The Tomahook was designed with the ability to dig a hole, chop a tree, breach a door, skin and quarter an animal, or restrain a combatant. Its unique 5.75-inch head design allows for both chopping as well as close detail work, and the back spike makes for a formidable striking weapon. SPECIFICATIONS OA Length: 18.12 inches Weight: 28.8 ounces Blade: SK5 carbon steel Handle: G10 MSRP: $165
Designed by Ryan Johnson of RMJ Tactical for CRKT, the Kangee and Chogan T’hawks are two variations on the same rugged theme. The Kangee features a four-edged head with an aggressive spike to cut and puncture opposite the chopping blade. The Chogan has three sharpened edges and a blunt hammer head in lieu of the spike. Both are made from SK5 black-powder-coated carbon steel with a rough-textured, glass-filled nylon handle. These ‘hawks are full-tang designs with five holes for lashings and lanyards. Both come with MOLLE-compatible Kydex carrying sheaths. SPECIFICATIONS OA Length: 14 inches Weight: 24.6 ounces Blade: SK5 carbon steel Handle: Glass-filled nylon Features: Spike (Kangee), hammer (Chogan) MRSP: $185
Modeled after the Vietnam Tomahawk, the SOG Tactical Tomahawk is an upgraded and versatile modern version of the classic design. Its head of 420 stainless steel is a three-way tool featuring a chopping blade, an excavation spike and a side hammer. SPECIFICATIONS OA Length: 15.75 inches Weight: 24 ounces Blade: 420 stainless steel Handle: Glass-reinforced nylon MSRP: $64
The TOPS Knives HAKET (Hawk and Emergency Tool) was designed with the survivalist in mind. The HAKET comes with one of two 1095 steel heads that can be removed from the handle via a heavy, knurled central screw to function as stand-alone knives and scrapers. The Tactical head is slightly longer with its triangle chopping edge, while the Outfitter’s chopping edge features a smooth curve. Both heads feature a 2.75-inch, clip-point knife blade opposite the chopping edge. The HAKET also comes with the Alligator Alley attachment, a multi-barbed spear point that can be used separately or with the HAKET handle as a field-expedient spear. The HAKET’s hollow, chrome moly handle is light, strong and designed to carry several survival items. The handle’s grip is made from wound 550 cord (with internal threads) that can be used for cordage. SPECIFICATIONS OA Length: 14.5 inches Weight: 13 ounces Blade: 1095 steel Handle: Chrome moly with paracord MSRP: $240
Designed with elements that reflect the martial arts training of its designer, Louis Krudo, the Krudo KHatchet features multiple curves, angles and handle positions to execute strikes, holds and restraints on opponents. With a matte black, powder-coated finish and G10 handles, the KHatchet is a formidable weapon or entry tool with a variety of tactical and practical applications. It is designed for both a thigh rig and shoulder harness carry. SPECIFICATIONS OA Length: 15.25 inches Weight: 31 ounces Blade: 9Cr14MoV 1/4” stainless Handle: G10 MSRP: $185
The product of a collaboration between knife maker Daniel Winkler and edged-weapon expert Rafael Kayanan, the RnD Hawks are a handmade study in the art of a fighting tomahawk. Designed in two variations, one with a front spike and the other with a uniformly but outwardly curving edge, the RnD Hawks were created primarily as fighting tools that can also function as utility choppers and breaching devices. To achieve the proper weight distribution, Winkler tapers and skeletonizes the full tang of each RnD Hawk. This moves the weight to the head without sacrificing strength and rigidity in the handle. The RnD Hawks come in three handle finishes: a traditional wood Caswell finish with tribal decorations, a flat black, rubberized material or black or tan Micarta. The handle material on the RnD Hawks in both variations spans the length of the handle from butt to neck. Each tomahawk comes with a MOLLE-compatible Kydex belt sheath. SPECIFICATIONS OA Length: 11 inches (round face), 13 inches (front spike) Weight: 24 ounces Blade: 80 CRV2 steel Handle: Multiple options MSRP: $815 (standard), $835 (front spike) add $75 for tribal decoration.
RMJ’s Jenny Wren Tomahawk weighs only 19 ounces. It’s constructed from solid 4140 chrome-moly differentially heat- treated steel and will run you $425.
Dimensions on this built- for-defense chop-per are 9.25 inches long, a head length of 5.75 inches, a blade length of 2.75 inches and an overall weight of 23 ounces. MAX the Mini Axe has an MSRP of $180.
The 15-inch long, 26-ounce M48 Hawk is a highly affordable tactical tomahawk—MSRP is $85—that can be handy to have around camp or taken along in the backwoods.
Saving the best for last! Visit elderheart.org to find out about how you can help U.S. Warriors returning home from battle by purchasing a hand-forged Elder Heart Tomahawk with inlays of brass, silver and unique twists and patterns. All proceeds from the $350 purchase go to help raise awareness for the 22 U.S. veteran suicides that happen every day.
Whether used as a practical tool, a weapon or an ornamented gift, the tomahawk is an icon of the North American frontier. Though thousands have tomahawk-chopped in sports stadiums, few truly understand the history of the weapon or why it is such an enduring symbol. Today, the tomahawk is enjoying a resurgence among a growing number of survivalists, practical outdoor enthusiasts, custom knife makers and historical re-enactors.
According to historian Charles L. Cutler, the term “tomahawk” comes from the Powhatan word tamahaac, derived from the Proto-Algonquian root temah meaning “to cut off by tool.” The term later evolved throughout other tribes to simply mean “axe.” The tomahawk has a unique history in that it was not until European settlers reached the New World that the “modern” tomahawk appeared. Pre-contact Native Americans had not developed iron forging technology and their axes typically consisted of a wooden shaft and sharpened stones. The introduction of forged iron allowed the adaptation of a thinner, lighter and more precise axe head. The tomahawk, unlike the longer axe, usually measures inside 2 feet in length, with a thin, light head and a cutting surface of around 4 inches. The side of the head opposite the blade (the poll) may have a spike, a flat hammer face or be without a device all together. The handle shafts were traditionally made from maple, hickory or ash.
In many circumstances in colonial North America, the tomahawk was a preferred gift between European settlers and Native Americans, or between respective tribes or European nationalities. The tomahawk, because it represented the culture and frontier nature of North America, was also a prized item for continental Europeans. A small number of ceremonial tomahawks took on a particularly symbolic importance, as a hole was drilled inside the shaft and connected to a tobacco bowl added to the poll of blade. These tomahawks served as pipes that, when used for smoking, represented peace, but, when turned blade-wise, meant war. The duality was not likely lost on the participants who inhaled from the tip of the handle but supported the pipe by holding the tomahawk’s blade.
As a weapon, the tomahawk saw action on both sides of the frontier wars. Native Americans quickly adopted them as lethal hand-to-hand combat tools, and the British issued tomahawks to their colonial troops in the late 18th century.
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Owing as much to its utility and simplicity as its mystique, the tomahawk continues to be revived and evolved in North America. Amongst mountain man rendezvous enthusiasts, a tomahawk is likely part of their basic kit. Tomahawk throwing competitions are also a regular part of such events, with rules governing the type and specifications for tomahawks thrown by participants.
In the past 20 years, weapons designers and custom knife makers have turned their attention to tomahawks as well, further evolving the design and materials to fit a specific task or mission. For practical purposes, many bushcraft enthusiasts prefer a tomahawk to a hatchet due to its lighter weight and slimmer design. In some variations, more “weaponized” versions of the tomahawk have appeared and pull double duty as breaching tools with a pry bar designed into the base of the handle. Others have become pure martial arts tools with handle and blade designs that reflect the techniques and fighting style of the designer. Across the material and design spectrums, prices vary greatly, but a basic tomahawk can be had for relatively little money.
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Tomahawk fighting is not yet a unified discipline in the way other martial arts have evolving schools of instruction. Generally, pockets of martial artists have adopted tomahawks into their skill sets, resulting in a wide variety of approaches to the weapon. Ultimately, the tomahawk is a fairly intuitive weapon that in the hands of a beginner can function at least as a blunt instrument an attacker has to avoid. Simply seeing a tomahawk in the hands of a person in a defensive posture can be enough to thwart an attack. That factor alone makes the tomahawk formidable. Nothing says “you are at least going to take one on the way in” like a raised tomahawk. Most opportunistic attackers will find themselves lacking commitment in such a situation.
As a bushcraft tool, the tomahawk is a practical piece of wilderness kit. Slightly longer and lighter than a hatchet, it’s still capable of removing branches, small limbs and splitting logs. The tomahawk’s shaft can be used as a lever or paired with cordage to function as a handle for a winch. Like any simple tool, modern designers have found ways to improve the grip, edge and head design.
- RELATED STORY: Top 9 Axes, Hatchets and Tomahawks For Survival Situations
Daniel Winkler, the designer and maker of the iconic knives and tomahawks for the 1992 film The Last of the Mohicans, views the tomahawk in this way.
“A proper tomahawk has to be designed to be used and carried. It is critical that the overall weight and weight distribution are correct. The weight should be in the head, where it’s supposed to be. When I look at a tomahawk, I am looking for the weight and balance, and the comfort and position of the hand on the handle relative to its use. I also want it to have a realistic carry system,” noted Winkler. “For a modern tomahawk, that means being able to carry it on your person or attach it to a pack. Otherwise, it’s likely to get left at home. It needs to be accessed easily but carried securely. I also, of course, look at the fit and finish, as that’s always a reflection of the maker.”
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When asked how tomahawk designs have changed, Winkler offered this insight. “Traditional tomahawks were made with wooden handles and steel or iron heads. This made them balance beautifully. The only drawback is a tomahawk is only as strong as it weakest point, which on a traditional design is always where the handle meets the head. More modern tomahawks have a full tang (a solid piece of metal running through the handle to the head). On our ‘hawks, we both skeletonize and taper the tangs. This puts the weight in the head without sacrificing strength and rigidity. We also use 80CRV2 steel, which I have found to be the best all-around steel for the sort of tasks one typically uses a tomahawk for.”
In a nod to its fighting tradition and practical, functional features, the Army has issued its Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division the VTAC (Vietnam Tactical Tomahawk) designed by Peter LaGana as part of a “modular entry tool set” within every Stryker vehicle. Previously, the VTAC was carried by select soldiers in Vietnam and are now sought-after collector’s pieces.
Whatever the intended purpose, whether historical appreciation, gathering firewood or fending off an attacker, the tomahawk’s simplicity and multi-functionality will surely ensure its legacy and evolution. Today, as in times past, the tomahawk is a very personal tool that makes a statement about its holder.
- RELATED STORY: 8 Steps to Throwing a Tomahawk
For More Information:
- Boker Plus Tomahook: boker.de/us; 800-835-6433
- CRKT Kangee & Chogan: crkt.com; 800-891-3100
- SOG Tactical Tomahawk: sogknives.com; 888-405-6433
- TOPS Knives HAKET: topsknives.com; 208-542-0113
- Krudo Khatchet: krudoknives.com; 727-753-8455
- Winkler Knives II/Sayoc RnD HAWKS: winklerknives.com; 828-295-9156
- RMJ Tactical: rmjtactical.com; 866-779-6922
- TOPS MAX The Mini Axe: topsknives.com; 208-542-0113
- United Cutlery M48 Ranger Hawk: unitedcutlery.com; 800-548-0835
- Elder Heart Tomahawk: elderheart.org; firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published in the AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN ™ 2015 issue #174. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.
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