In ourselves our safety must be sought.
By our own right hand it must be wrought.
Let’s face it ladies and gents, throwing edged metal implements with force towards a target carries one or two potential dangers that would make your average Health and Safety Executive begin convulsing in anticipation of the litigation that will inevitably follow!
However, assuming you follow certain protocols and guidelines, knife and tomahawk throwing need be no more risky that any other sport or hobby, and indeed is a lot safer than many. Our perception of ‘risk’ if often warped and because we are throwing things that most people associate with weaponry, we have a potential PR issue to overcome! It is a fact, for example, that far more people are injured while horse riding each year than while engaged in archery and knife throwing combined!
So, how can we enjoy throwing down range while ensuring that we, other people and our environment remain unperforated?
Misses & rebounds
Next, think about not where you hope your knife might end its journey (in the middle of the bulls eye) but where it could go instead! Misses and rebounds are an inevitable part of throwing and you may be surprised at just how far those suckers can go after striking the target. Even while throwing from 5 m I have had knives come right back at me and land at my feet; at 3 m I have jumped out of the way of rebounds on more occasions than I care to recall. Most of the time the force involved is such that you would be unlikely to be seriously hurt (unless you ignore the first bit of advice and are throwing with sharp blades!) but it is not impossible that you’ll find the tip of your knife colliding with an unprotected eyeball or groin (apologies for the graphic images now conjured up but hopefully you get the point?). So, draw an imaginary circle from your target With a perimeter that extends at least 4 m in all directions and make sure no one else is standing in that space except you when throwing. Then, don’t switch off after you release the knife – until it is safely embedded in the target, your throw is not over!
When collecting your knives and returning to the throwing line, try to follow best practice by carrying your knives point towards the ground and don’t run! Imagine tripping on an exposed root or an untied shoelace – where will you and the knives end up? If the answer is ‘in me’, adjust how you are holding them! If practising ‘dynamic throwing’ (where you are moving while throwing) just be aware that the risks inevitably go up and so literally, you shouldn’t try to run before you can walk!
Caring for your blades between sessions is also key to staying safe. It is likely that at some point knives will clash or hit the ground where they can receive burrs and dinks; sometimes these can have sharp edges which can tear into your hands when you slide the knife through your palm and fingers before release. If your tools do strike hard surfaces, just carry out a quick check before you throw them again and, if necessary file down any sharp edges before sending them down range again.
Is a sharp knife a better knife?
First, think about your throwing tools – there is absolutely no need to throw with sharpened knives and axes. The design of throwing tools is such that they will stick into targets simply because they have points, are substantially weighted and move at velocity. I have actually blunted the edges of some commercially available knives because I felt the edge was unnecessarily sharp – this is particularly important if you are going to be performing half spin throws where you will be holding the blade rather than the handle. In nearly every other case, the sharper your knife is, the better, but when it comes to throwing, blunt is best!
You also need to think about the environment itself; a knife or tomahawk that comes to rest in a car windshield, greenhouse or neighbour’s cat is not a recipe for harmonious domestic life! Ideally you should have a dedicated throwing area that has been screened off or at least situated to minimise likely damage to anything in the immediate vicinity. Look at the section of this site for target designs / ranges and play out ‘what if’ scenarios for your own throwing space – what is the worst that could happen, and how can you inoculate against those hazards?
Finally, be mindful of your focus and energy levels; it is better to stop a session before your attention starts to slip or you are physically too tired to throw accurately and with control. If you follow these simple guidelines, you are likely to throw safely, responsibly and be a good ambassador for the throwing arts – if this all seems like too much hassle, might I recommend horse riding instead?!