An Axe-Throwing Club Is Coming to Kensington

We take an early look at Urban Axes, which plans to bring the sport of competitive axe-throwing to Philadelphia.
A near-bullseye throw at Urban Axes

My almost bullseye at the future site of Urban Axes in Kensington.

I must look stupid.

I have this fear a lot, but this time I’m sure of it: My left foot is forward, and my weight is all on my back foot. My hands are in front of me, and I’m trying to remember to keep my wrists at a 90-degree angle. Oh, and I’m holding a 1.5-pound axe. I pull my hands back behind my head, thrust them forward and release.

Thunk. The axe handle hits the wooden board 10 feet in front of me, then bounces harmlessly to the floor. “Maybe you actually need to move up,” my instructor says. “And keep those wrists straight!” Despite my errors, I think I’m getting the hang of it.

I’m at Urban Axes, the new axe-throwing space in Kensington a few blocks from the York-Dauphin El stop in the former Sazz Vintage warehouse. My instructor is Lily Cope, the former executive director at Cook who took a job as “axe master general” at Urban Axes earlier this year.

Four friends — two in Philly, two in Toronto — founded Urban Axes and plan to open in late July or early August, if the place gets through zoning. (It needs to switch from industrial to commercial zoning.) When it gets going, Urban Axes will hold private events and run leagues. Through it all, an Urban Axes team member will offer tips and make sure everything is running smoothly and safely.

Axe-throwing has no doubt been done in the woods for centuries, but the sport version of it traces its roots to Toronto. As Cope tells it, the founders were inspired by the dozen or so axe-throwing clubs in the Canadian city. They played the sport up north and decided Philadelphia would be the best spot for what they say is the first one in the United States.

It’s basically a giant version of darts. Players compete in three rounds with five throws each. Scoring is 1 point for the outermost circle, 3 points for the middle circle and 5 points for a bullseye. (Throwers can also score 7 points by aiming for two small x’s in the corners.) The winner is the person with the most points at the end.

I continue to feel stupid as I throw, but it’s actually pretty simple. I eventually start to get the axe stuck in the board on a consistent basis. (Well, consistent-ish.) My aim still isn’t great, but I bet with a bit more practice I’d end up doing OK. This is a new thing I’d never done before, but it’s fun! I could see getting into it.

That is the challenge for Cope. Not only does she have to introduce the sport of axe throwing to Philadelphia, she has to hire “AXEpert coaches” and teach them to show customers how it works. This isn’t a bar where you can hire someone who already knows how to work in a bar. This is an entirely new venture.

“In Canada, most of the places training people are hiring people who have been doing it,” Cope says. “Here, I’m starting from zero.” The jobs section of Urban Axes’ website notes that “the ideal candidate LOVES throwing axes (don’t worry if you’ve never done it – you will LOVE it!).” Cope says she has gotten two resumes from people who actually do have experience throwing an axe.

Urban Axes won’t sell food or alcohol, but participants will be able to bring in food, beer wine. Cope says that, when she’s played in Toronto, participants are kept so busy that there’s not really much time to eat or drink during a session. At Urban Axes, private events last about three hours and are expected to cost $35 a person. An eight-week league is going to be about $120. (These prices may change.)

The main question people have is about safety. While throwing an axe can be dangerous, doing it in a fenced-off area makes any chance of an errant throw striking someone virtually nonexistent. In the history of Canadian axe-throwing chain BATL, there have only been three minor injuries.

“If someone wants to kill someone with an axe, they can go to Home Depot and buy an axe,” Cope says. “We’re not selling or supplying people with axes. Once you do it and you see it, and you know that everyone is trained, everyone is supervised, you can tell it’s safe. If you’re drunk, you can’t come in here. It’s very well-regulated so that no one’s going to get hurt.”

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