How to throw a knife: Sport knife throwing basics

That's how to throw a knife Learn how to use a throwing knife - step by step we show how to throw a knife, making it stick in the wood with a satisfying thunk. See how to properly hold a throwing knife, and how a knife rotates in flight.

Knife throwing is fun and relaxing! The first time you manage to throw your knife and make it stick in the target will get you a rush of satisfaction - and possibly get you hooked on sport knife throwing. For our sport, you only need throwing knives, a target and some time to spare. Maybe you are just throwing in your back yard as an exercise to calm your brain. Or maybe you got a competitive streak and start to throw knives regularly to compete in the World Championship. You will find your way!

Throwing knives together, playing games and learning from each other is triple the fun. So look for other throwers online, or show up at a throwers meeting.

Grips: How to hold a knife for throwing

The hammer grip is the standard technique to grip throwing knives. Click for larger image. To throw a knife, the easiest way is to use the the hammer grip, where you hold the throwing knife (external link / new window)as you would hold a hammer. You may place your thumb on the spine (=small side) of the knife, some people find they can aim better this way. Your wrist has to be absolutely stiff when throwing, otherwise you will get uncontrollable rotations. If the knife is sharp, you should only use this grip on the handle!
The edge of the throwing knife is pointing towards the target. Having the spine pointing forwards is suitable for throws where you know that the knife will under rotate, that is it will reach the target with the handle slanted downwards. Here, the straight (and somewhat sharpened) back of of blade - better even the hook of an (external link / new window)adopted bowie knife - can bite into the target wood much better than the longer contact surface of the curved edge.

Blade grip - this is how you take hold of sharp throwing knives If the throwing knife is not sharp, a blade grip is no problem, just hold the throwing knife as described above ("blade hammer grip"). If the blade is sharpened on only one side, you can carefully hold it with your thumb and middle finger as shown in the picture. I prefer not to have the knife extend such a long way in my palm, it might cut. In knife throwing, the sharp edge always faces out of your palm!

You have to hold the knife so tight that it does not leave your hand early, but not too tight, especially not cramped - this would ruin the accuracy of your throw. Only a relaxed knife throw is a successful one!

Pinch grip for throwing light knives. Click for larger image The pinch grip is uniquely used to throw light knives fast, suddenly and with force (that is some stress for your poor joints). The knife has to be gripped ((external link / new window)pinched) between thumb and index finger, in a manner that it is a straight extension of your arm. Never bend your wrist! The index finger is flexed. You can hold it with the thumb and innermost part of your fingers (see picture, my preferred method), or only with the fingertips. If you grip a heavier knife or want to throw further, you can additionally use your middle finger. If the edges are not sharp, you can use this grip also on the blade.

No spin knife throwing: Special grips for special knives - here the Gyro Dart For all the techniques and styles listed to hold your knife, there are variants. For example in his own hammer grip knife throwing style, John Bailey puts a thumb onto the spine, which delays the start of rotation. Asia traditionally uses different grips to hold a knife, because the focus there is on no spin knife throwing styles. An (external link / new window)illustrated overview of different throwing grips is available at Thrower.

In knife throwing, the goal is to always make the same movements with your arm and body, with always the same force. Having mastered that constant movements for the throw, you can now find the specific distance from the target where the knives do stick once you throw them with these automatic movements.

Always use the same stance to start your knife throw

Trajectory of the throwing knife and correct distance to the target

In its flight towards the target, the knife will turn around its center of gravity. Blade and handle will take turns pointing to the target during the trajectory. The throwing knife will rotate in a way that, if thrown from the handle, the blade will go downwards at first. The first distance for a stick is about three meters from the target. (Always measure from the tip of your front foot!) Grip the knife at the handle, throw it, and after one full rotation it will stick. If it doesn't, move backward or forward a little.

Watch the knife rotate towards the target from various distances The second knife throwing distance is about one meter behind the first. Now you grip the knife at the blade (if possible), and after one and a half turns the knife will stick. It is important that you do not have to do anything to get those turns, they will just happen.

From the third distance, you once again use a handle grip, just now you get two full rotations of the knife till it sticks. Because you always throw with the same movements and force, the knife rotates in the same manner, and flies with the same speed every time. Therefore you can estimate how much you have to go back so that the throwing knife has completed another half turn. Rule of thumb: The knife flies for 2m while making one full rotation.

Once you found your distance, you should measure it off and note it down. Note that the knife throwing distances will slightly differ on your next training day - so always start off with finding your sticking distance.

You might want to check out the (external link / new window)turn-distance formula at StickingPoint. Our own article on the physics of knife throwing looks closely at all parameters of the knife throw.

How far can you throw a knife?

The sport pros with some years of experience can easily throw a knife from a distance of 15m, with the knife making seven full rotations in this range. The official (external link / new window)World record for long distance knife throwing registers at over 23m.
The historic throwing knives of West Central Africa have been reported to have an effective range of 30m. But those were effectively weapons of war, being thrown horizontally.

By changing your grip on the knife a little, you can stick it from distances between those of half turns. Please only try this if you are comfortable with your generic standard distance throw! If you take more of the knife into your grip/hand, it will leave the hand later into the throw, and thus start to spin later. This allows you to move back from the target. The same effect is achieved by using a thumb on the spin of the knife with the hammer grip, which puts you 50cm further from the target. To get closer to the target, do grip the knife more towards the end. It will leave the hand earlier, thus starting to spin earlier. And due to a whip-effect in a loose grip, perhaps even truly spin faster in flight.

The actual knife throw

Here is how to throw a knife: The basic stance for sport knife throwing has the left foot in front (toes at distance mark), the right foot is the back one, and the gap between the two is about two feet (your actual feet, not the measure). The heels are on a line. The two feet form a 45° angle (left 12 o`clock, right 13:30 o`clock position) or wider. Both knees are bent, especially the front one. The weight rests primarily on the ball of your back foot (behind your toes).

Both arms are straight and point to the target, which is in the height of the chest. The right arm now makes a round and smooth swing to the back, the throwing knife moves even behind the head. Then it swings forward towards the target, like you wanted to chop off some branch between you and the target. While swinging forward, the weight is shifted to rest on the front foot, the chest follows this movement. The right shoulder remains in a (tilted) line with the left.

Two snapshots of the knife throwing movement
For the throw, the weight is shifted to the left foot while the right arm with the knife is brought to the front.

Once the knife arm is about in line with the other one and the knife points exactly to the target, quickly let the knife go and snap your fingers back together. Do carry on with your throwing movement. This so called follow through is important to protect your joints, and to achieve a clean throwing movement and precise stick in the target.

That's it, you now know how to throw a knife! Left-handers please invert our throwing instructions.

For the throwing motion, see also the description of John`s knife throwing style, and the (external link / new window)overhead view of a throwing sequence at Throwdini.

If you do not need your left arm for aiming any more, you can draw it back when beginning the forward movement. Later, you can even employ your hip to add to the power of the knife throw (long distance sport throws only).

As already explained, it is important that you get the whole movement (of arms, upper body, hip, legs) into your muscle-memory, that you do it the same way every time. Then find the distance where the knives stick. That is the only way, force or sharp blades won't help.

Practical tips on sport knife throwing:

Lightweight throwing knives (with 100g or even less) float or wobble in the flight if thrown slowly. For them, you can use the snap throw described here. Be aware that the sudden movements will take a toll on your muscles and joints, it will hurt after a while!

Hold the throwing knife in a pinch grip. Both arms are straight, stretched out towards the target. Now draw back your right arm. Your upper arm is now in one line with your shoulders. The forearm points to the sky, a little in the direction of your head. The right hand is a little bit above your ear, and the knife is in one straight line with the forearm.

Now draw the knife arm back (behind your back), then jerk it back to the front, towards the target. Even better then a jerking movement is one where you draw the knife forcefully to the front, a little bit like the knife was attached somewhere in your back with a rubber band. The weight is now shifted to your front foot, the chest swings towards the target. Again, the right shoulder does not move.

How to practice knife throwing

Only practice helps you achieve your always-the-same throwing motion. If the ground is wet or dirty, use a cloth to polish your knife dry and clean before each throw. Practice makes perfect! We explain how to advance in throwing. As in any sport, do try to get your practice as often as possible! Training twice a week would be perfect, but you will learn knife throwing even if you don`t have that much time to spare.
To be in good shape for throwing, try to do 20-40 pushups every evening. Your fingers will initially not be strong enough, so try to get exercise with finger grippers or springs until you feel that the knives leave your hand when you want them to.
Keep the training sessions short at first. After 15 minutes, your arms will get tired, and you loose your concentration. You will get very few sticks, and perhaps even adopt a sloppy knife throwing style!

Accuracy: Do not aim at a whole area, but at one specific point, for example an irregularity in the grain of the wood. In your training, you will notice that your knives do not stick in the target point, but beside it in a specific direction. Now just move the point you are aiming at in your mind.
Concrete aim points can be fun, so use paint (think dots and circles), playing cards or pieces of fabric. Make sure to sprawl the little targets all over the target board, it will thank you by lasting longer, and you have more diversity for your practice throws. This variance in aiming will help you to throw with accuracy. Just be sure to keep well away from the target edge, so that not too many knives miss the board.

If the handle points up, you are too far away - Handle up Move Closer To correct the distance to the target, you must know how the throwing knife rotates: If thrown from the handle, the blade will first go down. Thus, if the knife sticks handle up, it rotated too much, meaning it has travelled too long because you stand too far away from the target. Go closer. If it sticks handle down, you should move back. And seeing just the back of the handle, you can proudly call it a perfect stick.
In knife throwing, move only a few centimetres back or forth to find the right distance - only if the knife bangs against the target vertically, adjust the distance by two length of your foot.* You should only change one parameter of the throw at a time (for example the distance or the grip). That way, you know why your knife suddenly doesn't stick any more.

Throwing knives can penetrate the wood deeply. To remove a knife from the target, move it up and down - like a lever - until it is loose enough. Always make the movement with the plane of the blade, and not sideways, or you risk breaking the tip! It's a good idea to get accustomed to supporting the target with your empty hand while pulling out your knives. That will prevent some log round or even the whole target stand from falling towards you that one day when your throw planted a knife extra firmly.

If you feel comfortable throwing a full spin, you can go to the next distance. For two full spins, stand at about 5m distance to the target. Small deviations in your throwing motion suddenly become amplified, your knives will stick less frequently. If you are doing really bad at the longer distance, go back to the previous one for some series of throws. You'll notice the target now looks comfortably bigger, and you are sticking better than before!

* A short look at the physics of adjusting the distance: If the throwing knife strikes the target vertically (handle pointing straight to the ground / the sky), it is off by a rotation of 90°. So we need to correct accordingly: With 2m per one full 360° rotation, the required delta in knife throwing distance is calculated at 200cm ∙ 90° / 360° = 50cm. Which means you have to go back or forth about two lengths of your foot to get the right distance to the target.

Read up on what makes a good throwing knife Before rushing to get yourself some practice throwing knives, do read up on what actually makes a good throwing knife. In our own throwing knives shop, you'll only find sturdy knives that have proven to stick well.

For a compact version of the knife throwing instructions presented here, read the condensed explanations about John Bailey`s knife throwing technique.

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