What started out as a lark in someone’s backyard in Canada a decade ago — axe throwing — has quickly become one of the more popular sports to appear in a long time. It’s no secret why: just saying the words “axe throwing” causes most peoples to palpitate in excitement. It conjures up images of a time passed when people had to fend for themselves using whatever they had at hand.
Well, today’s axe-throwing establishments are far removed from our rustic past. They have beer on tap, music in the air, and caged-in ranges in which you can toss axes solo or with friends. “It’s a ton of fun, so much better than darts,” says Darren Sonnier the owner of Kick Axe Throwing in Brooklyn and Washington D.C. “You get this awesome feeling when the axe sinks into the wood, it’s super satisfying. Anyone can do it — young, old, men, women, it does not matter.”
And everyone seems to be doing it. In the just the last few years establishments to fling axes have popped up in most major cities across Canada and the United States, with spots appearing in Europe too. There is even a World Axe Throwing League (WATL) that organizes events around the globe and sets the standards for competitions.
But, what if you want to set up an area in your backyard where you, and possibly your partner, can huck axes during your precious free time when the kids are quiet and all the chores are caught up? Here’s everything you need to do it in your backyard, including the best axes and axes to throw.
How to Set Up An Axe-Throwing Area
A steel axe flying through the air can cause a fair amount of damage, or even death, if you don’t take precautions. The first thing to do is find a spot that is clear of obstacles around your intended target area. (The last thing you want to happen is for an errant axe to get loose.) It can be in your backyard or even a garage if you have very high ceilings (minimum 12 feet tall).
Once you have identified where you will be tossing, most experts recommend building a backstop with sidewalls six feet apart to contain the axe after it’s thrown. Then you want to measure 12 feet from the target and make a three-foot deep throwing box on the ground for people to stand in when they throw (any closer could be dangerous.) According to Sonnier, most guys do well from 12 feet and women tend to fling from 14 or 15 feet.
How to Make An Axe Throwing Target
“Don’t throw at a tree trunk, you will kill the tree and the chances of the axe ricocheting off in a dangerous direction are high,” says Sonnier “Take the time to create a flat target to toss at. It will be much better and more fun.”
You can build one from plywood or any other soft wood, but that takes time and some carpentry skills. Better to get a large circular tree stump from a lumber or saw mill. It should be at least 24 inches in diameter. It will last longer and is easier for the axe to stick into. Above and below target install a 4 x 6 backstop to mount targets on. Build from 2 x 10’s with a header and footer on top of five boards mounted vertically together — it should look like a dartboard backstop.
On the targeting area you can paint a basic bull’s-eye target of five rings, with two small circles (the kill shots) located at 10 and two in the outer circle. Then you can follow the WATL basic scoring rubric when tossing. Scoring is six points for bull’s-eye, four points for second ring, three points for third ring, two points for fourth ring, 1 point for fifth ring, and 10 points for kill shot. Ten throws per match, highest aggregate score wins. A tie goes to sudden death with higher throw winning.
Most experts recommend coming in to an establishment to learn the basics before heading into the backyard to throw. “Come to axe throwing area the first time, we can teach you so you are able to excel and be safe,” says Sonnier ”You can learn the basic and advanced throwing techniques from a professional to enhance your skills.”
The Best Throwing Axes & Hatchets
Okay, so now you know you want to toss some axes at a target and have built a backyard arena to throw in, now you need the most important thing: an axe.
“The best part of axe throwing is you really don’t need to spend much money on an axe,” says Melanie St Amour of Bad Axe Throwing. which has a variety of locations in Canada as well as Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Indianapolis, Oklahoma, San Francisco, and Washington DC. “Just about any camp hatchet will do, but you can get something a bit more interesting too.”
According to St Amour, when starting out it’s easier to go with a heavier axe between three to five pounds, as they stick in the wood easier and are more forgiving. Once you get better and are looking for more precision then you can go for a lighter axe (1.5 to 1.75 pounds) Wooden handles might look good but they also break, especially for beginners, so steel one-piece axes with a 14-16 inch handle are a good choice. Keeping that in mind, here are four recommendations from St Amour.
The Best Throwing Axe For Beginners: Estwing 16 inch Campers Nylon-Vinyl Shock Reduction Grip Handle Axe
This is a forged steel head one-piece axe with a great grip that is bonded on. It has a 4-inch blade, is 16 inches long, and will hold a sharpened edge for a long time. It’s three-pound weight makes it a perfect beginners axe and when you move on it can get tossed in the camping gear.
The Best Axe For Intermediate Axe Throwers: Gränsfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet
“In many axe circles, the highest quality of production axes is Granfors Bruk in Sweden,” says St Amour. “They really are master of their craft and make many styles of sharp hand tools as well as axes.” This traditional axe is great looking with 13.5-inch wooden handle, classically designed head, and a leather sheath. At 1.3 pounds it would be better suited for more intermediate to advanced throwers.
The Best Throwing Axe For All Level Throwers: Hultafors Hatchet
Another Swedish axe, this one has a heap of history behind it, Hultafors has been making axes since 1697. It is hand forged, has a clear tempered zone that ads to the strength of the blade, and a beautiful 15-inch hickory shaft. It weighs 1.4 pounds and works for any thrower.
The Best Axe For Expert Throwers: Estwing Double Bit Axe
A bit more wicked looking axe this black beauty from Estwing has a double bit head that allows you to swap side between throws. It’s solid steel with a rubber grip to ensure a smooth toss. At 17-inches the handle is a bit longer than the rest and a bit heavier at 2.55 pounds. It is best suited for a thrower intermediate and above.