No-Experience-Necessary Board Breaking




About: 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 founder and manager for Autodesk and just finished building o...

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.***

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Step 1: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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    171 Discussions

    scott f

    9 years ago on Step 10

    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.


    4 years ago on Step 4

    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.

    1 reply

    5 months ago on Step 9

    Heck, I'm 60 and I break 8 plus. Im breaking wood in our school talent show tomorrow. I have 36 boards and will use maybe 5-6 stations.


    Tip 1 year ago on Step 9

    To break 2 boards (or more) separate the boards with a small piece of wood. We use hexagonal pencils so they don't roll. Same process otherwise.

    Steve Colebrook

    9 years ago on Step 10

     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.

    14 replies

    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.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.)


    Reply 1 year ago

    I was also a tang soo do(e), 1-2nd Blk. My assistant is an 8 y/o Black Belt. We are teaching at the Sikh Study Hall Gurdwara in Stone Mtn, Ga. I was under Ben G. Perry, also at Chuck Norris studio while he was with Bruce Lee in LA '72. Began in Hawaii in '69. 0Turned down by Mike Moore in '82 for being too dangerous. Nick named Level Six.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Broke 4 2x4s that were used as a spacer for lumber stacked on each other without any space, it was a karate chop and as they all broke they flew everywher
    and it was a little painful. People wstching found it hard to believe.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

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


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 10

    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.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    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.

     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.