This page is part of the official ARCHIVE COPY of the pioneering but abandoned Thrower website on knife throwing. Copyright and details
Complementary page on Throwing a wire clothes hanger


By: K. E. Sackett

May 7, 1996

Where I grew up, winter puts an end to outdoor knife throwing about October, and doesn't ease up again until the middle of May. Oh sure, you can throw outdoors if you really want to; just don't drop one of your knives, or it may vanish into a snowbank or, if the ground is bare, snap from cold embrittlement. Can't throw wearing mittens? Gosh, that's tough!

As a boy, during those long months when Wyoming said Stay indoors, I kept in throwing practice using a carboard target and a handful of ordinary icepicks. This did my bedroom wall little good, and got me into a certain amount of trouble with my parents, but since then I've learned a thing or two about light throwing setups.

It's time to define "light knife throwing." By this term, I mean knife throwing at short ranges with light, usually short weapons that differ in design from conventional throwing knives. Because the throwing-tools are so light, targets can also be light. Light knife throwing is particularly suitable for throwing indoors or wherever space is limited.

Light knife throwing has special advantages. It's cheap to get started, since your throwing weapons cost little or nothing. It's simple to improvise a throwing range, since distances are short. It's easy to build targets. And it's easy to transport your throwing setup.

Let's talk about weapons first.

Light Throwing Weapons

Let's start with the lightest and work up.

The icepicks I used as a boy cost all of ten cents apiece in Woolworth's. They had cheap cylindrical handles of red-painted wood, they were maybe nine inches long overall, and they weighed only four ounces or so. An accurate turn-and-a-half throw outdoors was just possible, if there was no cross-wind. They were hard to control in a full-turn throw because most of the little weight they had was in the handle. Indoors, in the cramped space of my bedroom, a half-turn throw was just right.

Nowadays, icepicks are made with short, stout handles mounting a metal pommel cap for shattering icecubes. (They don't cost ten cents anymore, either, but that's a different story.) 'Picks of this design are throwable, although the balance is so grossly handle-heavy that they take some getting used to.

A heavier icepick-like device, sold to housewives as a "hole-making tool" (that is, an awl), may still turn up in your hardware store occasionally; look in the housewares department. This is a simple, robust tool about nine inches long. The blade, which is about twice as thick as an icepick's, has a round cross-section tapering to a near-needle point. The handle is a plain plastic screwdriver type. As a light blade-thrower, this one is hard to beat.

The next step up in weight is obviously the sharpened screwdriver. Old-timers like me feel a bit reluctant to discuss this type of throwing device, because it was once the weapon of choice among street hoodlums. Nowadays, of course, the sharpened screwdriver has been relegated to the Stone Age by Uzis and AKs, so maybe an honest hobbyist can mention it without feeling disreputable. Any plastic-handled screwdriver (avoid wood handles; they splinter) can be reground to a sharp point. A Phillips-head screwdriver will require removing the least metal. A standard-head screwdriver can be sharpened to a simple point (a "bodkin point" in the language of swordmakers), or the flat portion of the tip can be retained and simply ground thin to form a sharp edge set at ninety degrees from the centerline. If the tip of the screwdriver has been broken at an angle (I'm assuming you won't convert a new tool to throwing purposes) you can sharpen it in such a way as to conserve metal, locating the point off-center. Any way you do it, a screwdriver eight to ten inches long will stick when thrown with moderate force at the kinds of target best suited to light knife throwing.

Throwing spikes offer a great deal of design leeway and cheapness, and may well be your preferred light throwing weapon. Any steel rod of sufficient length and thickness will do. Sufficient length? Let's say between eight and twelve inches; shorter than eight inches and it's hard to control; longer than twelve inches and it's getting a bit large for short-range and/or indoor throwing. Sufficient thickness? Anywhere from three-sixteenths to three-eighths of an inch in diameter is fine for making a plain throwing spike. If you have the means to cut threads on the end of your rod, you can change the balance by screwing on one or more standard nuts; this is a good way to add authority to a spike that's a bit too light.

Throwing spikes don't have to be round in cross section. In fact, a square, diamond, or triangular cross section will give better penetration in most kinds of target. Just the other day, I cut a one-yard length of quarter-inch key stock into three equal pieces, filed tapered points on them (I made the profiles of the points long ogives rather than straight tapers, for a little added strength), and found I could pitch them clear through two inches of layered carboard with ease. The sharp, square cross section, coupled with the super sectional density of a foot of steel, penetrates like a bullet. Cost? All of $3.49 for the steel, and maybe six dollars worth of sweat running that file. Fun!

Root around in your local junk-shop for usable lengths of steel; look for old pitchfork heads, retired rotisseries, worn-out punches, used-up lawnmower grasscatcher frames, and other priceless examples of castoff ironmongery.

If your piece of steel is as little as six inches long and an eighth of an inch in diameter, don't give up. You can make a dandy icepick-style thrower by fitting a handle. This can be made of hardwood (rock maple or walnut), laminated wood, or, best of all, dense plastic. In a piece of your chosen handle material four inches long by three-quarters of an inch square, drill a two-inch-deep hole just big enough to accept the steel rod. Epoxy this in place, let the glue cure, grind a point to your liking, and you're in business.

The next nearest thing to a knife in the light-thrower field is half of an old pair of scissors. Kitchen shears, being large in the handle and short in the blade, are especially well suited. Just remove the axle-screw (but save it in case you ever have to put your scissors back to work for scissoring), sharpen the extreme tips of the blades to bodkin points, and there you are with a matched or near-matched pair of light throwing weapons. Scissors convert strictly into blade-throwers, but this is not a serious handicap; most light throwing will be done at a half-turn.

Finally, you can fashion true light throwing knives from the same kinds of steel used to make full-size knives. But take care you don't make them too big and too much like conventional throwing blades. Light knife throwing takes place at short ranges, using springy targets (usually, multiple sheets of corrugated cardboard) that resist penetration by the rather blunt points of conventional throwing-knives. Keep your light knives light: not over ten inches long and not over eleven ounces in weight. Make them slender-pointed: not much more than three-quarters of an inch wide three inches back from the tip, tapering smoothly from there to the point. These design constraints mean that light knives almost have to be blade-throwers. The best approach is probably to build approximate replicas of those half-scissors described above: wide pommels, short and slender blades, and rapidly tapering outlines. The pesh kabz of Afghanistan and northern India, suitably scaled down, provides another good model to follow.

Balance in light throwing weapons is more critical than it is in heavier weapons. Because light knives or icepicks weigh only a few ounces, control is difficult unless the weight is strongly concentrated away from your hand. Keep this in mind when building your light sticking-tools.

Keep this in mind too: Light throwers need very keen points, and this makes them potentially dangerous. I'll bring this up again when discussing safety.

Light Throwing Targets

This is where the light approach is particularly attractive: you can use cheap materials for targets.

Don't get me wrong: If you want to, go ahead and build a heavy plank target for throwing light knives. Or you can pile up some massive tree discs of the sort used for tomahawks and timber cruisers' axes. But I think you'll agree that this is overkill, and instead make your targets out of Good Old Cardboard.

As I mentioned, my first light target all those years ago was a square of laminated carboard. It was about eight layers thick, and it absorbed a fastastic number of punctures before it wore out. Material of this type is worth hunting for and glomming onto whenever you get a chance. Appliance stores frequently throw away large pieces of heavy carboard, and will gladly let you haul some away. When you go scrounging, take along a light saw or large breadknife for reducing big chunks of corrugated carboard to manageable sizes; an ordinary knife will lose its edge too quickly to be of use.

If you can't score any inch-thick carboard, layer some ordinary sheets (ten layers is a good average number) and fasten them together securely with wide plastic tape. Use dry, undamaged cardboard that's as little warped as possible. When taping the sheets together, apply plenty of weight, to compress the material and reduce springiness. I suggest laying it on the floor and kneeling on it; my two hundred pounds (but it's all muscle, honest!) do a fine job of flattening cardboard.

An extra advantage of casually layered cardboard targets is that they're forgiving of bad throws. My rather heavy key-stock throwing spikes, even when they strike at a steep angle, can be relied on to go through the first few layers of cardboard and then be held in place by friction. Sure, they hang down or flop upward; sure, it's not as satisfying as a straight, solid stick -- but what the hay, at least they don't fall to the ground and lie there mocking me.

A cardboard target must be solidly backed before it can be used. Mount your target on a sheet of half-inch or thicker plywood, or on an old door, or on a backing of planks. Plastic tape is adequate for fastening the cardboard to the backing, but use it generously.

As with any kind of throwing-to-the-mark, your target should be big, to catch those wild throws. Even for short half-turn distances, use a target fully thirty inches wide. The height of the target can be more variable, but I think it's fun to stick knives from ground-level up to seven feet, and with cardboard targets so easy and cheap to make, and if you have the headroom, why not?

Other soft materials besides cardboard can be used for light targets. Large blocks of styrofoam work well when taped or glued to a plywood backing. Discarded sheets of ceiling tile, layered two or three deep, can also be used, although they may not last as long as other materials. A tight bale of hay is suitable if you don't mind a bit of shedding. A large bundle of newspapers, tied firmly and turned to present the edges of the sheets to the thrower, will absorb a lot of hits from light blades.

A unique advantage of soft targets is that they won't damage delicate throwing weapons. Thin, narrow throwing knives with heavyish handles can bend when they hit a wooden target, especially if you make them from untempered steel. If you run them up in aluminum or brass -- strange things happen in the shop, now don't they? -- you can count on a lot of bending and breaking on impact with solid wood, even when the blades stick fair and square. Cardboard or other resilient target materials cushion a penetrating knife, slowing it to a stop more gradually than even soft end-grain wood, with the result that easily-bent metals stay straight. Conversely, hard-tempered steel will develop work embrittlement more slowly when used with soft targets, putting off that evil day when your beautifully balanced light thrower goes ping! and leaves you with two pieces of nothing in particular.

Aiming-marks should be small circles of paper or light pasteboard, taped, gummed, or glued to the surface of the target. The heavier aiming-marks you can use with full-size knives -- bottle caps or tin can lids -- will defeat your light knives even if you stick them squarely.

Throwing Light Weapons

Everyone who practices knife throwing as a hobby knows that a short, light knife is hard to control at more than close range. This is just a built-in limitation of light knife-tossing -- about the only one, I would say. But light knife throwing is meant to fit into limited space and budgets. If you accept practicing only at one-half to a full turn, you can have a lot of fun, and gain a lot of skill, with a light setup.

Light knife throwing is less tiring than full-size throwing: There's less weight to handle, less distance to walk back and forth retrieving your knives, and less effort needed to make your weapon fly to the target. I might add: fewer ricochets to dodge, and fewer knives to hunt for in the grass when you miss. Because the preferred targets are cardboard, knives or spikes tend to bounce less if they hit wrong; the cardboard absorbs some of the weapon's energy.

All the same, you will get ricochets on occasion; every knife-chucker knows that. So if you set up your light target indoors, 1) provide protection for windows and lighting fixtures and 2) follow the same safety rules you use outdoors.

With practice, you'll find that you can hit a surprisingly small target at light-knife ranges. This will allow you to place your aiming-marks close together, and to throw a lot of knives into the target. But don't get cocky: icepicks, spikes, scissors, and other such hardware can still collide if you try to group them too tightly.

About powerful throws with light weapons: Don't use them. For one thing, they're not necessary at ranges of only a few feet. For another, light weapons and targets won't stand the strain of macho-man, grunt-as-you-release throwing. Finally, safety considerations in a confined space call for restrained throwing. A wild ricochet at half-turn distances is almost impossible to dodge, and those bodkin-pointed screwdrivers and scissors can inflict serious wounds. Eye protection is a terrifically good idea.

Special Advantages

The small size of the equipment used in light knife throwing makes it a very flexible sport.

Light knife throwing can be practiced in a basement or garage, or on a small patio, or in a tiny back yard. Because even a large cardboard target will weigh only a few pounds, you can change your throwing venue simply by carrying your target to a new place.

Want to take your light throwing-weapons on a trip? Just bundle them up securely in your luggage; their small size and weight make it easy to travel with a dozen or more. But don't try to carry them on board an airplane; security people lose their smiles when the metal detector turns up a bunch of shanks. Check your luggage through.

Don't want to lug a knife-throwing target on your journey? No problem; just improvise one when you get where you're going. A plain carboard box will stay in one piece long enough for an hour's throwing with icepicks or light knives. A solider target can be whipped up by filling any convenient cardboard container (say a flat, thin carton of the kind used for shipping mirrors) with additional sheets of cardboard and taping the whole thing tight. Cardboard targets of this type can be hung from a tree branch using stout twine or light cord. If no tree branch comes handy, you can use almost any kind of pole; wind your string around the pole a few times at the correct height, and draw it snug. A derelict plank or an old door can be leaned against a post to form a backing for a cardboard target. If no carboard comes handy (although cardboard is everywhere), a dozen round firewood logs can be stacked up to form a woodpile-type target.

You can set up a light target in almost any quiet place, indoors or out, as long as the owner is agreeable. When it's time to move on, dispose of your temporary target neatly, sweep up the crumbs or chips that knives always peck out of any surface, and skeedaddle.

Stunts and Competitions With Light Knives

You can practice most of your favorite knife-throwing stunts and games with light knives.

Moving targets? Try hanging a pasteboard circle on a string pendulum to swing back and forth across the face of your backstop. Or tack a pasteboard spinner onto the backstop so that it can rotate freely, spin it, and try sticking one end.

Reactive targets? Rig a light shelf of carboard across the face of the backstop. Place a row of empty milk cartons or crackerjack boxes on the shelf and try your hand at picking them off.

Competitions? Draw a target with scoring rings and lines on a sheet of butcher's paper and tape it to the backstop. You can score exactly as you would for darts.

Trick throws? You can practice your light knife throws kneeling, sitting, lying down, backwards, jumping, and while wearing funny hats. Use your imagination, and you'll never run out of fun.

...and that's not all! Ed isn't our only authority on light knives! Check out this short post from Lee Fugat, winner of the 1998 IKTA throwing contest in Stateline Nevada, Feb. 28, 1998... Lee finally has a WEB SITE so you can check him out!

Date: Fri, 6 Mar 1998 20:01:10 EST
From: Lee Fugatt (
Subject: Re: razor blade throwing

Those utility blades can be fun! Here is another suggestion take 2 pennies and some two sided picture hanging tape and 2 blades. put a 1/2 inch square of tape on the tail side of each penny, place the blades dull edges together on 1 penny then put the other penny on top. You now have a 4 pointed really sharp throwing thingy!! Oh yeah, why tail side in? Two heads are better than one!

Mail to mjr, goto Survival, or back to Thrower

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