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I Tried It

I Tried It: Ax throwing

At the intersection of hipsters, lumberjacks, and competitive spirit

By Megan Johnson

I’ve never thrown an ax. I don’t even know that I’ve held one. But in the pursuit of adventure and making people jealous on Instagram, I’m here at Urban Axes, an ax-throwing bar. It’s in Union Square, a hipster enclave within the larger hipster enclave of Somerville, Massachusetts. This is the kind of neighborhood where you expect to see men in skinny jeans brewing double IPAs on their front lawns with hops they grew in their backyards, next to their bikes.

So of course, they would go to Urban Axes, which looks like a bowling alley for lumberjacks: narrow ax-throwing passages cordoned off from each other by metal fencing, plus a bar tucked on the side. While some might question the wisdom of serving alcoholic beverages to folks wielding metal weapons, ax throwing is an increasingly popular pastime, as are lumberjack competitions. The National Ax-Throwing Federation boasts 4,500 members in over 60 cities in seven countries.

As we step inside, we hear cheers celebrating bulls-eyes, yelps of disappointment, and, of course, the sound of metal axes clunking against the wooden targets and hitting the metal ground. It’s like the clang of your dad dropping a wrench in the garage as he tries to fix something, before he swears at himself and goes inside to call a professional.

Nearly everybody is in flannel. Some wear man buns, and one guy, I swear, is in a Tyrolean hat. Closed toed shoes are mandatory. Most women wear boots or sneakers, but one brave young woman on a date night has chosen to throw her ax in chunky Tory Burch heels. A group of soccer moms eat a cheese and fruit plate while giggling over craft beers. No Miller Light or Budweiser here; according to the bartender, the most popular item on the drink menu is an IPA called Boom Sauce.

The throwers wait their turns, then take their place in the Hunger Games-esque “arena,” where an instructor awaits. Ours sports a mutton chop beard and is as friendly as can be. He demonstrates how we should put our opposite leg forward and dominant leg back, almost in a lunge position. Simply rock forward, let go of the ax, and let it fly toward the target.

No Miller Light or Budweiser here; according to the bartender, the most popular item on the drink menu is an IPA called Boom Sauce.

A 1.5 pound ax feels a lot heavier in your hand than you’d expect, thanks to the leverage of having its metal slab at the end of a wooden pole. Ideally, your ax will rotate forward one full, 360-degree spin, the sharp, top corner of its blade landing straight into the wood slab’s bullseye.  

I can throw a baseball. A tennis ball to my brother’s dog in the backyard. An ax is a new one for me. My first throw hits the wood and clangs to the ground, a sad reject. But on the second and third, I successfully stick my ax in the wooden target. I begin to envision myself in ax-throwing competitions, a seasoned professional.

Before I earn my Olympic Gold for ax-throwing, I want to know if there have been any injuries at Urban Axes thus far. In my mind, I conjure images of gruesome wounds and bloody fingers, of ambulances parked outside the bar just waiting to spring into action.

Our instructor squashes my deranged fantasies of the sport’s danger. “No one’s getting hurt here,” he says, matter-of-factly. 

I notice more than one man in the bar throwing axes with just one hand. This is specifically not how we had been advised to throw them, with a strong, two-handed grip.

I ask our instructor why this is. 

“It’s a macho thing,” he tells me. Even urban hipster lumberjacks aren’t immune. 

Published on

Megan Johnson is a writer based in Boston.


Illustration by Dom McKenzie

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