Throwing knife

Last updated
Collection of throwing knives Throwing knives.jpg
Collection of throwing knives

A throwing knife is a knife that is specially designed and weighted so that it can be thrown effectively. They are a distinct category from ordinary knives.


Throwing knives are used by many cultures around the world, and as such different tactics for throwing them have been developed, as have different shapes and forms of throwing knife.

Throwing knives are also used in sideshow acts [1] and sport.

Central Africa

A selection of African throwing knives in the British Museum A selection of African throwing knives in room 25 of the British museum.JPG
A selection of African throwing knives in the British Museum

Throwing knives saw use in central Africa. [2] The wide area they were used over means that they were referred to by a number of names such as Onzil , [3] [4] Kulbeda, Mambele , Pinga , and Trombash . [2] These weapons had multiple iron blades and were used for warfare and hunting. [2] [5] A maximum effective range of about 50 m (160 ft) has been suggested. [2] The weapon appears to have originated in central Sudan somewhere around 1000 AD from where it spread south. [5] It has however been suggested that the same weapon is depicted in Libyan wall sculptures dating around 1350 BC. [2]

The throwing knives were extensively collected by Europeans with the result that many European and American museums have extensive collections. [6] However the collectors generally failed to record the origin of the blades or their use. [6] As a result, the history and use of the throwing knives is poorly understood. [6] A further complication is that the label "Throwing knife" was attached by ethnographers to various objects that didn't fit into other weapon categories even though they may not have been thrown. [7]

Western tradition

Throwing knives are commonly made of a single piece of steel or other material, without handles, unlike other types of knives. The knife has two sections, the "blade" which is the sharpened half of the knife and the "grip" which is not sharpened. The purpose of the grip is to allow the knife to be safely handled by the user and also to balance the weight of the blade.

Throwing knives are of two kinds, balanced and unbalanced. A balanced knife is made in such a way that the center of gravity and the geometrical center of the knife (the centroid) are the same. The trajectory of a thrown knife is the path of the center of gravity through the air. When a balanced knife is thrown, the circles described by the point and the end of the hilt as the knife rotates about the center of gravity will have the same diameter, making the trajectory more predictable. For an unbalanced knife, the circles described will have different diameters, meaning that the point and the end of the hilt will hit a target in different locations at any point along the trajectory. This makes predicting the trajectory more difficult.

Balanced knives can be thrown by gripping either the point or the hilt, depending upon the user's preference and the distance to the target. Unbalanced knives are generally thrown by gripping the lighter end. There are also knives with adjustable weights which can slide on the length of the blade. This way, it can function both as a balanced or unbalanced knife depending upon the position of the weight. Balanced knives are generally preferred over unbalanced ones for two reasons: a) Balanced knives can be thrown from the handle as well as from the blade, and b) it is easier to change from one balanced knife to another. [8]

The weight of the throwing knife and the throwing speed determine the power of the impact. Lighter knives can be thrown with relative ease, but they may fail to penetrate the target properly, resulting in "bounce back". Heavy throwing knives are more stable in their flight and cause more damage to the target, but more strength is needed to throw them accurately.

Hans Talhoffer (c. 1410-1415 – after 1482) and Paulus Hector Mair (1517–1579) both mention throwing daggers in their treaties on combat and weapons. Talhoffer specifies a type of spiked dagger for throwing while Mair describes throwing the dagger at your opponent's chest.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dagger</span> Short, pointed hand-to-hand weapon

A dagger is a fighting knife with a very sharp point and usually two sharp edges, typically designed or capable of being used as a thrusting or stabbing weapon. Daggers have been used throughout human history for close combat confrontations, and many cultures have used adorned daggers in ritual and ceremonial contexts. The distinctive shape and historic usage of the dagger have made it iconic and symbolic. A dagger in the modern sense is a weapon designed for close-proximity combat or self-defense; due to its use in historic weapon assemblages, it has associations with assassination and murders. Double-edged knives, however, play different sorts of roles in different social contexts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Knife</span> Tool or weapon with a cutting edge or blade

A knife is a tool or weapon with a cutting edge or blade, usually attached to a handle or hilt. One of the earliest tools used by humanity, knives appeared at least 2.5 million years ago, as evidenced by the Oldowan tools. Originally made of wood, bone, and stone, over the centuries, in step with improvements in both metallurgy and manufacturing, knife blades have been made from copper, bronze, iron, steel, ceramic, and titanium. Most modern knives have either fixed or folding blades; blade patterns and styles vary by maker and country of origin.

<i>Tantō</i> Japanese dagger

A tantō is one of the traditionally made Japanese swords that were worn by the samurai class of feudal Japan. The tantō dates to the Heian period, when it was mainly used as a weapon but evolved in design over the years to become more ornate. Tantō were used in traditional martial arts. The term has seen a resurgence in the West since the 1980s as a point style of modern tactical knives, designed for piercing or stabbing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blade</span> Sharp cutting part of a weapon or tool

A blade is the portion of a tool, weapon, or machine with an edge that is designed to puncture, chop, slice or scrape surfaces or materials. Blades are typically made from materials that are harder than those they are to be used on. Historically, humans have made blades from flaking stones such as flint or obsidian, and from various metal such as copper, bronze, and iron. Modern blades are often made of steel or ceramic. Blades are one of humanity's oldest tools, and continue to be used for combat, food preparation, and other purposes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rondel dagger</span> Type of stiff-bladed dagger

A rondel dagger or roundel dagger is a type of stiff-bladed dagger used in Europe in the late Middle Ages, used by a variety of people from merchants to knights. It was worn at the waist and could be used as a utility tool, or worn into battle or in a jousting tournament as a side arm.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Knife throwing</span> Throwing of knives at targets for entertainment or sport

Knife throwing is an art, sport, combat skill, or variously an entertainment technique, involving an artist skilled in the art of throwing knives, the weapons thrown, and a target. In some stage performances, the knife thrower ties an assistant to the target and throws to miss them.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Butterfly knife</span> Type of folding knife

A butterfly knife, also known as a balisong, fan knife or Batangas knife, is a type of folding pocketknife that originated in the Philippines. Its distinct features are two handles counter-rotating around the tang such that, when closed, the blade is concealed within grooves in the handles. A latch sometimes holds the handles together, typically mounted on the one facing the cutting edge.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sgian-dubh</span> Ceremonial knife

The sgian-dubh – also anglicized as skene-dhu – is a small, single-edged knife worn as part of traditional Scottish Highland dress along with the kilt. Originally used for eating and preparing fruit, meat, and cutting bread and cheese, as well as serving for other more general day-to-day uses such as cutting material and protection, it is now worn as part of traditional Scottish dress tucked into the top of the kilt hose with only the upper portion of the hilt visible. The sgian-dubh is normally worn on the same side as the dominant hand.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Messer (sword)</span> Cold weapon

A messer is a single-edged sword of the 15th and 16th century, characterised by knife-like hilt construction methods.

A stiletto is a specialized dagger with a long slender blade and needle-like point, primarily intended as a thrusting and stabbing weapon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trench knife</span> Type of combat knife

A trench knife is a combat knife designed to kill or incapacitate an enemy at close quarters, such as in a trench or other confined area. It was developed as a close combat weapon for soldiers attacking enemy trenches during the First World War. An example of a World War I trench knife is the German Army's Nahkampfmesser.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Waster</span> Practice Weapon

In martial arts, a waster is a practice weapon, usually a sword, and usually made out of wood, though nylon (plastic) wasters are also available. Nylon is safer than wood, due to it having an adequate amount of flex for thrusts to be generally safe, unlike wooden wasters. Even a steel feder has more flex than most wooden wasters. The use of wood or nylon instead of metal provides an economic option for initial weapons training and sparring, at some loss of genuine experience. A weighted waster may be used for a sort of strength training, theoretically making the movements of using an actual sword comparatively easier and quicker, though modern sports science shows that an athlete would most optimally train with an implement which is closest to the same weight, balance, and shape of the tool they will be using. Wasters as wooden practice weapons have been found in a variety of cultures over a number of centuries, including ancient China, Ireland, Iran, Scotland, Rome, Egypt, medieval and renaissance Europe, Japan, and into the modern era in Europe and the United States. Over the course of time, wasters took a variety of forms not necessarily influenced by chronological succession, ranging from simple sticks to clip-point dowels with leather basket hilts to careful replicas of real swords.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ricasso</span> Unsharpened length of blade between the guard or handle on a knife

A ricasso is an unsharpened length of blade just above the guard or handle on a knife, dagger, sword, or bayonet. Blades designed this way appear at many periods in history in many parts of the world and date back to at least the Bronze Age—essentially, as long as humans have shaped cutting tools from metals.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife</span> Dagger

The Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife is a double-edged fighting knife resembling a dagger or poignard with a foil grip. It was developed by William Ewart Fairbairn and Eric Anthony Sykes in Shanghai based on ideas that the two men had while serving on the Shanghai Municipal Police in China before World War II.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clip point</span> Blade shape

The clip point is one of the three most common knife blade shapes used. Clip point blades have the appearance of having the forward third of the blade "clipped" off. The clip itself can be straight or concave.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">United States Marine Raider stiletto</span> Dagger

The United States Marine Raider stiletto was issued to the Marine Raiders and 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion during World War II.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mambele</span> African hybrid knife/axe

A mambele is a form of hybrid knife/axe in central and southern Africa, originating from a curved throwing dagger used by the Mangbetu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">M3 trench knife</span> Fighting knife

The M3 trench knife or M3 fighting knife was an American military combat knife first issued in March 1943. The M3 was originally designated for issue to soldiers, not otherwise equipped with a bayonet. However, it was particularly designed for use by forces in need of a close combat knife, such as Airborne Units and Army Rangers, so these units received priority for the M3 at the start of production. As more M3 knives became available in 1943 and 1944, the knife was issued to other soldiers such as Army Air Corps crewmen and soldiers not otherwise equipped with a bayonet, including soldiers issued the M1 carbine or a submachine gun such as the M3 submachine gun "grease gun".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fighting knife</span> Knife designed to inflict injury

A fighting knife has a blade designed to most effectively inflict injury in close-quarters physical confrontations. The combat knife and the trench knife are examples of military fighting knives.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Native American weaponry</span> Weapons used by Native Americans for hunting and warfare with other Native American tribes

Native American weaponry was used by Native American warriors to hunt and to do battle with other Native American tribes and European colonizers.


  1. Nickell, Joe (2005). Secrets of the sideshows. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN   0-8131-7179-2. OCLC   65377460.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Blackmore, Howard L (2000). Hunting Weapons from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century: With 288 Illustrations. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 80–82. ISBN   9780486409610.
  3. Mary H Kingsley, West African Studies (1899), London, MacMillan, 1901
  4. Jan Elsen, De fer et de fierté, 2003, p.98
  5. 1 2 Ehret, Christopher (2002). The civilizations of Africa: a history to 1800. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 338–341. ISBN   9780486409610.
  6. 1 2 3 .McNaughton, Patrick. "The Cutting Edge: West Central African 19th Century Throwing Knives in the National Museum of Ethnology Leiden. A. M. Schmidt and Peter Westerdijk. Leiden: National Museum of Ethnology and C. Zwartenkot Art Books, 2006. 112 pp. Reviewed by Patrick McNaughton" (pdf). Indiana University. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  7. Throwing knives (Museum label). Room 25, British Museum. 2011.{{cite sign}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  8. Thiel, Christian. "Balance and the center of gravity". Retrieved 30 January 2015.

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Throwing knives at Wikimedia Commons