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Complementary page on On throwing knives

Choosing a Throwing Knife

What follows pertains primarily to knife throwing for sport, both target throwing and hunting with throwing knives. There is considerable debate as to the wisdom of ever throwing a knife in a self defense situation. There are masters of the art who could get away with such, but they are few and far between. In any case, self defense aspects also involve concealment, and thus fairly small knives. As we shall see, where throwing knives are concerned, small is not necessarily beautiful.

first things first

What's the first thing everyone thinks of when they talk about throwing knives - Balance!

Well its hooey! If balance were really that important, there wouldn't be anybody throwing axes I can tell you that! The only thing balance determines is the knife's suitability as a handle vs. a blade thrower. A knife that is handle heavy, throws more easily when gripped from the blade. A blade-heavy knife (for example a typical Bowie) is more easily thrown from the handle. Only knives that are balanced very close to their center point can be thrown equally well from handle or blade. So what is important? Three things, weight, length, and the weight/length ratio.

Length is important because a longer knife turns more slowly. This is good. It means that the knife will travel further horizontally for every turn or fraction of a turn it makes. In practical terms, it means that for any given throw, the knife will stick in the target over a wider throwing distance. That is, the difference between being too close and being too far grows larger as the knife gets longer.

Weight is important for control and momentum. As the knife gets longer, it is affected more by air pressure. If it is not heavy enough, it will start to "float" or "wobble". Lighter knives that do well at 1/2 or even 1 turn will often begin to exhibit the effects of air pressure at 1 and 1/2 to 2 turns. A knife that is too light must be thrown harder to insure its stable flight to the target. This can put an unnecessary strain on the throwing arm, much like trying to throw a small pebble as hard as you can. A heavier knife has more momentum even when thrown a bit more slowly. Weight, because of the momentum effect, also makes a great deal of difference in a hunting situation. Even a well thrown and very sharp, but light knife will not do enough damage to kill any but the smallest game, and possibly not even that. A heavy knife, by contrast, can stun small game even if it doesn't strike point first!

As a rule, the ideal ratio between length and weight appears to be somewhere around 1 ounce per inch. That is, a 12 inch knife should weigh about 12 ounces. As the knife gets bigger, a slightly greater ratio is preferred, say 1.25 ounces/inch, while a smaller knife, for example 8 to 11 inches, might do well with a ratio around 0.80 ounces/inch. Still smaller knives in the 6 to 8 inches might throw well with a weight/length ratio down around 0.6 or 0.7 ounces/inch. Such knives, however, while they can be fun to throw, are more or less useless from a survival viewpoint.

other considerations

Remember though that these are rules of thumb and can be over-ridden in special situations. I have a very small indoor throwing range in which I can perform half turn and full turn throws with very small knives and 6 inch nails. My knives, in this case have a weight/length ratio of about 0.5 which is just fine for indoors at short distances. Since I'm throwing at cardboard targets, anything heavier would quickly go completely through my target material and ruin the walls!

Location is another factor. Larger knives require larger, thicker targets. In my first year of throwing, my largest knives were about 11 inches long. Most of the time I was throwing things in the 8 to 10 inch range. My targets were made out of 2 inch thick Fir, and lasted months before I had to change out boards. In my second year, I began throwing larger knives, 11 to 16 inches. Some of these would shear through the two inch boards in but a dozen throws! I had to upgrade to much heavier 4 inch thick Fir.

There is also, of course, cost. I have seen small and too-light sets of throwing knives for as little as $4 a knife. I admit that my own first set was one of these, and I broke them all, but not until after they taught me the basics. The better off-the-rack throwers like the Hibbens, Cold Steel TFTs run anywhere from $15 to $25 each. The "Blazing Arrow", a cheap Chinese knockoff of the Harald Moeller VIPER, can be had for even less, usually about $10, and while not very good, is more than adequate at this price. The big BlackJack "broadhead", probably the best single off-the-rack thrower at 12 inches and 14 ounces, used to be about $25, and was about the best over-all deal around, but BlackJack stopped making them in early 1997, and then went out of business, so if you find any of these, buy them!

There are also more expensive and higher quality hand made, or at least mostly hand made throwers from such names as Branton, Lee, Karp, McEvoy, Moeller, and a few others. They are nice knives, fun to throw, and can run anywhere from $25 to $175 each. You can find listings for places to buy all of these knives (except the blackjack) in our catalogs and custom pages.

back to balance

OK, so why so much talk about balance in the first place? Well it works this way... A knife will spin about its center of gravity. If you have a 12 inch knife balanced in its exact center, it will make a circle with a 6 inch radius, a 12 inch circle. Suppose you take the 12 inch knife that is balanced at 4 inches from one end? It will make a circle with an 8 inch radius, a 16 inch circle.

Now if you throw both knives with the same forward speed (say from the handle), it will take the second knife a little longer to make a full 16 inch circle than the first knife does a 12 inch circle. So if the center-balanced knife hits perfectly at 12 feet for your throw, the off-balance knife will hit at 13 feet or perhaps a little more. So what? So nothing. That is the point. The off-balance knife will be just as consistent in its behavior (assuming it is heavy enough) as the balanced knife. The only other issue is this: If you pick up a longer or shorter balanced knife, you will have only one variation to worry about. A 12 inch knife will describe a 12 inch circle, a 14 inch knife will make a 14 inch circle, and an 8 inch knife will make an 8 inch circle. This will NOT be true of off-balanced knives because the size of their circle depends not only on how long the knife is, but also on where it is balanced. Therefore, changing from one off-balance knife to another requires an adjustment in 2 parameters. It isn't that it can't be done, it's just a little harder. And that, my friend, is the story!


Please have a look at the rest of the thrower page for more information. On it you will find pointers to catalogs, custom fabricators, the thrower mailing list, and more. If you didn't get here from there already, just click HERE to go to it. Be well, and let gravity prevail!

Matthew Rapaport,

This page is part of the official ARCHIVE COPY of the pioneering but abandoned Thrower website on knife throwing. Copyright and details