Chain Throwing


Chain throwing neither involves an actual chain, nor the throwing of anything in the sense of most sports. One of the most technically complex of the physical events (see the tips and techniques video below if any of this doesn't make sense), chain throwing is a two-person event whereby the competitors unwind a steel surveyor tape, the 'chain', touch two stakes 99 feet apart, and rewind the surveyor tape, fold it, and drop it over a third wooden stake. The quickest time, including any penalties, wins. The steel surveyor tapes must be wound very precisely or the loops, known as 'links', will not line up properly. Once the entire surveyor tape is wound into a loop of 4 or 5 feet in circumference, it is folded in half in a move known as a 'throw'. Hence the event is called chain throwing. The surveyor tape must be tied with leather thongs to keep it wound. If a kink develops, the surveyor tape might break; this results in disqualification. If the leather thongs come untied after the chain is thrown, this results in a disqualification. There are various penalties for minor problems in lining up the loops, again called 'links', or having them positioned incorrectly. Chain throwing has been an event at Conclave since at least 1960. It has changed over time. At one point it was a one person event, and until 2007 a 132 foot surveyor tape, rather than a 100 foot tape, was used.


Chain Throwing - 2022 Conclave

Click HERE to view the video on YouTube.

Thanks to Dylan Thompson for shooting and providing this video of Mason Helm and Lexi Cook winning chain throwing at the 63rd Southern Forestry Conclave hosted by the University of Tennessee.


Chain Throwing Tips & Techniques Video

Click HERE to view the video on YouTube.

Many thanks to Sarah Fuller for her work in shooting, recording, and editing this video.


A 100 foot Lufkin Nubian finish tape can be used for chain throwing. Model 09100B works well, although prices vary wildly. Some vendors sell them for $200 to $400, while sometimes they can be obtained on eBay for $40 or less. Other models also work, although purchasing a chain that is too thin can cut competitors' hands. Be sure that your chain is 100 feet: too short and you disqualify when you can't touch two stakes 99 feet apart, too long and you're at a competitive disadvantage winding up extra chain. Maintaining chains is fairly straightforward. Care should be taken to avoid creating kinks in the chain when practicing and competing, as these kinks will cause loops to form incorrectly when attempting to throw the chain. The chain should be dried and can be lightly oiled when stored to prevent rust. Leather thongs can be easily replaced if they become too dry to prevent them from breaking during competition. Most teams mark the chain in 4 or 5 foot intervals with colored nail polish so that loops can be stacked uniformly and quickly when winding the chain. Nail polish can be re-applied as it wears over time.

Historical Context

Measurements of length have been made for at least 5000 years. In 1620 an Englishman named Edmund Gunter introduced a metal chain that was 66 feet long and consisted of 100 links for use in surveying land. This is how 66 feet came to be known as a 'chain'. The chain is still a common unit of measurement in forestry, particularly in timber cruising. To improve the efficiency with which surveyors and foresters were able to work in the field, eventually the actual metal chain gave way to steel surveyor tapes date in the 1870's. The Lufkin Company of Cleveland Ohio produced its first self-winding steel tapes used in forestry in 1880.

Gunter's Chain Photo Credit: By Roseohioresident - Own work, Public Domain,

Lufkin Steel Self-Winding Tape Photo Credit:

Steel surveyor tapes are used by foresters primarily to re-locate previously surveyed boundaries and to inventory timber. Strip cruising was once a common means of forest inventory, whereby a two person team moved a surveyor tape through the forest, tallying the trees observed within a certain distance from the tape. This formed a single plot shaped like a long strip, hence the name strip cruising. The person at the front would be called the head chainperson, while the person in the back would be called the rear chainperson. These terms are still used in the Conclave chain throwing event today. Strip cruising is no longer common, as it is not conducive to statistical analysis that allows foresters to better predict actual timber volumes via sampling.

Strip Cruising

This textbook section on strip cruising was taken from from Avery and Burkhart's fourth edition of Forest Measurements. If the document does not load below, click to download the PDF.

Chain Throwing Example Layout

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