We’ve all seen them. Establishments that serve overpriced craft beer and have bullseyes painted on 2x4s that you throw “axes” at. If you’re like us, you cringe when you read “Ax throwing” when you are actually using cheap hatchets. Buffalo-plaid clad lumberjacks of yesteryear are rolling over in their grave, thinking how far their pastime has come and the fact it is now in the hands of a bunch of hipsters driving fuel-efficient vehicles. We don’t want this new generation of “males” to be the only steward of the time-honored skill set of throwing an ax. Put your cute hatchet down and pick up something full size, we’ll help you get on target.
We can use the term “ax” to describe many different size tools all with the exact form figure. There is a metalhead with a wooden handle attached, and depending on the length of the handle and the weight of the head, we can use them for everything from light camp duty to felling trees. We can use double-bit axes that are less popular these days, but they are incredibly balanced. Here’s our advice, don’t throw a really nice ax.
Axes made by names like Hoffman Blacksmithing and Gransfors Bruks are excellent tools that you CAN throw, but you SHOULDN’T. Instead, go to your local pawn shop, garage sale, or bargain basement store and pick up a used ax. Remember, you’re going to miss. The ax will impact the ground, chip, get mangled, and possibly break the handle. Look for something with a 24” handle at a minimum and at least a 2.5-pound head.
One of the easiest targets is a round of softwood you can prop up on a 4×4 or suspend with some round-eye bolts. Don’t make your target too small. Think of a bullseye at least 24” in diameter. You can make your target out of 2x4s with the grain side out, and there are plenty of online guides on how to make them with replacement cores. Wherever you place your target, make sure you scout the ground around it for any rocks that could chip the edge if the ax were to impact them. One of the best ways to keep your ax from picking up additional damage is to surround your target with wood chips. If you know any landscapers unhappy with a particular batch of mulch, offer to buy it from them as you don’t need beauty, you need function.
Ax? Check. Target? Check? Safety? Maybe. At some point, you have to just throw your ax. The first throw might be ugly. You might not even hit the target. To set you up for success, plan on throwing your ax from at least 21 feet away. In 21 feet, you can most likely judge the rotation from the minute it leaves your hand. You are looking for a single rotation, and depending on how the ax hits the target, you’ll know if you have to take a slight step forward or if you need to move back.
Ideally, the ax should impact with the front of the blade. If the ax hits at the top of the pol, you are too far away. If the ax hits the knob and then collapses into the target with the head, you are too close. Now if the ax doesn’t hit the target and falls short, you need to hit the gym. One of the best ways to determine the rotation of your ax is to throw it into something forgiving like a hay bale. An ax doesn’t rotate as quickly as a smaller knife or hatchet, so you’ll be able to make corrections before you transition to a more challenging target.
There is a lot to learn from the initial throwing of an ax. You’ll learn how the handle slips from your grip and how firmly you need to hold it. Ideally, it should feel like a good handshake (not limp noodle or death grip but somewhere in between). The weight of the ax head should pull it from your grip as you release it high enough to cover the ground between where you are standing and the target. You need to throw an ax with some force to fight gravity, and you’ll feel like you are throwing over the target. All the while, the ax is defying gravity and will sink into the target with any luck.
You don’t need to throw the ax with too much force as the weight of the head, and the sharpness of the edge will be all it needs to penetrate into the wood. You will learn some of the finer details of throwing an ax with time. Much like archery and firearms, there is follow-through with your throw. If you are using a double-bit ax, you’ll either learn to avoid the “back scratcher” wound or wear it with pride. We recommend avoiding it. There are simply too many lessons to learn as you develop a consistent throwing technique that is repeatable and shows improved accuracy throw after throw.
You might be wondering why a person would throw a perfectly good ax? Think about it. Just like the log flume rides found at popular amusement parks, ax throwing was born out of a generation that went to the forest to work in programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the United States Forestry Service (USFS). The men who popularized ax-throwing needed something to do from challenging work in their downtime. Comparing them to the millennials and generation next who wear designer plaid shirts and overly manscape their faces is unfair. Ax throwing is in America’s history, and we can do it to keep the past alive, or we can just have some good ole’ kind of dangerous fun.