Tag Archives: improvised weapons

One of my characters has a touch of skill at fighting with a machete. How is this better or worse than other weapon choices, and do you have any tips for writing those fight-scenes?

Well, the machete isn’t really a weapon. It’s a tool designed to clear brush and branches, not kill people or animals. It can do that, but it’s just not designed for that.

The biggest issue with the machete, and this comes directly from it being a tool, is it has a very telegraphed strike pattern. That means you have to draw back, and then strike. This normally isn’t a problem when you’re dealing with trees, or even animals, but against a human opponent, that tells them what you’re going to do next, and is a huge disadvantage.

This is one of the reasons that machetes end up as a popular weapon choice on films. Proper use is going to result in very visible, telegraphed, strikes, that are easy for the audience to follow.

Like I said earlier, you can kill people with a machete, but it’s more in the range of, “I need to remove someone from my environment, and I don’t have a good weapon to do that, but I’ve got this thing. Eh, close enough.”

It’s safe to categorize it with other non-weapons you can still use to ruin someone’s day, like sledgehammers and nail guns, but if your character has the option, they’d be better off with a bayonet or combat knife.


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Hey! I may have asked this before (memory is fuzzy), but how effective would a chain be as a weapon? Not one with spikes or blades, but just a length of thick chain (the kind you’d use bolt cutters to cut) about the length of your average guy’s arm, with a padlock at the end?

I could have sworn we’d handled this one. But, I can’t find it. Anyway, chain by itself will make for a fairly effective improvised whip. Adding a padlock, or any other solid weight to one end would turn it into a kind if improvised flail. In both cases, you’re talking about weapons that can do a fair amount of damage.

With chains there’s enough size variation that you could end up with links too light to do anything meaningful. If it’s a chain that was used to lock a gate, or even just a bike, then it should be heavy enough to inflict some nasty injuries, even without the lock.

Without a weight, I’m not sure if arm length is long enough to really build momentum easily. But, when you add a padlock, and that stops being an issue. The weight (it doesn’t have to be a padlock) turns the weapon into a kind of flail. At that point the flexible portion (chain in your case, but you could just as easily use electrical cable, nylon rope, or any other flexible material on hand) is only there to generate momentum, which you deliver via the weight. Arm length should be enough to seriously injure or kill.

Again, it’s possible you’d end up with a padlock too small to do anything serious, but a medium lock, and even some bike locks, will be large enough to wreck someone, once you get them moving fast enough. As with the chains, there’s a lot of variety, but any lock
intended for commercial or industrial use should be solid enough to work

Most padlocks can easily take more abuse than you’d be inflicting from using it as a flail, so that’s not a problem. These were designed to take a few kicks from an angry bystander, or being backed over by a truck, so connecting with someone’s skull isn’t going to be much more strenuous.

As far as I know, there isn’t much sophisticated about using these things.

If it’s long enough, you hold it with both hands, about shoulder’s width apart, and generate momentum with the leading hand. Most quick strikes are dealt that way, but you can release the leading hand, or adjust the grip on the fly to extend the reach.

The distance between the weight and the leading hand will directly control how fast it generates momentum. It’s easier to get it moving, then ease your leading hand back down before striking, than generating momentum using the full length of chain.

Your primary goal is to strike with the weight, rather than with the flexible portion. If you fail that, the weight will wrap around anything you connect with, as its reach allows. Tangling it around your foe’s neck or weapon isn’t a problem, but tangling it around a steam pipe or clothesline is a big one.

If it’s not long enough for a two handed grip (arm’s length wouldn’t be), you hold it with one hand. (Possibly running it across the palm, over the back of the hand, and through the palm again to aid with grip.) You then generate momentum with that wrist, since your off hand doesn’t do much at all. Because you’ve only got one hand on the weapon, you can’t regulate it’s momentum or reach, and need to account for those with every swing. It’s also slightly harder to protect it against being tangled, as a result.


Would a heavy, metal music stand be a good weapon in an impromptu fight in a school music room?

So far as improvised weapons go? It meets the criteria. It’s in easy reach and kind of dangerous, without being too ponderous. It’s not an ideal weapon by any stretch of the imagination. But, if that’s what you have, then that’s what you have.

You might want to also read Michi’s post here: about picking improvised weapons, and there’s the improvised weapon tag.


Would a strong hit to the spine kill someone if they got hit from behind? I’ve been wondering because I have a character who sneaks up from behind someone with a bat and knocks them in their lower back.

A hit like that is, at it’s best case and without a freak accident, most likely going to paralyze them (or just damage the spine). The paralysis will be from the waist down, what gets paralyzed and how long it’s paralyzed for will depend on the type of damage involved to the spine itself. I don’t know enough about the spine to make an educated guess on that. However, usually what gets affected in the body is whatever is below the point of the injury. The spine is very complicated and very well protected in terms of what injuries to it have a chance of killing you. (The Hollywood neck snap lies to you, it’s not that easy without some kind of super strength.) Basically, if you want to kill someone via a spinal injury, you’ve got to aim for the neck or the base of the skull where it connects and even then there’s no guarantee.

Here’s the Mayo Clinic page on spinal injuries.

What is more likely to kill them is a blow to either side of the lower back which crushes a kidney. This will cause internal hemorrhaging where they bleed out over the course of several days before finally succumbing. You’re more likely to kill someone with a bat by causing some serious blunt force trauma on a full swing.

The big thing to remember with the bat is that:

1) It’s an improvised weapon.

It works very well as one and it can do a great deal of damage, but it doesn’t work precisely in the same way as a club. Bats are weighted so that it’s all in the tip and in a traditional that’s where all the force is. You connect with the end to hit the ball. Using any other part of the bat as a weapon is difficult for this reason, because all the force is in the tip and trying to use another portion involves fighting inertia.

2) It telegraphs.

The full swing with a bat is a huge windup. It’s huge and compared to other kind of attacks, it’s not very quick. With all the force in the tip, you need to connect with the tip on that swing. Which means that to hit the lower back for a stealth attack, they need to stand far enough off-center so they can hit (about the length of the bat), lift the bat (big motion), turn back on a forty-five degree angle (not so big, but if they haven’t noticed something is off yet, they probably will), and swing (big motion). If the other person manages to avoid such a big motion by getting out of the way, then you’re up a creek because it’s much harder to reverse course and you’re left entirely open.

You can bring it above the head and swing it down, but that’s also a very big motion. That’s more likely to connect with the upper back/shoulders or head.

The last way to do it is to hold the base with one hand and grab the bat halfway up with the other. This halves the amount of force the bat can bring to bear in it’s swing, but allows form much finer control with a smaller motion and you can use it more ways. You can drive the tip into the other person like a battering ram or clock them with it. Basically, it’s less force but more options and more likely to hit.

Basically, that’s it.


When picking out something to use as an improvised weapon, what would be the most important thing to take into account about it?

That you take what’s available. The trick about “improvised” weapon is that it’s improvised.

Or according to Google’s dictionary:





created and performed spontaneously or without preparation; impromptu.“an improvised short speech”

done or made using whatever is available; makeshift.“we slept on improvised beds”

For example, your character is at a bar and they are about to be attacked or threatened by another angry person (drunk or not). They might grab their beer bottle by the neck and slam it down on that person’s head. They also might grab a mug and hit them with it, they might throw their drink in that person’s eyes before they lunge in to go to town. Assuming the chairs are wieldly and they’re backed into a corner, they might pick it up off the floor and attempt to either hit someone with it or keep them at bay using the legs. It’s going to be awkward, but whatever works.

Think about the environment they’re in, think about what is around in that environment that they have access to, and most importantly what every day household item your character thinks is going to make for a good weapon. The vast majority of these are going to be snap decisions made with limited information while under pressure.

You have the better ones a more experienced character and less law abiding character might choose to carry around with them or keep in their car. Then, it’s more likely they’ll carry whatever they can easily explain away.

For example, would you question why someone would keep a heavy duty metal flashlight in their driver’s side door? Obviously, it’s in case the car gets stuck at night. It’s not because it’s heavy, easy to wield, small enough to hide behind the leg, and great at cracking bones. You can also shine it in someone’s eyes, much in the same way you can use the high beams in your car to blind an enemy. That’s just a pleasant side benefit to a useful tool.

Why does a character keep a tire iron in their trunk? In case they get a flat, right? You’re less likely to think that the character used it to break three people’s arms last week on a collection round.

A car door can be an improvised weapon. Someone approaches to drag a character out of their car and instead of politely waiting, they slam it into them when they get close. Then, when they’re stumbling, crack them in the face or the arm with that heavy flashlight. Or they drag their fingers into the door, then open it and shut repeatedly several times until you crush (or even sever) their fingers. The heavier the car door, the better. In the same way, a door in your own home can become an improvised weapon. The character listens carefully, waiting for them to get close or reach or draw back to break it down, then they open it into them.

If you can pick it up and is decently solid, it can become a weapon. A rolled up newspaper can be a weapon. A plate can be a weapon. A frying pan is an excellent weapon, nice, metal, sturdy, especially one that’s been sitting on a hot range or if one were cooking anything in it.

A backpack carrying text books or any heavy books can become a weapon.

Car keys are a weapon.

A broom is a weapon.

Your character can be as safe or as vicious as they want. Play a game with yourself, look around the room and ask “if I were being attacked right now, what would I grab?”. Then, ask your character that question, think about it from their reaction and their background. Think about what they’d do or what they’d choose if they started with nothing and it had to be right now.

Think about where they are and what’s around them. Think about what they have access to. Think about their environment. Then, don’t ask yourself “what would be the best choice for this situation” because your character doesn’t have the time for a “best choice”. They’ve got time for “I see it, I grab it, I hope it helps”. (Also, “I hope I know what to do with it once I have it in my hands”.)

The problem that comes in with a lot of writing of violence is that you can’t munchkin it. Well, you can, but it kills all tension. The advice Toph gives Aang in the second season of Avatar: the Last Airbender when teaching him earthbending. There is no cool move or trickety trick that‘s going to get you through that rock, you’ve just got to dig in. Commit. Write the scene. They’re in it now, they’ve got to be the ones to get themselves out.

One of the hardest parts of writing in general, not just violence, is that sometimes the story doesn’t go the way you expected or planned. Sometimes, it takes off in a whole new direction. Instead of fighting it, let the current take you. See where you end up. Run with it. Live in the moment.

So what if your character grabbed a useless weapon or what they’re trying to improvise doesn’t work out? It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to die. (They could.) It’s more a question of what they do next rather than trying to brute force the situation into one that works to their benefit.

A character is defined by what they do when things go wrong, when things don’t work quite right, how they adapt to their changing environment. Their resourcefulness, their cleverness, their ability to maneuver or even fuck up a situation. Their actions could make the situation better, but they could also make it worse. They can make mistakes. They can screw up.

That doesn’t make them bad characters. Or say anything bad about them if they aren’t particularly good at fighting. What makes a badass a badass is how they deal with situations, not the fact that they can kick the ass of everyone in the room. Your character will always have to earn the title anyway, rather than starting with it as a default. So long as the mistakes your character makes are incorporated into their development then it doesn’t really matter.

Take chances. Make mistakes. Put them on the defensive. Make them think. Make yourself think. Imagine different ways out of a bad situation. Think about the consequences. If your character does X how do the other characters respond? Do they get angrier? Do they become scared? How do they try to take back control? Which one feels like the right course for this character? Imagine it from the perspective of a different character. How would they do it differently?

Think about it. That’s pretty much all you need to do.


disappointinglylethargic said: But can’t fire extinguishers make good blunt weapons?

Well, they are heavy and awkward to handle. Not something you’d use preferentially, but they make for a decent improvised weapon, much like the scythe. A fire extinguisher wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you don’t have many options then sure.

However, and this part is important, a fire extinguisher is not a weapon. It’s not designed around the idea of being used against a person. Also, it’s probably more effective to actually use the fire extinguisher as a fire extinguisher on another person instead of bashing them with it because 1) Chemicals and 2) Range. Hitting someone with it is actually harder. Honestly, you might as well put a brick in your purse (or textbooks) and swing it at people.


do you know what the downsides of using a cleaver as a weapon are? or hooked knives? would they be a bad combination to duel wield?

Well, a cleaver is not actually a weapon. Though it’s designed to carve through meat, it doesn’t expect the meat to be moving (or at the very least fighting back).

The cleaver is a cross between an axe and a knife. It’s top heavy, so like the axe, when you swing you commit. Unlike the axe, it doesn’t get good rotational power and you can’t change direction mid strike. Swinging a cleaver, you’re going to hit something… though it probably won’t be the thing you want. Cleavers are also meant to be used one handed with the intention that you’ll be bracing the object with your free hand.

If you feel you need to use something like a cleaver in your story then grab a machete.

I’m not sure what you mean by hooked knives? Do you mean a gut hook knife? If so, then no probably not. Again, a gut hook knife is a tool and it’s meant for use gutting a kill after it’s already dead. It’s not going to give your character any real advantage in combat over someone who is using an actual weapon.

If you mean the Chinese weapon, the hook swords, then yes. They are normally dual wielded. However, as with any weapon or martial style, be careful about taking them out of their native environment. Beyond the concerns about appropriation, it’s important to do extra research to determine who and what the weapon was used against. Many weapons lose their advantages when taken out of their social and historical context as many cultures developed their own styles of combat and faced different challenges. Also, be careful of East versus West and Orientalism. Basically, if you’re not planning on using Chinese culture and history as a base for your setting along with doing tons of research don’t go there.

Going back to the cleaver, the problem with improvised weapons is that they’re improvised. They work well in a pinch, when you’re desperate, but if your character is planning on going into combat then they probably have time to find a real weapon. A real weapon will fulfill it’s purpose best as opposed to one it’s being jury rigged for. If you use a weapon as a tool you risk damaging it so it can no longer fulfill it’s function, the same is true of a cleaver or a gut hook knife. You can use them in a fight if you really have to, but you probably would rather they be functional later after the fight is over.


How viable is a shovel as a lethal weapon?

Very. Assuming we’re not talking about a plastic snow shovel anyway.

You have a stick with a blade on the end, it’s designed for cutting through hard soil, so, yeah, you can take someone apart with one. Either by stabbing, or using it like an improvised axe. Getting hit with the blade’s broad side isn’t going to be much fun either.


How do you think would a fight between a baseball bat and a sword play out?

One of these things is a weapon that is used for combat. One of these things is an object used while playing sport.You’re asking about an improvised weapon versus an actual weapon. In that, the actual weapon has the advantage.

While a baseball bat can be devastating if it connects, there are too many ways to circumvent it. The heavy tip means that when it’s swung it creates a wide arc, but all the force is in the tip. An unarmed fighter can completely dismantle a baseball bat’s effectiveness by getting inside it’s arc, because of the way the force is distributed it won’t actually do much damage if the target isn’t in the right place. It’s also painfully easy to avoid because the swing is so large. You can test it’s effectiveness, actually, if you have a baseball bat at home. Take it out into the yard and swing as hard as you can, then try to bring it back. How long does it take for another strike if the first misses? The answer is too long

A baseball bat is very dangerous to someone who is untrained and doesn’t know what to do with it or someone who is already prone on the floor.

To turn a baseball bat into a useable weapon, you have to grip it about halfway up the length of the bat. However, while it becomes more effective as a defensive weapon, it greatly reduces it’s range thus lending the sword the advantage.

A better match up, ultimately, is a sword versus a tire iron. The tire iron can be wielded like a baton or nightstick and will damage the edge of the sword when it connects. The wielder of the tire iron will have no fear going after the blade itself, because the tire iron is the more durable of the two. The person wielding the tire iron is still likely to lose, but it’s ultimately more interesting.


My character is cornered and only has an umbrella to protect herself. How would she go about doing this and is it possible? What other last minute makeshift weapons are there? Such as a cane or a chair, etc.

You can indeed use an umbrella as a weapon for self-defense. They even sell metal ones for precisely that purpose.Real Self-Defense: Unbreakable Umbrella Under the video section on the website, you can find some instructional videos that may give you a few ideas. However, it’s important to remember that a normal umbrella will work differently from one that has been specifically designed around combat.

You can use it several different ways (that I am not an expert on) including using the end to poke someone and opening it in an attacker’s face. Most the techniques you can use with an umbrella are similar to the ones you can use with a walking stick, a short stick, or another long implement such as a tire iron or a poker found by a fireplace. The best thing to do, usually as an untrained fighter, is to reinforce yourself, hold it with two hands and stab at someone toward the midsection/chest area to knock them backwards.

Remember, the goal of a character who is protecting themselves isn’t to win the fight, it’s to do enough damage to the other person so that they can escape. This is something that’s commonly forgotten by writers because the sequence where a character stands up for themselves is usually tied to them coming into their own. It is very powerful, but is sometimes used so often (and in ways that make no sense) that it can get a little eye roll worthy. Again, self-defense isn’t about standing over the aggressor so that they know they’ve been defeated, it’s about escaping from a bad situation.

Almost any item can be used as a weapon, from a plate, to a coffee cup, to a can of beans, to a bottle of Jack Daniels (Punisher #Dirty Laundry WARNING GRAPHIC VIOLENCE), and others. Here’s a video from Michael Janich where he goes over some techniques using Improvised Weapons.

Remember, though, a weapon is only useful to your character if she practices with it. As writers, we sometimes have the common failing of assuming that the weapon is the important thing. It’s not, the wielder and what the wielder knows is what’s important. A weapon is just a tool and even the most unlikely items can be great weapons in the hands of a character who knows how to improvise.

Also, the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters showcase a character who uses an umbrella for self-defense. You should definitely check those out.