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Got an Ax to Grind?

February 21, 2019

here is a place where you can throw axes at a wall.

Finally, right?

This local version of “game of throwns” is called Half Axe. and it’s the latest feather in the cap at Apex entertainment complex in Marlboro.

Half Axe is a 3,000-square-foot game room that features only a single activity -- ax-throwing.

The sensation is sweeping across America since gaining popularity around the world, particularly in Canada, where it began.

It’s exactly what it sounds like -- throwing axes at a wooden target 15 feet away. Half Axe is one of only two locations in eastern Massachusetts that features the ax-tion, along with Urban Axes in Somerville. Both venues opened last year -- Half Axe in March and Urban Axes in December -- and have been growing in popularity ever since.

Half Axe owner Derek Johnson estimates that more than 1,000 customers per month come in to bury the hatchet ... into the wooden target. That figure includes league play, with about 30 members competing every Wednesday night for a chance to advance to the national championships.

Play is akin to darts, except that competitors throw at the same time as their opponents, not in alternation, as in darts or horseshoes or cornhole. Points are awarded based on how central the ax lands on the 4-foot-by-4-foot wooden board. Dead center is 5 points, with 3 points and 1 point if the ax sticks in the outer circles. Each round is a five-throw aggregate of points. Each match is best 2-out-of-3 rounds.

The foul line works opposite of bowling or basketball. While in those two sports, crossing the line is a violation, in ax-throwing, players only need to have one foot behind the line in the beginning of the motion. Then they stride forward and release the ax in mid-stride, like a quarterback throwing a football.

There is no gender advantage in the game because velocity and distance are not factors in the outcome.

Ax-throwing is not just for league members and angry spouses. Anyone can walk in or schedule a session and -- after a brief tutorial on safety, rules and technique -- start tossing the 1.5-pound implement.

Before long, players may develop lumberjack-like prowess with the blade.

Samantha McGrath of Salem is a rookie-league member, halfway through her first season.

“I first tried it at the medieval fair a few years ago,” she said. “I really liked it and was very happy that this place opened up near me.”

Both Urban Axes and Half Axe are common destinations for corporate outings, birthday parties and other group events, although Half Axe does not yet have its liquor license. Most people who attend these functions have never thrown an ax before.

Scott Slack, VP of Marketing and Support for Cranel Company of Worcester, brought a group of employees for a night of blade-slinging.

“We came for some team-building,” he said, admitting that he and his co-workers had never thrown axes before. “It is an interesting group activity. And a lot of fun.”

Cranel booked four of the 12 lanes, and Johnson recommends scheduling ahead of time.

“We welcome walk-ins but are very booking-focused,” he said adding that his small tribe of employees is in constant maintenance mode. “We replace the target boards every day. And we recycle as much as we can.”

Over in Somerville, at Urban Axes, there is also copious league involvement. And all league activity and results are fed into a motherboard that tracks player statistics and calculates national rankings. Urban also features group activities and nights out for bachelorette parties or just competitive circles of friends looking for some common ground of skill level.

Nearly everyone who walks through the door has the same level of ax-perience -- none. But Urban Axes serves alcoholic beverages, so there’s that.