testing knives - to throw or not to throw

Cliff Stamp

Oct 5, 1998
Is there any interest in seeing how the survival/heavy utility class of knives perform under the stress of being thrown? While they are of course not the optimal design for such it was mentioned in an email and I thought I would throw it out and see if anyone was interested in knowing how they would hold up.

On a related note, does anyone know of any throwing knives that are ergonomic enough to use for general utility and perform well enough so that you are not wanting for another knife.

My feeling is that in a survival situation, a knife shouldn't be thrown. You should create a spear, arrow, throwing stick or whatever for that purpose.

I would say that the one thing that it will be testing is what happens to knife handles upon heavy impact against a hard wood surface. Doing this for extended periods may test steel toughness, but that would take considerably more time than just some short throwing testing.

I think it may be just as effective to slam the knife handles against hard wood many times to see what happens.

The other interesting thing about knife throwing would be to see which knives penetrate deepest when thrown. Obviously the higher momentum will have an advantage, but the blade shape and design will also.

Blade tip strength is another result of this testing, I would think.

The jarring and vibrations of the impact will definitelly test how well the handles are put onto the knives.

This would be interesting.

I was going to initially say that I don't think it would be valid, but now I think I convinced myself that it may actually be a worthwile test. This is without a doubt a destructive test.

Hey after all wasn't that one of the HK USP gun tests. Throw it against a concrete wall, HARD and it better be able to fire, afterwards.
I used to have a Blackjack "Wasp" that was
designed for throwing, but
had a full-size handle and was comfortable enough for general use.

"We are ready for an unforeseen
event that may or may not occur"
- Dan Quayle -

Michael, my point was not to debate the usefulness of throwing knives but rather to look at specific durability aspects of survival/heavy utility knives.

Cobalt, that's more of less what I was looking at. It would show strong ability of the tip to take shock and good handle durability. You could of course do it in a much more direct way by pounding the tip into wood and hammering with the handle - but - that is not nearly as much fun. The question is, are those valuable aspects to have?

Doc, I have heard good things about Blackjack before, too bad they are out of business.

I can't see myself ever throwing a knife in a real life situation. If blade and/or handle strength is the issue, as in stapping and chopping, or pounding and hammering with the handle, then you could test that just as well with the knife in your hand. Why throw the knife? Can you throw it harder than you could pound it? Is there any practical reason to test a knife at impact velocity greater than that which you could generate with your own strength, knife in hand? I guess you could fire the knife out of a cannon, or shoot it from a crossbow or something, but forgive me, I'm being silly now.

David Rock
Yes, David, VIBRATIONS make the world go round. Seriously though, the throwing impact can be quite severe on a knife. I think that the durability aspect is worth doing it for. Besides if a manufacturers knife is used, the results will apply to your knife and you won't have to worry about it and it's nice to know.
Cliff, if you perform these throwing tests, I would suggest you also identify which makers/companies recommend their knives for throwing. Most do not--not that they are not as strong as those who do, but they generally don't want to have to grind a bunch of broken points. In other words, we are getting dangerously close to testing a knife for something it was not intended by the maker to do.

I'm not trying to debate the practicality of throwing a knife in a survival situation, either. But its also my opinion that a throwing test is basically the same as whacking the blade against the ground, a rock, a tree or some other surface.

David I can throw a knife much harder than I could stab it *safely*. As for :

Is there any practical reason to test a knife at impact velocity greater than that which you could generate with your own strength, knife in hand?

That's the million dollar question.

By the way, I don't have a cannon, but I do have a crossbow, I have not tried firing knives out of it - interesting suggestion.

Bruce, important point.

P.J. (sells the Uluchet) noted this thread and sent me off an email noting that he would have no objections to be throwing the Uluchet. This was of no surprise to me considering his reaction to the last round of testing.

Seems to me there's a large random element in throwing; if one knife breaks and another doesn't that's likely because one happened to hit the target wrong. Unless you throw them a couple of hundred times each, which I suppose could be fun.

The Hibben single-edge throwing knives make a fair general-purpose knife and a good fighting knife if you cordwrap the handle. They come in three sizes, 420-J2 steel. Edgeholding is not great. I'm not sure they're really tough enough for throwing; I haven't thrown mine. They come with a nice leather sheath, especially considering the price.

-Cougar Allen :{)
P.S. I just looked in a catalog to confirm the steel and I was reminded there are several different Hibben throwers. The one I have is based on his Karate Knife and comes without cordwrap. There are some slightly different ones (handle's shaped different) that come with a thin cordwrap and a nylon sheath. The middle and large sizes might work if you put a thicker cordwrap on them. The smallest model with that handle shape is impossible to hold onto, at least for me.

-Cougar Allen :{)
Although it's agreed that throwing your knife in a survival(or any) situation is dumb, it would be a great test of overall durability. It tests the handle strength, tip strength, and everything in between. I want to know that if I drop my knife, or if it slips while chopping, it will not break. I think it's a great test.
I suppose a knife will vibrate more when thrown that it would when simply pounded using it in the hand. Regarding the practicality of throwing a knife as a durability test, I see some merit in tknife's argument that a knife might be dropped in real life, and I agree that it would be nice to know the potential results of such an accidental impact. So you might try a test that would simulate a random (i.e., accidental) drop from a suitably high point onto rock or concrete. To allow for the randomness, I suggest that you drop each knife several times, making no effort to orient it in any particular way (unless you want to test specifically for tip strength, in which case you might point the tip downwards and drop it through a long tube onto a hard surface.

Okay, I'm convinced. Go ahead and do it. But dont throw it--drop it.

This does sound fun!

David Rock
I think it would at least be an interesting test. I have been known to toss a knife or two at the evilmonsterzombiecabineating squirrels in the area. It would be the optimal vibration test becuse of the fact that when we hold onto a knife, we are in fact, dampening the vibrations that a knife would produce on impact with an object. Throwing the knife will allow it to vibrate at much higher and greater frequencies. I would also like to know if the knife will shatter if it were to hit flat on its side. This might be extreme, but I have dropped a few knives onto the ground from up on the cabin roof...if you are doing some climbing and somehow your MD whatchamahoosit accidentally comes undone and plummets to the rocks below, it would be nice to know that it is in one piece when you get to the bottom. Oh well....actually my goal here is to see Cliff destroy more knives...

Sorry on this one, Cliff. No, no interest in testing the throwing survival of the big honkers.
The tempering/hardness of a 'good' throwing knife is so violently different from a survival/heavy duty utility knife that I can't imagine them being used for the same tasks. And if I was in some sort of survival situation and needed to throw something, I'm pretty sure I could find a rock or stick to throw, and not have the potential of losing or damaging my good knife!

I don't see any testing relevance whatsoever from throwing test knives. Even if you threw them successfully 100 times each, does that tell you whether they'll break or crack on the 101st toss? If one broke right off the bat would that indicate a bad knife or a bad throw or what? It's next to impossible to toss knives at exactly the same angle and force time and time again.

When I wanted to test impact resistance and pennetration depths, I suspended several large knives from a pulley and affixed a barbell weight plate to the rope above the suspended handles. The knives were dropped from several different heights into various substances like plywood and tires. I'm not saying that's the world's greatest test, but it seems a little more controlled than throwing them since it eliminates the human variable. Just a thought.

One other thought is that I've gotten the most out of simply using test knives to chop wood like crazy. It's amazing how a knife that feels just great in the store takes on a whole different feel after being slammed through several pieces of wood. The vibrations may or may not be the same as when the same knife is thrown, but pretty quickly you'll find out which handles are trash or poorly designed.

While this started off somewhat as a joke I have been bouncing it around in my head and it no longer seems so silly anymore.

First off to address the comment about impacts. When I made that statement above about stabbing being less stressful than being thrown, that's only true for certain geometries. A khukuri for example can safely be stabbed hard enough to shread a 2x8 like paper. I wouldn't throw it that hard.

Now about the value of the testing I still don't know if a knife should be able to withstand being thrown. I am leaning towards yes and after doing some thinking I think throwing it around would actually be less stressful than what I normally do anyway so if it failed on throwing it would fail chopping/splitting or digging.

There are some exceptions to this. Some knives for example have weak aspects that would cause them to do poorly on a throwing test but are very good for heavy utility. For example the HI khukuris have wooden handles so that could be a fracture point but in regular field use you can use the blade to do any pounding you need. However you would not break the tip of an Ang Khola by throwing it into wood. I simulated this yesterday by swinging mine into a piece of 6x6 as hard as I could so the tip lodged deeply. I would not throw it nearly this hard.

MPS as for throwing with a consistent angle and force, yeah I can. Consistent to a decent degree anyway. Precision is just limited to how often you want to repeat trials in any case.

To be specific on method - generally for short distances I simply throw the knife so that it does not rotate and simply flies like a dart. However one of my brother friends just pinwheels. When I first heard this I simply passed it off as nonsense but I have seen it and he can do it very accurately with a successful hit of about 9 out of 10 times from varying distances and angles. Beats me how he does it. The knife is rotating way too much for him to be counting rotations.


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 11 April 1999).]

[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 11 April 1999).]
Being curious about some of the arguments presented in this thread I did some experimenting the weekend with interesting results.


After doing that testing I am now of the opinion that any knife that is tough enough to be used for heavy chopping, digging and especially prying would not be concerned about being thrown around. The most it should suffer is slight impacting at the tip if you miss your target and hit a rock.

Many of the usual tests that are done on the tougher knives, like digging in wood, are much more stressful than throwing the knife around.

Cliff, that was a good article on the throwing. I did not want to bring up my throwing experiences, but I will here for added information. Two years ago, I bought several cheap knives to prectice my throwing techniques. They were all from SMKW, pakistany. The Bowie, 11 inch tanto and hollow handle survival knife. The hollow handle knife busted as expected within the first couple of throwing sessions, right at the handle/blade juncture. The next one was the Big Bowie. I threw this one for a long time and the wood handle eventually shattered off it. But since it is full tang, I was still able to use it to throw. After about 30 to 40 different throwing sessions throughout the period of a year the tip broke off about 1 inch from the end. The next was the pakistany tanto. I really liked the design of this knife and always thought that it would be nice if they were made from a good steel, or properly treated one at the very least. This one lasted about a year also and it failed about 3 months ago. When it broke, it did so halfway up the blade, which was strange. The only thing I can figure was that during the previous throwing the blade would bend to one side or another after several throws and I would straighten it out. After extended periods of cold working this section by bending, it must have become more brittle and it failed. The thing is that these knives are low quality with very poorsteel. A properly made knife would take a considerable more amunt of punishment and may not fail for many years if at all.

Of course, I'm not about to throw any of my good knivs.