“How can I get my throwing knives to stick? I throw every day, but they keep bouncing off my target? What am I doing wrong?”
Does that complaint/question sound familiar? I read comments like that on pretty much every single knife throwing YouTube video I watch, every knife forum, every Q&A site, etc. Some of us just can’t get our throwing knives to stick, no matter how hard we try.
It’s frustrating, especially when we see others doing it so effortlessly.
What’s their secret?
The Secret To Effective Knife Throwing
How good are you at throwing other stuff? I mean, can you throw a football accurately? Or a baseball? Are you able to throw it right to somebody without them having to run all over the place trying to catch it? Can you throw that baseball consistently?
If you cannot throw a ball with consistency, then throwing a knife will likely be a challenge too.
Just like throwing a ball, or any other object, effective knife throwing is all about consistency. That’s the key. That’s the secret.
Sounds too simple? Well, hold on…there’s a lot to it. There are a lot of factors to consider. Just remember that consistency is everything in knife throwing.
The 10 Variables Involved In Throwing A Knife And Sticking It Consistently
- Knife Length/Weight/Balance
- Wrist Action
- Shoulder/Arm Action
- Wind/Air Resistance
- Target Material/Grain
The Knife Throwing Equation
Remember in your pre-Algebra class, when you started to work with variables? You’d have an equation like:
Then they’d have a string of questions that you’d have to “solve for.”
“1. If a = 2, then solve for b.”
“2. If a = 7, then solve for b.”
“3. If b = 14, then solve for a.”
So when you change “a”, then you’ll have to also change “b” in order to balance the equation.
Well, throwing a knife is just like balancing an equation that has 10 variables in it. Whenever you change one of those variables, you have to then go and change another variable to balance out the equation (i.e. to make the knife stick).
So if you’re doing half spin throws and you keep shifting your feet back and forth a few inches with every throw, then you’re gonna have to adjust some of the other variables too, or your knife will bounce.
Maybe you’ll need to stretch out your arm farther when throwing (shoulder/arm action), or you’ll lean forward more as your distance increases (stance/posture), or you’ll hold the blade so that it spins horizontally instead of vertically (grip), etc.
Changing variables around on purpose is all good for the experts. But that’s not us. As beginners, we tend to change our variables by accident — without even realizing it — that’s why we can keep changing up our distance yet still not stick the knives.
We go forward a couple inches…bounce! So we go forward a couple more inches…bounce! So we take a full step back…bounce! Then we go back a couple more inches…bounce!
“GGRRRRR!!! What the hell?!?!” Then we give up and throw it straight down at the grass, and that punk won’t even stick in the ground!
Then we go back inside, eat ice cream and play COD till the sun goes down.
Here’s your Tip Of The Day, boys and girls: there’s more to accurate knife throwing than just “finding your distance.”
Aim For Consistency With Every Single Variable
If you’ll notice, I put that list of variables in chronological order (mostly). We tend to think of distance as being the first variable to focus on, but I put that further down the list for a reason…
1. Your Knife — Let’s start with your throwing knives. If every knife performs a little differently, and if consistency is the name of the game, then what am I about to say next?
Use the same knives!
Did you buy one of those Ridge Runner sets that has six completely different little knives in it? Or are you throwing your Cold Steel, then your SOG, then your Condor, then your Ziel…
Oh myyy…no wonder you’re having such a hard time.
Buy a triple set or two of the same knife, and stay with that for your entire throwing session. Once you’re sticking those, then you can mix things up. But if you’re only sticking one out of ten throws — or less — then you need to work with just one model at a time until you’re sticking them regularly.
Also, if you’re using cheap, little knives, try getting something with more size. Go for something in the 10 to 13 inch range, and get at least 3 of them. Check the articles in the sidebar or the knife comparison chart for ideas.
2. Stance/Posture — Second, check your foot placement and body positioning. Are you always standing with your left foot forward? Your right foot? Is your back foot coming off the ground and stepping forward when you throw?
Whatever you choose to do with your feet, make sure you’re consistent. If you keep changing your posture and foot position around on every throw, that will affect your throwing, so check your stance before you even look at your knife or your target.
I like to keep my feet — especially my lead foot (left foot) — planted firmly throughout my throw. So I’ll keep that foot planted, take my throw (I let my back foot step forward as I throw…but that lead foot stays planted). Then I see how my knife sticks (handle up, handle down, etc). Then I look down and check where my lead foot is and scoot up or back accordingly.
That way, I’m already set up for the next throw and can adjust my distance easily (or keep it right where it is and adjust something else). But if I keep mindlessly shifting my lead foot around during my throws, that makes it harder when setting up the next throw.
3. Grip — I like pinching the blade so that the tip of my ring finger is lined up evenly with the tip of the blade, bending my finger at the 2nd knuckle. If you’re holding your knife a little differently every time, then that’s going to throw you off a bit. Whichever way you choose to grip your blade, just take a moment to make sure it’s exactly the same way you held it on the previous throw…and on the next throw…and the next one too.
Obviously, the same principle applies for full spin throws from the handle. To develop consistency, don’t just grab and throw. Look carefully at how you’re holding your knife and replicate that grip on every throw.
4. Wrist Action — For evaluating your throwing/release action, you may want to record videos of yourself throwing. Is your wrist cocked back? Is it lined up straight with your forearm? Does it snap forward/down as you release?
There’s more than one way to throw a knife, so I’m not going to say that you have to do it this way or that way. But I can tell you that if your wrist action isn’t consistent, that will cause more bounces. I like to keep mine straight and tight throughout the throw. That just seems to be easier for me to keep track of.
5. Shoulder/Arm Action — This is where 90% of our inconsistency lies. All the other variables are a bit easier to control or monitor, but arm swing can be tough.
There’s basically two ways to go here:
1). I’m gonna break away from the common wisdom here and give you advice that makes sense to me.
Remember when I asked if you can throw a baseball with consistent accuracy? If you can do that, then you might actually want to throw your knives the same way — like a baseball. Why? Because that arm/shoulder action feels natural for you, and most importantly — you’re already doing it consistently without even thinking about it.
Most experts advise against cross-body, baseball-style throwing because it’s so loose and allows for so much variation (i.e. it can be so inconsistent). That advice is spot on…for people who can’t throw a baseball for crap. But if you can throw from left field to home plate every time, then your arm/shoulder action is already very consistent, and that means you can dial in the other variables pretty easily.
So if you are already pretty good at throwing baseballs or footballs or whatever, then go ahead and try throwing in a way that feels natural to you. But if you’re already throwing that way and not sticking your knives — or if you aren’t great at throwing balls anyways — then you can move right on to option #2…
2).. Keep everything tight, the way competitive throwers do.
Keep your elbow in and forward; don’t let it drift to the outside. After finding your stance, squaring your shoulders to the target, gripping just right, and setting up your wrist position, try extending your arm and knife straight out in front of you — pointing right at the target.
Now, bend at the elbow and bring the knife back to your shoulder, alongside your face. Keep your elbow facing forward. Do not let it drift to the side. Then whip your forearm forward and throw that sucker. You can rock forward to gain a little momentum if you need more power. Be sure to follow through after releasing the knife.
You’re trying to eliminate shoulder rotation and just focus on elbow/triceps action. It feels a little awkward at first, but it’s a great way to “isolate your variables” =) and keep your throwing motion consistent. I think Tim Rosanelli does a fantastic job explaining and demonstrating this technique in this video…
6. Timing — The point at which you release the knife will also affect its rotation. Throwing is a very natural movement for some people, and they will release the knife consistently without even thinking about it.
If you have to think about it, then think about releasing the knife just as it passes the peak of your throwing arc (i.e. where the knife is perpendicular to the ground). Again, make sure you follow through.
7. Release — The way that you release the knife from your fingers is another variable that you’ll want to keep consistent. Some knife throwers, like world-renowned knife designer Gil Hibben, prefer an abrupt release, where you basically just open your hand instantly to release your knife (think “hot potato”).
Other throwers, like knifethrower72194 on Youtube, prefer a looser grip and relatively gradual release where the knife just slides out of the hand.
You’ll eventually want to play around with both methods, but for now, pick one and use it consistently until you are sticking your knives regularly.
8. Distance — Okay, finally we get to distance. The goal for every beginner should be to isolate all the other variables and keep them consistent. Once you’re doing that, then you will always stick your knife from a predictable distance. Perhaps your half spin distance will be 6 feet, then your full spin will be 9 feet, 1 1/2 spin will be 12 feet, etc.
“Finding your distance” is a crucial part of learning to throw knives, but it’s not all there is to throwing. That’s why you might find your 2 spin distance on Saturday, but then on Sunday you bounce 30 throws in a row from that same distance. Finding your distance only works when the other factors are consistent too.
9. Wind/Air Resistance — Hey, if you’re throwing outdoors and there’s a breeze blowing through your target range, then that’s going to affect your spin and accuracy. What can I say? Don’t throw knives during a hurricane…
10. Target — We don’t often think of this one, but even the target can throw us off. I made a big target board using several 2x4s, kinda like the one Xolette built on her Youtube channel.
We realize that moving our feet just a couple inches forward or back can mean the difference between a stick or a bounce, so we often focus on that.
But have you considered how you prop up your target board?
If you lean it against a wall or fence, be sure to have the bottom placed at the same distance out every time. Placing it a couple inches forward or back will change the actual distance from your fingertips to the bullseye, and even the angle at which it is leaning could have an impact.
Besides that, consider the target material itself (read that article too).
Softer targets make for easier sticks. If you’re having a really hard time sticking knives in wood targets, try using cardboard targets instead (use several sheets glued together) as you work on dialing in your grip, throwing action, release, etc.
When your knife keeps bouncing off hard wood targets, it can be hard to tell exactly what you’re doing wrong, since it all happens so fast.
- Did it over-rotate?
- Did it under-rotate?
- Did the handle hit the target?
- What the heck happened?
But if you can get your knife to stick in a thick cardboard target, then you can figure out how much you need to adjust your rotation.
Also, keep in mind that you want the blade to strike with the grain (for wood plank/2×4 targets), not against the grain. If the wood fibers are running side to side and you’re throwing with the blade spinning vertically, then it’s going to bounce a lot more often.
Still, your best bet is mounting log rounds or end grain targets onto your main board. Throwing head on into the grain is going to help your knife tips hold up a whole lot longer.
Okay, so I hope that this gives you some helpful ideas for improving your knife throwing technique. If you have any tips that have helped you stick your knives better, or if you have any comments about this article, please share your thoughts below.
(Sorry, comments are closed, but you can still share your thoughts via my CONTACT page.)
Thanks for reading!