Introduction: No-Experience-Necessary Board Breaking

Picture of No-Experience-Necessary Board Breaking

I've always wanted to take karate lessons for basically just one reason - the board breaking. I never really understood what happened to one's body that allowed them to gain the super powers that enabled the average hand to break the formidable, structurally sound, wooden board.  To this day I'm still yet to take my first karate class, but I have been able to answer that question none the less...and, the answer is...absolutely nothing!  Board breaking is pretty darn easy, and in my opinion, just about anyone can do it.

I asked a friend of mine who IS a karate master if we could break boards one day.  She said sure, not asking if I had any karate experience...hmm, I guess she trusts me. 

After rounding up some appropriate wooden boards and performing a few of those awkward slow motion "practice hits" where I visualized my hand going through the board, I was breaking boards left and right, at home just for fun, with friends at parties, and with the other members of the Instructables team at work. 

I find the process of breaking boards to be far more pleasing than "hitting a pillow", which was my mothers suggestion of what I should do when I was a kid and wanted to break something.  The rush from breaking the board never gets old, and when you can one-up other inexperienced board breakers by adding second, and dare I say third boards into the mix, well, the fun just never has to stop.

***Please use this Instructable at your own risk and thoroughly consider this warning.  Although this Instructable encourages board breaking, and the author of this Instructable promotes all forms of board breaking by people with absolutely zero experience, all board breakers must understand that the risk of hurting yourself is real, probable, likely, and imminent.  If you break boards with the kind of limited understanding of technique and safety that I have, and share in this Instructable, please be prepared for the possible outcome of broken fingers, wrists, hands, elbows, arms and heads.***

Step 1: Get Some Wood

Picture of Get Some Wood

Wide pine boards are the most readily available, inexpensive, and consistent type of wooden boards to break.

Pine is a pretty soft wood, so it's a good wood to mess around with, if like me, you don't have any experience with this sort of thing.  if you're looking for more of a challenge, try breaking a harder type of wood like oak, ash or walnut.

So, head on down to Home Depot and pick up a long length (96" for some real board breaking action) of 1" thick by 12" wide pine shelving.  Crosscut the shelving into smaller lengths so that your finished boards are around 10" x 12".  The size isn't crucial - anything in the ballpark will work.

Remember, actual dimensions of milled lumber are less then what they are sold for, so, just to be clear, the shelving that reads 1" thick on the tag, will actually be 3/4" thick when you measure it with a ruler. 

This is an important point, since, if you're milling your own wood and attempt to karate chop through a 1" thick piece of wood that's actually 1" thick, it might be significantly more difficult.

Step 2: Get Set: the Board Holder

Picture of Get Set: the Board Holder

The person holding the board is just about as important as the person breaking it - try holding your own board and breaking it - very difficult to do - need a mutant third hand!

Hold the board out in front of you as tightly as you can.  I've experimented with holding the grain both up and down and left to right, and as best I can tell, it doesn't make a difference either way.

Work with the person who is breaking the board to find the right angle and height that's comfortable for them.  I've found that holding the board at chest height, with just an ever so slight upwards angle is best. 

Next, lock your elbows and put your dominant foot in front and get ready to take a blow. 

Finally, make sure that your fingers are curled around to the front hitting surface of the board as little as possible. Even though the board should be around 12" x 10", strikes don't always land in the dead center, and as the "try not to get hurt" video in step 10 shows, it's entirely possible to get a smashed finger.

Step 3: Get Set: the Board Breaker

Picture of Get Set: the Board Breaker

This is the most important step, but also the simplest.

Put your dominant foot forward and towards the board holder.  Then, using your dominant hand/arm, hold your hand so that your fingertips are pointing towards the sky.  The goal is to hit the board with the heel of your hand, delivering the blow with the soft fleshy parts of your palm, and not at all with your fingers.  See the detail photos below.

Move your arm through the motion a few times so that your body can get used to the movement you are about to execute.

Once you feel like you've warmed up a bit and can visualize the heel of your hand hitting the center of the board and breaking through, pull your arm back one final time and gather your strength getting ready to break the board.

Step 4: Break One Board

Picture of Break One Board

When both the board holder and the board breaker are set and ready, tense your arm and move your hand forward with as much force as you can and break through the board as if you were going to punch something that's just a few inches behind the board itself and deliver the strike. 

This is one of those moments that's hard to put into words and much easier to see.  Check out the video to get an idea of how the whole thing comes together and how simple and easy it can be.

Step 5: Experience the Rush

Picture of Experience the Rush

Before you know it your hand will have impacted the board, broken it, and passed through to the other side with surprising ease and effectiveness.

Breaking a board is pretty exciting and gives you a nice rush.  I felt like I had the strength of a thousand bears and that my arms and hands we're actually deadly weapons!

Sarah is feeling the rush too.

Step 6: Screams and Kill Faces

Picture of Screams and Kill Faces

If for some reason you're having trouble breaking the board, it's likely that you're just not committing enough to hitting it.  

Committal is the key I think. 

In order to increase your level of commitment, try making a "kill face" as you're striking the board to increase your focus and summon more force. 

If you still need even more encouragement, try releasing a small scream, yell, or inspirational word of your choice as you deliver the blow.  

"Hi-ya" comes to mind...

Step 7: Babies Can Do It

Picture of Babies Can Do It

As I said before, you'll be amazed at how easy it is to break a wooden board.  Everyone who tried to break a board in the Instructables office was able to do it, regardless of size, gender, and arm strength. 

It's so easy, that even babies can do it!

Step 8: Other Methods

Picture of Other Methods

Once you've mastered simple board breaking with your hand, it could be time to try some other methods. 

There are ways to break boards with kicks, hand chops, elbows, knees, heads, and just about any body part you can imagine.  Since I'm no expert though, I'll leave the explanation of these more difficult methods to a professional.

The reverse elbow blow pictured in the third photo below seemed to be the next best and easiest way to break one board.  After consulting with my karate expert friend, I learned that the reverse elbow blow is actually more powerful then the heel of the hand blow, but it's just not quite as much fun or attractive, so I'm still sticking with the hand.

Luckily, if you've bought plenty of pine boards, you have enough wood lying around that you can try them all.

Step 9: Break Two Boards

Picture of Break Two Boards

One way to increase the level of difficulty when breaking boards is to break more than just a single board.  

So far, Eric N was the only person to successfully break more then just one board at Instructables HQ.

I have tried breaking two boards with my hand several times, but so far I haven't been able to get both boards to break. 

Be warned, breaking two boards really does hurt - evidence of the pain can be seen in the video below and in the "try not to hurt yourself" video in the next step.

Step 10: Try Not to Hurt Yourself

Picture of Try Not to Hurt Yourself

As I wrote into the warning in the intro step, if you break boards with zero experience, it's likely that you'll eventually hurt yourself.  I sure did.

To minimize injuries, practice just breaking one board at a time before moving on to two, and make sure that you're breaking boards that are large enough to protect your fingers.  The smaller the board, the more likely it will be that your fingers will accidentally get whacked when your partner delivers their blow.

Furthermore, if you're going to start breaking multiple boards, or delivering other types of blows, consult more than just this overly simplified Instructable.  I wrote this up because I wanted to share how invigorating and exciting breaking boards can be.  It's by no means meant to be a complete guide that will enable you to become a karate master.  For that, I think you've actually got to take the class.


scott f (author)2009-12-03

The direction of the grain does matter, you want the wood to break around the hand or foot.  A board will always break along the grain lines.  Holders should never be holding the end grain of the wood, always the sides of the boards. 

If you are hitting with a palm strike, the grain should be vertical.  For a chop, the grain goes the same direction as the hand.

Yes, one board is easy, but you can still get hurt.  I wouldn't do more than one without proper instruction.

Steve Colebrook (author)2009-12-03

 The trick to more than one board is to put 'spacers' between them usually 5mm or 7mm-ish. Try challenging an "expert" with two boards flush togrther... they wont even attempt it.

Nathan_ (author)Steve Colebrook2009-12-04

Are you kidding me? I've done Taekwondo for 7 years and I break three boards somewhat regularly with no spacers. Pics or it didn't happen? Covered.

In both pictures I weigh just over 120 pounds. Breaking three boards with a palm heel, elbow strike, or hammer fist isn't hard for someone who has trained for a while.. I train with other people that are a lot better than I am -- one guy did a 6 board break a couple years past.

It's cool if you want to inform people on something. A lot of people do use spacers. It makes breaking two boards almost as easy as one. But please don't claim that an "expert" can't. I could do three 11"x12" boards when I was 15.

MrMystery96 (author)Nathan_2009-12-09

as a second degree black belt in tang soo do (sister style to tae kwon do), i agree with you. it's a fairly simple thing breaking a board. placement, force, inertia, etc, all play into it. I've done plenty of routine breaks, and at most, i think i did six 1" boards without spacers. and i'm not completely sure but i think most of the people here have the spacers concept backwards. adding spacers should increase diffficulty in the break as the energy is being disperesed through the first board, and is severely limited into the following boards. In any case, this whole mess is a stereotypical "contest" if you may. (oh and by the way, i'm 13.)

MikeV37 (author)MrMystery962015-12-06

Tang Soo!!

theRIAA (author)Nathan_2009-12-10

That first picture is awesome, the two little kids in training getting blown away lol

sway (author)theRIAA2010-07-19

Those 2 little kids are black belts. I can't be sure but when of them appears to be 2nd degree. Although the stripes may indicate his progress towards 2nd degree.

quesoman (author)Nathan_2010-06-22

At least someone has some knowledge of martial arts here. At the age of 10 i was a 2nd degree black belt. i could be 3rd or 4th now but i joinded scouts so now im too buisy.

sneasle (author)Nathan_2009-12-06

i did karate for many many years, and nathan is quite correct, we routinely do more then one board, back to back, with no spacers.

I think the most I ever went through was four back to back, that did hurt.

Now, when you get to brick and concrete, spacers become much more common.

Frankly, I find it amazing that this has gotten as much praise as it has. It is very, very easy to hurt yourself doing this. There are many things that go into a proper break, board selection, grain direction, hand formation, hand placement, and proper form and movement. Yes, it can seem rather simple, but doing it right carries a lot less risk.

While pine is normally very easy to break, if you pick the wrong board, you can easily break your hand. Sap/moisture content is very important, especially for the inexperienced and for multi-board breaks. A board that is too wet or has too much sap will fight you all the way. I've had boards with so much sap/moisture that my instructors had a hard going through them. The trick to a board like that is to throw it in the microwave for a little while. Notice, I said a little while. If you leave it in too long, you drop the moisture content to a point so low that the person can snap it in half while holding that, which will kill the 'cool' factor pretty fast.

I have not seen anyone do any other type of wood, but please inform yourself before you try this at home.

d2j5 (author)sneasle2009-12-09

if you like this you should see the people who can break an iron rod with their head O_o. i saw some people do it on t.v. and it takes years or practise and training. im sorry but i forget the training method but i think the show  i saw it on is called fight quest? im not shure though.

I have seen an orange belt break two boards flush.

pipsqueakboy (author)urtlesquirt2012-08-08

Just as a point of reference, you know orange belt and most of the ones in the middle wern't the originals, right? They were added when the martial arts moved west, and people thought they wernet making enough progress so they added a bunch of belts in the middle to make it look like you are more successful. Just as a point of reference, and this is only true for some martial arts. Others developed with the additional belts.

Julia_mother (author)urtlesquirt2012-05-09

Isn't orange belt a low rank? Like 2nd or 3rd?

Goes to show, no experience needed to break

 How thick are these boards you are talking about (not the spacers) because I had to punch through 3 for my Red Belt with no spacers.

nunchucker (author)hitman_kiwi2012-02-04

when we do gradings we use plasic re-breakables that slide back together because they are much more consistant than wooden boards, come in four thicknesses and the thick ones are often harder to break than wood. wooden baords we use for demos because it looks more impressive.

Julia_mother (author)nunchucker2012-05-09

Feb 4, 2012. 9:17 PMnunchucker says:
when we do gradings we use plasic re-breakables that slide back together because they are much more consistant than wooden boards, come in four thicknesses and the thick ones are often harder to break than wood. wooden baords we use for demos because it looks more impressive.

I had allowed my husband to read that^^
He is into carpentry/cabinet making for over 30 years.

He said there is no possible way that the thicker re-breakable is harder to break, or harder than wood.

He said it frankly:
If they use a thicker re-breakable, simply try the same thickness in wood. The wood would be harder than the re-breakable.

Also, he had said that the wooden boards have to be the right size.
Too short, it wont flex a little and thus is harder to break.

He said it is all in the selection of wood and sizes

sway (author)Steve Colebrook2010-07-19

Many people have already pointed out how completely and utterly wrong you are. Still, I have to add my voice, being a woman who can break 3 boards no problem NO SPACERS. I'm not a black belt, I was able to do that as a blue belt. Please don't present your information as fact when you are clearly wrong.

Julia_mother (author)sway2012-04-30

I think these boards were "hand-selected" per the softness of the wood, the widest of grain, the specialize dimensions. Spacers make it easy, but proper material selection is a must

Thanks... Thin pieces of dry wood... wide grain,,, sure... Get ANY of these black or blue belt to break a piece of one inch thick Australian red gum or... better still, two, I'll be surprised. One and a half inch pine perhaps??? Or... two pieces of any wood, held together say one inch each, grain crossed and I hold them??? Videos please,,,

Of course there is a "trick" to it. The problem with some martial arts/artists, they have to show "credibility" or "ability" and not knowing the "physics" behind what they do, they somewhat stroke a ego by these demonstrations.

Not all martial arts/artists perform breaking (misrepresentation) to demonstrate their skills

quesoman (author)Steve Colebrook2010-06-22

No. sorry but your wrong. im not even an expert and i slammed my foot through 2 peices of wood with no spacers. would have done 3 but we didnt have enough

Grafx4Life (author)2015-07-06

I do want to try this. Just started back in kung fu (though I have 7 years experience from a different teacher) and got the speech about training, dedication, and conditioning, but it was an annual board breaking event where the head instructor bought lumber and bricks and only adults of a certain level or higher were able to try out. Didn't go this year but I should be ready next year. Anyway, I was at a retreat as a teenager and it was one of those self esteem building events to break boards, so it doesn't take a lot of training (given a half inch to 3/4" board) but I'd love to see the physics and force calculation for this. It is probably not uncommon for a normal adult to hit with enough force to break a board if they put enough weight behind it. My mother is now a kickboxing instructor and she said my 4 year old should be able to break a half inch board.

chriskarr (author)2015-02-16

Step 4: Just saying, in the last segment of the video in this step, the BOARD-HOLDER received a cut near his inner-elbow. You can see the blood begin to gush out of the wound. For anyone planning on attempting this, it's something to mention to the person holding the board. Otherwise...well, you're just being an inconsiderate friend.

No offense intended to those doing this prior to reading this comment - just something I noticed.

Ceddy17 (author)2014-06-20

Boards don't hit back!

scoochmaroo (author)2013-09-13

Still one of the best things I did during my time at Instructables.

67_bluemustang (author)2013-08-04

Breaking boards is a science, anyone can break pine but, try breaking from 1 inch away! That's where martial arts comes in. Also the open palm is the easiest to break boards. Breaking boards with your knuckles or other parts of bone requires conditioning of the bone or you will end up hurting your self. Kids under 19 shouldn't use anything but open palm, using knuckles or bone can destroy growth plates!

MikeCicc (author)2012-08-09

This video is amazing.

urtlesquirt (author)2011-04-29

This insults me. I have broken boards before (in tae kwon do), and you definately need expierience. You need a good technique too.

Julia_mother (author)urtlesquirt2012-04-30

It only insults those who believe it is a test of skill, which it is not because anyone can do it

urtlesquirt (author)Julia_mother2012-05-09

With practice.

Julia_mother (author)urtlesquirt2012-05-09

No practice. it take a little pysche mentality.

My daughter and I did this is my husband's wood shop

He shown us how

No practice or martial arts for us

Fred the Penguin (author)2009-12-13

I did 10 2cm thick boards at my black belt grading, and that was after everything else.

I did 2 inches of solid wood at my black belt testing. then again at my 2nd degree black bet testing.

Julia_mother (author)quesoman2012-05-01

If you were in the US, standard lumber does not come 2 inches thick. Besides, wood isn't that "solid"

Julia_mother (author)quesoman2012-04-30

My husband works in carpentry. I bet you could not break the 2 inch boards he would provide you.

KGood (author)2010-05-18

This is really just simple physics. To say you need to take any sort of martial arts class to do this is pretty inaccurate. At most you'd need to learn a technique which, as seen in the videos, is rudimentary. Even then, you don't need more than a quick physics lesson.

Let's start with the idea of the force. You want to put as much force as you can into the boards. In the instructions you stated that you should hit with the heel of your hand...which works, but it is more efficient to strike with your knuckles or use a chop to try to strike with that bone at the base of your pinky, because the skin and fat tissue of the palm increase the time over which the action takes place, which is key; however it's probably a lot more painful :P

Next, the stance: This does matter because you are trying to build up as much force and momentum to transfer to the board. It is also key that the person holding the board locks his/her arms so the momentum is not transfered to them. Keeping the foot corresponding to the striking hand forward, you want to move your arm as quickly as possible and even attempt to lock your arm at contact if possible. Now, martial arts instructors tell you to follow through, which is wrong. When you follow through, you increase the duration of the strike, reducing the momentum transfered (sorry that I'm just throwing around terms, but you get the idea). In fact, upon contact you should immediately jerk your arm backwards. Fighters (boxing and MMA) use this technique for the same purpose. A long punch to the face hurts, but I guarantee a quick jab to the face would hurt a lot more.

I hope this helps! It's cool to think that almost every principal of martial arts is gained from physics. If you understand physics, you can probably excel at martial arts.

cerealfreak (author)KGood2010-05-23

Whilst an understanding of physics is very helpful and used throughtout most martial arts training a good physcist does not necessarily make a good martial artist. Martial arts takes skill and having the knowledge doesn't always transfer to practice.

Julia_mother (author)cerealfreak2012-04-30

I agree and disagree. A good physicist can break boards, but may not have fighting skill. But a good martial artist can have good physics and may or may not have good fighting skill

Julia_mother (author)KGood2012-04-30

From my research, physics is what it is all about. For example; the BBC had a documentary called "Shaolin Physics" where so-called feats from so-called monks were examined to be those of physics, and nothing more

turpie (author)KGood2010-08-23

The reason we tell students to follow through is because otherwise they stop at the surface of the board and don't break it. This is also important if the board holder allows any give as you need to get past that as well.
I can see how the jerk backwards would add to the "explosiveness" of the strike and will have to try that myself.
Cheers, Paul (Taekwondo 1st gup)

Julia_mother (author)2012-04-30

I think that board breaking or other martial art demos like this is fake. I think it really is not a test of skill. Nor do I believe that it requires any training. I am going to tell you why-

My 11-year-old daughter is enrolled in dance. She has a 12-year-old “puppy love” boyfriend. I say “puppy love” because they knew each other since infant daycare and they are not seriously in love.

Her so-called boyfriend is enrolled in Karate. Now, I cannot mention the type of Karate because I do not know the differences.

He was preparing for his next level or belt thingy. He had to practice hitting a plastic board that could be re-fastened. Upon his next level test, he was to break a real board. We were invited to visit his test.

After the arrival of all in attendance, his instructor informed everyone not to try this at home and without proper training. His instructor stated that it was a great test of skill and had required much training to accomplish.

All of the Karate students performed their breaks well and past their tests. Afterwards, we were mingling among students and visitors alike. The instructor approached us and somewhat like a used car salesman, suggested that I enroll my daughter in his Karate school.

He said, with much training, she could get the skill to perform the breaks just like those who have done this day. My daughter is a bold person at such a young age; she had asked one of the Karate instructors if she could break one right now. The Karate instructor told her no and said that she needed much training and skill to be able to do it. Later, without knowing, the Head Instructor asked if anyone would dare to try the simplist of boards

Being the rebel she is, before anyone could stop her, she went up to a advance board that was still set-up, she brought down her hand really fast, and with a yell, she easily broke the board.

Sensing others who witness this in awe, immediately the previous Karate instructor removed the wood, its set up, and told us to get off the “floor”, the area of practice. As we were leaving, I told the instructor that the breaking thingy was not a test of skill and it did not require much training. As all there knew this to be true.

Later, the head instructor would try to convince us to enroll. Stating that my daughter had potential

Superhobo40 (author)2011-06-06

The one thing I would add is for the holder to turn their head away so they don't get a friendly flying board to the face.

urtlesquirt (author)2011-04-29

NICE AXE KICK!!!!!!!!!!

urtlesquirt (author)2011-04-29

Allways lock out the arms. bend your knees, so if it doesnt break, shock is absorbed. That authors stance is pretty bad too. you hold it on the top and bottom.

bowmaster (author)2011-01-27

Here's a site that has instructions on how to train so you can break a concrete slab:

spectacular (author)2010-11-26

The expression on your face... i died laughing

anibioman (author)2010-10-31

that is a really cute baby

duder145 (author)2010-08-12


knex_mepalm (author)2010-08-03

20 piece ( you know I can't remember the word but something like 20 pieces glued together) plywood gave my brain so much strain, I had to think of an excuse for them to help me at a hospital, and I didn't want to sound like those insane people.

quesoman (author)2010-06-22

for breaking boards with your foot just swing it up and back down ontop of the board. when breaking boards dont stop at the board stop at the floor. cuz if u hit the floor u know you broke the board. its going to hurt so face the fact and break the dang board. i have 6 years of rigourous taekwondo training, so i know what im talking about.

About This Instructable




Bio: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs ... More »
More by noahw:How to Send Art Into Outer SpaceCómo soldar意式烤面包食谱
Add instructable to: