Introduction to the Sport of Axe Throwing

Axe throwing is not just about throwing axes – it’s a target sport similar to darts that started in 2006. It’s an event held in most lumberjack competitions. It sounds pretty simple, but just like any other sport, it comes with specific guidelines to follow to regulate the game and fully enjoy the activity. Without rules, axe throwing can be dangerous, and it can lose its competitive aspect. This sport has spread across North America and other parts of the world as one of the new bar games and sports among the younger people.

What is Axe Throwing?

In this sport, the player throws an axe at a target, attempting to hit the bullseye as near as possible. Players stand behind a foul line around 10 to 12 feet from the target. The targets are labeled much like most target sports, and the highest score is in the bullseye. The score decreases the further the axe lands from the center. At the end of the game, the players add up their scores, and the person with the highest score wins. The rules vary in every place, but it’s the basic idea.

There are two governing bodies and leagues for axe throwing: the IATF (International Axe Throwing Federation), and WATL (World Axe Throwing League). In IATF, the board has four main zones: three main and an extra clutch. Meanwhile, in WATL, targets have five main zones and an extra.

Each league has a different rule for games, board, distance, and even axes. For instance, in an IATF classic league, the majority of the blade in the board counts, but in WATL, it’s enough to touch the line to gain a point. However, one common rule is that the thrower must not step over the throwing line before the axe hits or misses the target. If a thrower steps over the line, his/her points are forfeited.

Essentials for Axe Throwing

Here are the three things you’ll need to play this sport:

A throwing axe

A suitable throwing axe is needed for you to play the game. Throwing axes must be at least 12 inches in length, with a head weighing no more than two pounds. The cutting edge of the axe needs to be less than 4.75 inches.

In the leagues, there are two main sizes of axes used. The small one (600 to 800 g) is used for normal rounds, while the big one (1,000 to 1,500 g) is used for tiebreakers. The rules in IATF states that the players must use only axes with wooden handles, while WATL doesn’t have this kind of restriction.


The target is a board made of five wooden planks placed vertically next to each other. Each plank is four feet long, two-inch thick, and ten inches across. The bottom of the target needs to be two feet off the ground.

Controlled environment

Players must play in an enclosed area where axe throwers can safely throw the axes without people accidentally walking in front of the targets. Since axes can cause injuries, the environment where the sport is played must be controlled. Throwers must be positioned at least six feet apart from one another for safety. Throwers must also stand for 12 to 15 feet away from the target.

Major Ways of Throwing an Axe

There are two major ways on how to throw an axe in this sport. Both styles are equally popular and easy, but depending on the wood used in the target, you may need more force if it’s not soft enough.

One-handed, over the shoulder throw

This throwing technique uses one hand only. The player swings down the axe beside the leg and past the ear of the throwing hand. The player then follows straight through the target, releasing the axe when the arm is parallel to the ground.

Two-handed, over the head throw

If you find that throwing with one hand causes your axes to drop on the floor, try switching to this method of throwing to generate more power. With this method, the player grips the axe with both hands, bringing it straight back over the head as if throwing a soccer ball. Then, the player pulls the axe forward, releasing when the hands line up to the direction of the target.

Safety Measures for Axe Throwing

Since the sport deals with a potentially dangerous weapon, the throwing area must be kept safe at all times. The open area between the players and the target must be off-limits, and if there’s an open area behind the target, spectators and other people must be prevented from walking in that area. The target area must be taped off using light fencing materials or flags.

The axe must be sharpened to help it stick to the target with greater ease. This will result in less potential danger to those around you. However, after sharpening the axe, players must be careful not to touch the blade directly with the fingers or let the blade touch any part of their body. The sharper and thinner the profile of the axe, the easier it will stick to the target.

When holding the axe, the player must have a firm grip on the handle similar to handling a baseball bat. Keep the head as straight and perpendicular to the target as much as possible. If the player rotates the axe’s head, it can cause it to fly sideways and potentially hurt another player.

How is Axe Throwing Scored?

Axe throwing is an individual sport, so each competitor is scored individually and will have to rely on their own to get ahead in the game.

A single game is played with each player, given five attempts to throw the axe on the target. Typically, the center circle on the target is worth five points, while the other circles are worth three and one. A player can reach a maximum of 25 points per game, and the goal is to score as many points as possible. In the event of a tie, another round can take place so the winner can be determined.

The above scoring method is a basic rule. Since axe throwing is played in different formats and different venues, the rules for scoring may vary. What’s important is to have a specific set of rules agreed upon by everyone to achieve a level playing field.

History of Axe Throwing

Throughout history, axes have been useful as a tool and a weapon. It’s one of the oldest tools known to man, and it is popular due to its simplicity and cheapness of their make. Axes were very much common during the Stone Age, but it wasn’t until 400 to 500 AD when axes were thrown.

The Francisca axe is one of the most famous types of throwing axes. In the Middle Ages, it was used as a weapon. It became the national weapon by the Franks and was also used by other Germanic tribes at the time. Throwing axes were believed to be used for hunting food and not during a battle because they believe it would be foolish to throw a prized weapon in a battle then be unarmed.

During the Middle Ages, Europeans brought throwing axes to the New World and given them as tomahawks to the Native Americans. Legend has it that the frontiersmen from North America held the first axe throwing competition. Axe throwing has also been a competition among the Celtic tribes.

Fast forward to 2006. The Backyard Axe Throwing League (BATL) from Canada brought urban axe throwing to the masses. That year, a group of friends were bored at a cottage outside Toronto and decided to throw axe at a stump. Little did they know that this idea they had to pass the time will soon evolve in creating a worldwide sport.

Matt Wilson, the founder of BATL, decided to set up a target in his backyard upon returning home to Toronto. He invited some of his friends over to show them just how therapeutic throwing a sharp axe into wood could be. They created a point system, and soon enough, this group of eight friends would meet every week and compete. The group quickly grew, and before Matt knew it, he was hosting two full leagues of a total of more than 60 persons per night in his backyard.

It did not take long before the BATL has outgrown Matt’s backyard. Word spread throughout the city very fast that the waitlist to join the league became never0ending. Soon after, the league moved its operations indoors after securing an industrial space. The sport spread out across North America, and commercial locations dedicated to axe throwing also spread to New Zealand, Australia, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Since it became a worldwide sport, governing bodies were established for the sport of axe throwing, namely the World Axe Throwing League, and the International Axe Throwing Federation.

In 2020, there are hundreds of venues across the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Thailand.