How Do Silencers Work?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

How Do Silencers Work? SilencerCo provides this infographic:


(The linked, full-size version is also animated.)

Sinews of War

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Endless money forms the sinews of war, Cicero noted, but lately, things have got ridiculous:

A Tomahawk cruise missile costs about $1.5m, and even the Hellfire, an air-to-ground rocket that weighs a mere 50kg, is $115,000 a pop. In exchange for, say, an enemy tank, that is probably a fair price to pay. To knock out a pick-up truck crewed by a few lightly armed guerrillas, however, it seems a little expensive, and using its shoulder-fired cousin the Javelin ($147,000) to kill individual soldiers in foxholes, as is often the case in Afghanistan, is positively profligate. Clearly, something has to change. And changing it is.

An early sign of this change came in March, with the deployment in Afghanistan of the APKWS II (Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System) made by BAE Systems. The APKWS II is a smart version of the old-fashioned 70mm (2.75-inch) rocket, which has been used by America’s armed forces since 1948. It is also cheap, as guided missiles go, costing $28,000 a shot.

The APKWS II is loaded and fired in the same way as its unguided predecessors, from the same 19-round pods, making its use straightforward. The difference is that it can strike with an accuracy of one metre because it has been fitted with a laser-seeking head which follows a beam pointed at the target by the missile’s operators. This controls a set of fins that can steer the missile to its destination.

Standard practice with unguided 70mm missiles is to use as many as two pods’ worth (ie, 38 rockets, at $1,000 a round) to blanket a target. That means the APKWS II comes in at three-quarters of the cost per kill. It also means that many more targets can be attacked on a single mission.

Guided Smart Shells

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

Raytheon’s 155mm M982 Excalibur extended-range guided artillery shell is a modern marvel:

It can be hurtled out of a howitzer barrel under immense G loads, then once it reaches the top of its trajectory, it begins its guided glide path via pop-out canard control fins, which greatly enhances the shell’s range over a standard 155mm round. Because it is guided, it can also hit nearly any target at near vertical angles, allowing it to strike the enemy in the shadow of steep mountains or in urban environments that traditional ballistic artillery could not engage safely.

Raytheon 155mm M982 Excalibur Shell

Introduced onto the battlefield in Iraq in 2007, the rounds gave Howitzer units so much added flexibility due to the Excalibur’s increased range, non-ballistic trajectory and almost perfect accuracy that the Army immediately upped the round’s production from 18 units a month to 150. Since then, thousands more M982 shells have been built and nearly a thousand of them have been fired in combat.

Now they’re shrinking it down for the Navy’s five-inch Mk45 deck guns.

3D-Printed Replica Ring Sword

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Norway’s National Museum of Art asked Nils Anderssen — a game developer and school teacher with a passion for re-creating historical artefacts in his spare time — to 3D-print a replica of its sixth-century sword:

The museum is in possession of a particularly fine sword — a golden-hilted ring-sword, probably used only by kings and nobles. The ring affixed to the hilt is believed to be the symbol of an oath.

Ring Sword Replica Hilt Front and Back

The instruction that the museum gave Anderssen was that the sword should look and feel exactly like the original would have done when it was new. This would allow museum visitors to have hands-on time with the sword, as a complement to admiring the relic safe in its glass case.

Anderssen has no experience in blacksmithing or goldsmithing, but he does know his way around 3D-modelling software — namely 3D Studio Max.

Ring Sword 3D Studio Max Rendering

Using photographs of the real sword to gauge the dimensions of the hilt, Anderssen modelled the shape into basic polygons before working on carving out the fine details of the intricate design. Then he sent the finished model to i.materialise to be printed in bronze. When the finished print arrived, he cleaned up the details and had the pieces gilded and fitted with wooden inserts for stability before being attached to the blade.

Ring Sword Original and Replicas


Herd Immunity Applies to Guns as Well as Vaccinations

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Recent measles outbreaks have sparked a national debate over vaccinations and herd immunity, but herd immunity applies to guns, too, Paul Hsieh argues:

Crime rates in Chicago dropped dramatically in 2014 after the state of Illinois allowed legal concealed carry. [...] According to AWR Hawkins, national FBI statistics also showed a significant decrease in crime in the first half 2014 even though gun sales soared in 2013. [...] This is a continuation of the longer-running trend described by Dylan Polk in Guns & Ammo: “Crime rates have dropped as gun ownership has risen, despite a population growth” over the 1993-2013 period.

Firing Slowly Is Useless

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Lars Andersen’s latest archery video led Lynn C. Rees to cite the Strategikon‘s admonition that even when the arrow is well aimed, firing slowly is useless:

For tribesmen native to the Eurasian steppe stretching from Hungary to the Pacific, constant archery practice was a logical extension of daily life: bow work was essential to routine tasks like hunting or raiding the neighbors. For a hybrid settled/nomadic state like Parthia and its Sassanid successor, balancing the interests of your nomads out east with your farmers out west produced sharp tensions but often found a way to field archers without breaking the farmers or the treasury. For an wholly agricultural state like Rome in the sixth century, raising and training archers was an expensive strain.

Rome’s traditional strategy, crushing enemies under the weight of infantry mass, was hampered by population decline in the empire, bruising face-offs with new horse riding archers like the Huns, and an inability or disinclination to raise many soldiers from its own peasants. Rome turned toward smaller armies composed of horsemen, some drawn from native Romans, some mercenaries drawn from nomadic tribes like the Heruli. These armies were, man for man, better trained than prior Roman armies. They could check and even defeat opposing cavalry armies like the Persians.

But they were expensive. Roman finances groaned under the costs of supporting its armies. Their cost made it hard to maintain enough forces to cover all of the Roman’s territory. The Balkans were frequently abandoned to non-stop nomad raids because most forces were needed against the Persians in Armenia and Syria. Roman armies of the sixth century were politically fickle, prone to rebel if payment didn’t show up on time and sometimes prone to rebel even when pay arrived on time.

And they were brittle: like World War I-era dreadnoughts, they were too expensive to use. They couldn’t be replaced overnight like Rome replaced armies during the Second Punic War. Equivalent forces required time and capital to raise and train to proficiency. Native Romans had to be taught how to fight like steppe nomads at state expense. Nomadic mercenaries who had the needed skills from childhood were often unreliable. This made sixth-century Roman leaders as unwilling to risk battle as earlier Romans were eager to force battle.

Caution was justified. Destruction of just one of these armies, capital intensive transplants from their natural habitat on the steppes to the more foreign but pricey fleshpots of Thrace, Anatolia, Syria, Carthage, or Egypt, were not only catastrophic but world-changing. The military bench was left so thin that there was little left to resist a victor who succeeded in annihilating a sixth century Roman army.

Defeats by the Persians and civil war after the fussy Balkan army mutinied and overthrew Mauricius over discontent with their employment benefits and uncomfortable winter accommodations reduced Rome to precisely one army. If the Persians destroyed that one army, led in person by the Emperor Flavius Heraclius, that was the end of Rome. Heraclius came back from far behind, skillfully using that one army to defeat the Persians, though it meant leaving his capital reliant on only the Theodosian Walls and the remnants of the Roman navy to fight off an Avar-Persian siege. Turns out those were good odds against the Avars and Persians, though it left the Balkans open to permanent Slavic occupation.

But Heraclius only had that one army. When he sent it against a surprisingly persistent army of desert raiders six years after his victory over the Persians, he ended up with the equally surprising loss of that entire gold-plated army to those raiders. Destruction of that one Roman army was world changing. It’s why today’s Middle East and North Africa are Moslem instead of Christian.

Cycles of War

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

I was not impressed with Bob Scales’ attack on the AR, but I decided to go back to his Future Warfare Anthology, from when he was Commandant of the Army War College back in 2000. In the second chapter, he looks at cycles of war:

Signs foretelling how the defensive’s return to dominance might turn the cycles of war a third time began to appear as early as the closing days in Vietnam. A few laser-guided bombs destroyed targets that had previously required hundreds of unguided dumb bombs. In World War II, an average of 18 rounds was needed to kill a tank at a range of 800 yards. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the average was two rounds at 1,200 yards, and by Desert Storm one round at 2,400 yards.

The ability to see and strike deep using ground and aerial platforms served to expand the battlefield by orders of magnitude. What was once a theater area for a field army now became the area of operations for a division or a corps. Just as an army moving at two miles per hour could not cross a killing zone dominated by long-range, rapid-firing, rifled weapons in 1914, the precision revolution made it prohibitively expensive for an army moving at seven times that speed to cross an infinitely more lethal space a hundred times as large. Thus, in a conflict involving two roughly equal — or symmetrical — forces, evidence seems to show convincingly that the advantage goes to the defender.

Lars Andersen

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

Danish archer Lars Andersen has rediscovered the skills of combat archery:

The video has gone viral, but I can say I mentioned Andersen’s archery a couple years ago.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

Guntry Clubs

Monday, January 19th, 2015

The trend in shooting ranges is toward high-end guntry clubs:

The high-end ranges come as the $15 billion gun industry’s sales have more than doubled since 2005. Fears of regulations with a Democrat in the Oval Office have juiced much of that growth, which is now leveling out. But experts also say an industry shift away from hunting culture has helped spawn a new generation of firearms enthusiasts buying up sleekly designed handguns and AR-15 rifles for tactical shooting practice.

The average age of new target shooters is 33, while 47 percent live in urban or suburban areas, and 37 percent are female, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry. Shooters spend $10 billion a year on target shooting, including the cost of firearms, ammunition and range fees.

Those demographics and economics are attracting investors without firearms industry backgrounds; they see ranges as a new place to employ their cash. Elite Shooting Sports, a nearly $14 million project, has investors from the electronics industry. Real estate, finance, hotel and auto industry executives have backed other new ranges.

TechCrunch on TrackingPoint

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Techcrunch tries out the TrackingPoint rifle:

It was a location that was straight out of the opening scene of Iron Man. Sitting there was an AR-15 overlooking the endless desert expanse.

The targets sat 300 and 500 yards away and I was supposed to be able to hit them with the TrackingPoint Precision-guided Semi-Auto 5.56.

The company’s spokesperson, Anson Gordon, gave me the run-down, highlighting the basics of the system. It seemed easy enough. Designate the target with the red button, pull the trigger and find that dot again to fire the gun.

TrackingPoint Precision-guided Semi-Auto 5.56

It was that easy. I hit my mark on the first try. The system works as advertised.

Gordon explained the system that consists of four parts. Housed inside the scoop are the brains of the operation. It features a laser rangefinder, gyroscopes, an accelerometer, and a magnetometer. The shooter targets on an LCD screen. This system is linked to a custom trigger system, which also consists of the target designation button and zoom buttons housed on the trigger guard. Everything is powered from batteries housed in the stock and TrackingPoint encourages its shooters to use ammo loaded specifically for their guns.

The technology works like this: A shooter designates a target using a small button on the rifle’s trigger guide. This target can be moving up to 30 mph. Once the target is mapped, a Linux-based system housed in the optics casing calculates all the variables needed to hit that mark. When the shooter is ready to fire, they pull the trigger all the way back, yet the gun fires only when they line the crosshairs up with designated mark one more time. The system assesses the effects of gravity and Coriolis force. When the bullet leaves the barrel it always hits its mark. The shooter cannot miss.

Everything seen by the optics can be streamed live to a smartphone, tablet or even online. Either for coaching or sharing the hunting experience, TrackingPoint built a social shooting system.

This wasn’t cobbled together by hobbyists:

Founder John McHale sold his first company to Compaq in 1995 for $372 million. The deal netted McHale $24 million. In the following years McHale went on to found and sell companies to Cisco and 3Com. TrackingPoint is familiar ground for the serial entrepreneur.

Backed by $33 million in financing in part from McHale himself, the young Texas-based company released its first product in 2013. It cost $22,000 to $27,000. This model didn’t hit its mark. Early testers reported inconstant performance, yet videos demonstrating the smart gun went viral. While not perfect, this first model put the company on the board.

McHale recruited impressive talent to build the products. He stole engineers and executives from Remington, Amazon and enlisted the help of a design firm that had built software for Siemens and Motorola. Yet after the early unreliable reports, the CEO, Jason Schauble, previously a Remington vice president, was replaced by John Lupher who had led the development of the first gun.

The first product was clearly priced too high for average hunter or gun enthusiast. The company demonstrated the system to the US Military and later the Canadian military. Gordon told me that the U.S. Military has ordered six units and the Canadians five.

Yet the company kept developing the system and driving down the price. The system I tried, a modified AR-15, only cost $7500. This model has a range of a third of a mile and can track an object moving up to 10 miles an hour. Spend more money to net additional range, stopping power and the ability to hit faster moving targets.

TrackingPoint is about to introduce a .338TP called the Mile Maker, and as the name suggests, it can hit a target a mile away. Think about that. A person, with very little skill or training, will soon be able to accurately hit a target a mile away.

Charlie Hebdo Simulation

Friday, January 16th, 2015

What happens when you run an office-shooting simulation, with two tactical trainers, armed with ARs, as the shooters, and random volunteers as the victims? Watch the (NSFW) video:

In a previous simulation of a school shooting, they found that an armed defender was almost always able to either kill the attacker or to prevent them from entering the classroom and killing more students.

In this case, not so much. Two trained attackers, operating as a team, are more than a match for one untrained defender with a handgun — most of the time:

In one of the early scenarios, a relatively new shooter decided that instead of trying to confront the armed terrorists she would use her gun to cover her retreat and give her co-workers time to escape. This plan worked perfectly, and she was able to escape from the room while returning fire towards the attackers, allowing nearly everyone in the room to escape before she too turned tail and ran.

In the face of overwhelming numbers and firepower, it appears that this tactic using the firearm as a means to give everyone else time to escape is extremely effective. There was only one person who used this tactic, but they used it to great effect.

Gun Trouble

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

As an artillery commander in Vietnam, Bob Scales ran into some gun trouble:

In June of 1969, in the mountains of South Vietnam, the battery I commanded at Firebase Berchtesgaden had spent the day firing artillery in support of infantry forces dug into “Hamburger Hill.” Every person and object in the unit was coated with reddish-brown clay blown upward by rotor wash from Chinook helicopters delivering ammunition. By evening, we were sleeping beside our M16 rifles. I was too inexperienced — or perhaps too lazy — to demand that my soldiers take a moment to clean their guns, even though we had heard disturbing rumors about the consequences of shooting a dirty M16.

At 3 o’clock in the morning, the enemy struck. They were armed with the amazingly reliable and rugged Soviet AK?47, and after climbing up our hill for hours dragging their guns through the mud, they had no problems unleashing devastating automatic fire. Not so my men. To this day, I am haunted by the sight of three of my dead soldiers lying atop rifles broken open in a frantic attempt to clear jams.

He’s definitely haunted:

With a few modifications, the weapon that killed my soldiers almost 50 years ago is killing our soldiers today in Afghanistan. General Ripley’s ghost is with us still. During my 35 years in the Army, it became clear to me that from Gettysburg to Hamburger Hill to the streets of Baghdad, the American penchant for arming troops with lousy rifles has been responsible for a staggering number of unnecessary deaths.

That strikes me as ludicrous — and odd, given that he seems to understand that the problem was quickly fixed:

The “militarized” adaptation of the AR-15 was the M16. Militarization—more than 100 proposed alterations to supposedly make the rifle combat-ready—ruined the first batch to arrive at the front lines, and the cost in dead soldiers was horrific. A propellant ordered by the Army left a powder residue that clogged the rifle. Finely machined parts made the M16 a “maintenance queen” that required constant cleaning in the moisture, dust, and mud of Vietnam. In time, the Army improved the weapon—but not before many U.S. troops died.

Scales asserts that the next-generation rifle should be modular, higher-caliber, suppressed, and electronically sighted. That’s all reasonable, but his claim that the M4 is getting soldiers killed is rather over the top. Weapons Man especially takes issue with the big lie that the M4 got troops killed at Wanat, in Afghanistan:

The hardest thing to manage in the design of automatic weapons is waste heat. Cyclic rate is something that can be used for a short period, at a cost to the durability of the weapon. The men at the COPs around Wanat were left hanging for very long periods, with no meaningful air or indirect fire support, and had been given so little training in automatic fire that they didn’t know they were hazarding their weapons. There is no weapon on Earth that will hold up to firing thousands of rounds on cyclic rate without a barrel change or water cooling.. But we’ll go into that in Part 2. For now, let’s just see who it was that a failed M4 “killed.”

But when we explore the AARs and historical reports, asking, “Who exactly was killed by his weapon at Wanat?” we have a hard time putting a name to this blood libel.

Energy Sidearms

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Sci-fi stories often feature ray guns but rarely consider the nature of energy sidearms:

The main advantages of laser weapons include: weapon bolt travels at the speed of light, excellent accuracy, damage inflicted by the bolt can be dialed up or down, lasers have no recoil, and the “ammunition” (i.e., electricity required per bolt) is much more inexpensive than the equivalent conventional bullet.

The main disadvantages of laser weapons include: it still requires huge amounts of power, bullet ammo takes up far less space than power generators, it has far more of a waste heat problem than a conventional firearm, and the energy in a given bolt is severely reduced by dust, smoke, clouds, or rain.

Pretty much zero science fiction stories, movies, or TV shows mention that laser sidearms have the ability to permanently blind anybody closer to the weapon than the horizon. If the beam is in the frequencies that can penetrate the cornea of the eye, and the beam reflects off a door nob or other mirrored surface, anybody whose eyes get flashed by the beam is going to need a seeing-eye dog. There are more hideous details here.

Laser pistols don’t make sense though until you have a portable power source.

I got a kick out of this excerpt from Robert Heinlein’s 1942 story Beyond This Horizon, where Monroe-Alpha notices that Hamilton is “armed with something novel… and deucedly odd and uncouth”:

“What is it?” he asked.

“Ah!” Hamilton drew the sidearm clear and handed it to his host. “Woops! Wait a moment. You don’t know how to handle it — you’ll blow your head off. ” He pressed a stud on the side of the grip, and let a long flat container slide out into his palm. “There — I’ve pulled its teeth. Ever see anything like it?”

Monroe-Alpha examined the machine. “Why, yes, I believe so. It’s a museum piece, isn’t it? An explosive-type hand weapon?”

“Right and wrong. It’s mill new, but it’s a facsimile of one in the Smithsonian Institution collection. It’s called a point forty-five Colt automatic pistol.”

“Point forty-five what?”


“Inches… let me see, what is that in centimeters?”

“Huh? Let’s see — three inches make a yard and a yard is about one meter. No, that can’t be right. Never mind, it means the size of the slug it throws. Here… look at one.” He slid one free of the clip. “Damn near as big as my thumb, isn’t it?”

“Explodes on impact, I suppose.”

“No. It just drills its way in.”

“That doesn’t sound very efficient.”

“Brother, you’d be amazed. It’ll blast a hole in a man big enough to throw a dog through.”

Monroe-Alpha handed it back. “And in the meantime your opponent has ended your troubles with a beam that acts a thousand times as fast. Chemical processes are slow, Felix.”

“Not that slow. The real loss of time is in the operator. Half the gunfighters running around loose chop into their target with the beam already hot. They haven’t the skill to make a fast sight. You can stop ‘em with this, if you’ve a fast wrist.

Shooters make the same point about laser sights today.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

As early as the 16th century, French barber-surgeon Ambroise Paré noted that firearms caused noise-induced hearing loss. Today, shooters wear hearing protection, even when shooting relatively low-power guns, like pistols, alone, outdoors, but it wasn’t that long ago that a machine-gunner was supposed to tough it out. The military didn’t address the problem until a new technology made it impossible to ignore:

Even though World War II was a major contributing factor in the evolution of hearing conservation, it was not until after the war that the most significant event occurred. The Army Air Corps became a separate branch of service from the US Army and was renamed the US Air Force. Concurrently, this new branch of service introduced the jet engine aircraft to the military. No sound of that volume and duration had ever before been experienced. It was immediately noted that exposure to jet engine noise caused permanent hearing loss in a brief time. It also made verbal communication impossible and caused a series of physical manifestations described as “ultrasonic sickness.” Symptoms included earache, headache, excessive fatigue, irritability, and feelings of fear. Initially, it was believed that these symptoms were caused by inaudible, ultra-high-frequency sounds being generated by the jet engines. These symptoms, widely reported by air force maintenance crews, triggered a medical study that revealed that the illness was real; however, research attributed it to high levels of audible frequencies.

As a result, the US Air Force published the first military regulation on hearing conservation in 1948. AFR 160-3, “Precautionary Measures Against Noise Hazards,” is significant not only because it was the first enforceable regulation in the history of hearing conservation, but it also placed responsibility for the new program on the medical leadership at air force installations. Some of the preventive measures described in AFR 160-3 include limiting noise exposures in terms of overall sound levels and using cotton wads moistened with paraffin as hearing protection for exposures to hazardous noise.

In 1952, the Office of Naval Research reported the results of extensive interviews with hundreds of returning frontline soldiers who indicated that in combat, “sound was more important than all other means of equipment identification.” Combat-relevant sound sources included aircraft, mortar and artillery rounds, rifle and machine gunfire, and various other weapons. According to the report, “The men regarded the sound of enemy weapons as such an important means of identification that they rarely made use of captured equipment because it resulted in their being fired upon by friendly troops.”

Ordinary riflemen have only been issued hearing protection recently:

The combat arms earplug was introduced into the military at the start of the war in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom). However, as with most hearing protection, it was shunned for operational use and, at approximately $6.00 per pair, was considered prohibitively expensive by individual army units. The device allows soft sounds to flow unimpeded through a filter but blocks loud impulse sounds, such as an explosion or a rifle discharging. This allows effective communication, enables situational awareness, and provides protection from hazardous weapons firing and explosions. With units’ strength decreasing because of hearing loss, commanders began to recognize that hearing readiness is an extremely important factor of a unit’s performance in combat. All deploying soldiers were therefore issued the earplugs in 2004. In fact, the US Marine Corps was so convinced of the effectiveness of the combat arms earplug that it ordered over 20 000 pairs, thereby temporarily depleting the entire national stock in 2003.


The problem of protecting hearing while enhancing soldiers’ communication ability and situational awareness was solved with a new generation of hearing protection. This new category of equipment was called tactical communications and protective systems (TCAPS). In 2007, TCAPS were introduced into the army as a possible solution to an age-old problem. TCAPS compose a new category of electronic hearing protection that uses active noise reduction to soften noise and enhance speech discrimination while at the same time reducing noise by up to 40 dB. In addition to being light and rugged, TCAPS provide protection and let soldiers monitor environmental sounds, communicate, accurately gauge auditory distance, and localize sound sources without hindrance. Further, the devices allow radio connections specifically used by the military to be processed without interrupting the signal when the TCAPS are actively blocking environmental sounds. Although this category of device is still being studied and protocols for use are being created, it represents a new era in the history of hearing protection.

Real Athletes Throw Knives

Friday, December 19th, 2014

When I saw Christopher McDougall (Born to Run, Natural Born Heroes) claim that real athletes throw knives, I almost dismissed him, because throwing knives are cool, but they’re not at all practical — but he was way ahead of me:

Brewster came to my house one afternoon to teach me no-spin knife throwing. He mounted a slice of log on an easel, pulled out three knives, and — as he whipped them in from all kinds of angles and distance — demonstrated why no-spin might be the answer to one of the great riddles of modern anthropology. It goes like this:

Hitting a target is an amazing act of calculation, because often you’re not aiming where something is; you’re aiming where it isn’t. You have to factor angles, directions, and muscle force, all of it in a blink.

We’re the only animal that can pull it off, and once we did, it changed everything. Learning to throw transformed us from prey into predators. Better hunting gave us more food; more food grew us bigger brains. We also upgraded our software:

Throwing taught us the kind of sequential thought that would become the human imagination and spur the creation of language, technology, medicine, and art.
So explain this: If humans are such natural marksmen, why are the majority of us like Shaq at the free-throw line?

“Yeah, that was me,” Brewster says. “I had all the cards stacked against me. Never played baseball, no real sports background at all. First time I threw a knife, I failed miserably.” He’d seen videos of expert throwers, the kind who send knives flipping end-over-end toward showgirls, but when he tried to copy them, he clanged all over the place. Then one day while working construction, Brewster began monkeying around with a screwdriver. If he held his finger straight up along a screwdriver’s spine, he could fling it perfectly into the ground. Every time. A quick Internet search later, Brewster found himself in the midst of an entire tribe experimenting with the same throwback throw. There was Roy Hutchinson, aka “The Great Throwzini,” and Xolette, a high-school science teacher in Florida who likes to no-spin butter knives across her kitchen.

Brewster explains that the spin technique — the kind of throwing you see at every circus and Vegas show — is inherently flawed. It’s not natural. Spin is terrific for long tosses, and it can be supremely accurate, but only under artificial conditions. For a spin to work, both you and the target have to be stationary, and you can only be a precise number of steps away. Shift even a little and you shank.

But with no-spin, you cash in on the fact that your index finger is neurologically wired to your eyeballs. In fact, you can learn no-spin with startling ease. You’ll need a target, naturally. Any solid chunk of wood will do. I just sawed a round slice off the end of a log and bolted it to an old picnic table turned on its side and braced with a two-by-four. (So easy, it almost took me longer to write it than do it.)

Next up: your blades. One of the beauties of no-spin is that just about anything will do. Steak knives, butter knives, screwdrivers, metal chopsticks, nails — if it’s got a point, you can fling it. For ease and safety, though, Brewster recommends a tempered-steel knife that won’t shatter or feel weird in your hand. He makes his own by hand (and sells them at and brought me a set of three of the simple black shanks he calls North Wind.

The best place to start is so close to the target you could almost reach out and touch it. “The nearer you are, the less you’ll try to overpower the throw,” Brewster explains. “You’ll let the knife sail on its own.” For your first throws, face the target slightly in profile with your left foot forward (opposite for lefties). Then remember these four steps:

  1. GRIP the knife lightly, with your index finger straight up.
  2. EXTEND your arm back and high over your head.
  3. Push your ELBOW forward, not your hand.
  4. RELEASE when the knife passes your ear and the point is still aimed at the sky.

As soon as you get the feel (and don’t be astonished if it only take two or three throws) you can begin stepping back, adding distance each time and experimenting with angles. With a little practice, you’ll soon be letting fly the way your ancestors did: fast, on the move, from any direction.