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The Sticking Point Target Page
Ed Sackett Target Notes

Sackett Plank target GIF-no clickWhen I was a boy, I thought "a proper target" meant somebody else's tree. Even in rural Wyoming that was a bit much, and it still is. A proper target is made out of materials that belong to you, period. Almost invariably, this means wood. The illustration shows a simple type of free-standing target made from planks. A stand-alone target of this type is more work and expense to build, but it makes the target easier to move. This basic target-board of planks and battens can be fastened to a tree or post, or even (if you're the owner) the side of a building. The planks used for the target should be as thick as you can find (three inches is not too much), and should be held together with a minimum number of nails. Scrap lumber will cost less than new. Try to get planks with as few knots as possible. Softwoods are the only suitable type of wood: pine, spruce, fir, and the like. (Complete plans and instructions for building a first-rate board target and frame can be found in Gil Hibben’s 1994 The Complete Knife Throwing Guide, published by United Cutlery.)


A permanent frame for supporting targets can be made out of two-inch pipe sunk in concrete, after the manner of an old-fashioned clothesline standard. If you're satisfied with where your target is located, this is a good way to go. But don't be in a hurry to commit yourself to a permanently emplaced target frame. You'll find that always throwing in the same location can make you narrow-minded. A change of target and throwing range will broaden your skills, and keep you from getting stereotyped. Then too, if you mean to go in for competition, you'll have to be able to throw in all sorts of places. So move your target(s) around from time to time, and stay loose. Your plank target should be at least three feet wide and six feet high. Yes, I know that's a lot of lumber, but you'll need that big an area for all the throwing you'll do. You should be able to stick your knives at waist-, ankle-, or head-height, to the right and to the left. A skimpy target will leave you hunting in the grass for knives that missed altogether. Remember too that a large target will take a long time to wear out. The battens holding the planks together can be removed and the planks shuffled or reversed to present fresh surfaces. Replacing a plank will only be an occasional chore.


Sackett disk GIF-no clickIf you can get them, thick disks sawn from trees make excellent targets, especially for tomahawks and axes, since disks are durable and the end grain is easily penetrated. Tree disks are also heavy, and you'll need some pretty sturdy carpentry to mount them. The illustration shows a type of mount popular with buckskinners.


Sackett woodpile GIF-no click If large tree disks are hard to come by, you can build up a woodpile-type target using plain unsplit stobs of firewood. This will have the disadvantage of leaving crevices a knife can fly through, but mebbe that'll make ye toss more carefuller. What kind of trees? Softwoods are good, willow is best, oak and maple are too hard. A tip about leaving your wooden targets out in the rain: Go right ahead. Wetting the wood will soften it and make penetration easier, while the swelling will tend to heal the cuts. In dry climates, you may even want to wet the target down with a hose, especially if the wood is a bit tightgrained.


Targets don't have to be made of wood, although this is usually the most satisfying material. Sheets of ordinary corrugated cardboard can be layered and held together with duct tape or cellophane tape to form a good if perishable target. Use twelve or fifteen layers of carboard. Because they are light, cardboard targets should be mounted on some sort of solid backing, such as a sheet of plywood, and supported firmly by a frame or post. A good target for light knives and spikes can be made from styrofoam insulation. This material comes in large sheets, 4 feet by 8 feet by 2 inches. It cuts easily with a utility knife. Two layers make a thick target that will absorb hundreds of hits. One sheet of foam can be cut into two pieces 4 feet on a side; these are taped together and then to a plywood backing sheet. The final assembly can be hung on a garage or basement wall – but protect that wall with some old carpeting or fiberboard. You’d be surprised how often you can miss even a 4-foot-square target.


Now I'm going to give you a suggestion that will probably make you groan: Build two targets, and set them up in a place where you can safely throw at both. Building two targets means twice the work and expense, but it's worth the effort. Two targets will double your practice time. Instead of throwing, walking to the target to retrieve your knives, and then walking back to your mark to throw again, you can throw to the first target, retrieve, turn, and throw to the second target. Do the two targets have to be identical? Shucks no. One should be a full-size target of the type descibed above, and the other can be some sort of novelty target, to keep you on your toes.


A Place to Throw Normally, knife throwing is practiced outdoors, because of the need for plenty of room. A grassy lawn is the best and pleasantest place to plant your target, provided nobody minds a bit of scuffing; the continual walking back and forth to the target will wear a path. Perhaps a better surface for a throwing range is wood chips or fine sand. In any case, avoid terrain with rocks in it, and NEVER throw on concrete! Weeds and underbrush must be cleared away thoroughly, and kept away. A knife can bounce into the strangest places, and hide for keeps if given half a chance. Even rank grass can hide a burrowing knife. I've walked many a mile to and fro over a small piece of ground looking for a blade that chose to slide under some unmown grass.


Sackett backstop GIF-no click If you can afford it, a light wire mesh or even burlap backstop, set up a few feet behind the target(s) can do wonders to keep stray knives at home, and will increase safety. A "throwing box" can be built around your target with a few sheets of light plywood (see illustration) which will catch almost all ricochets. Level ground is nice but not absolutely necessary. Sometimes it's fun to throw uphill or down, or while standing on a slope. There: that’s why you want at least one movable target. Safety is the most important consideration in setting up a throwing range. I grew up in such a lonely place that hardly anyone ever happened by, and so I seldom attracted onlookers when practicing, but most of us live in settled places, and that means spectators. That solid plonk! plonk! of knives sticking draws small boys of all ages from blocks around. An admiring audience (and people do admire even modest knife-throwing skill) will tend to crowd closer and closer, and MUST be kept back out of range of ricochets or bad throws. It's wise to position your target in such a way that people and pets can't easily get behind it. It's best to throw inside an enclosed area such as a fenced back yard. If you're throwing in an unfenced area, say an empty lot, and if onlookers are a frequent problem, try stringing tape on light stakes to mark out a safety area, and ask people (not just children) to stay on the other side. You should exercise the same kind of care when throwing with friends. The enthusiasm of a shared hobby, and the excitement of competition, can trick anyone into being careless. Eye protection for all hands is a sound precaution. The greatest danger when throwing knives is from ricochets. These are unavoidable. They pose the greatest threat to the thrower himself. If a knife bounces off the target and seems to be headed your way, DON'T try to catch it or bat it out of the air. The best tactic is to turn away from the knife and duck. This will present the least vulnerable (if not the least tender) parts of your body to the missile.


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Last updated 04/12/99
Copyright © 1997, Common Logic, Inc.
This page is part of the official archive copy of the pioneering but abandoned Sticking Point website on knife throwing.Copyright and details