure the axe blade is pointing toward the target. This is the only way you can ensure it will stick in the target if your throw is good.
Then, place your other hand on the axe handle as well.
Axes can be thrown with one hand, but if you are a beginner, using two hands is the best way to improve your chances of a stable throw that’s headed for the target.
Be sure to stand with your dominant foot forward.
In other words, if you’re right handed, stagger your stance to place your right foot in front, and put the most weight on that foot. If you’re left handed, vice versa.
Line your stance up so that when you bring your arms behind your head to throw, you are directly facing the center of the target.
Bring the axe over your head with both of your arms, making sure the axe blade is pointed toward the target. Slightly bend your back as you prepare to throw.
Bring the axe forward quickly with both arms and release it toward the target when your arms are slightly further forward than your shoulders. Be sure to follow through with the rest of your throwing motion after you’ve released the axe.
Well, maybe not on your first try, but who knows?
Be sure to keep practicing the correct throwing motion and you’ll be a pro in no time.
A couple quick notes:
Axe throwing is extremely safe, as long as you follow the rules. Be sure to follow these tips to ensure your axe throwing experience goes smoothly.
It’s important to respect this distance, as the axe does go behind your head just before you throw.
If people get too close, don’t be scared to tell them to get out of the way!
Similarly, make sure you are the only person in your throwing lane as you throw. Most importantly, be 100% sure there is no one in front of you the entire time you’re in a throwing lane.
Accidents happen, although they have never been serious and are very few and far between.
But if you can get a paper cut at home while reading a book, you should be prepared if you’re going to be flinging axes around.
All axe throwing facilities and clubs should be armed with a first aid kit in the case of minor injuries.
Both axes and targets should always be inspected before throwing. A wiggly axe-head can turn into a flying projectile if the axe isn’t in good shape.
Be sure to do some quality control on your materials before getting started. An axe throwing professional will take care of this when you go to a facility or club.
You may be surprised by the fact that an axe doesn’t need to be super sharp in order to stay in a target.
If the axe you’re using is sharp enough to the touch to cut you, it’s too sharp.
You should also make sure it’s not completely dull. A dull axe that fails to stick in the target is unlikely to become a safety issue, but definitely takes the fun out of the game and makes scoring points quite the challenge.
If done correctly, axe throwing is an extremely fun and safe activity.
Axe throwing establishments are popping up across the United States and around the world because of the activity’s rise to prominence.
Most importantly, these establishments have regulation equipment, safe facilities and trained professionals to make sure that everything is going safely and smoothly.
So do yourself a favor and avoid DIY when it comes to axe throwing.
You may expect to walk into an axe throwing bar or hurling hall and see nothing but long beards and plaid shirts.
What you’re more likely to see is a group of people like you (and if you have a plaid shirt and a long beard, you’ll fit in great too).
Axe throwing is a fantastic activity for corporate parties and team building, and it also provides endless fun for small groups of family and friends.
No matter who you plan on axe throwing with, you’re now equipped with all of the knowledge you need to have a great time while staying safe.
Now go throw some axes!