The tomahawk was a combat weapon first developed by the Algonquians, one of the largest and most widespread Native American tribes in North America. The Algonquian tomahawk was constructed with a blade of shaped stone that was attached to a wood handle secured with rawhide. Though primarily a hand-held weapon, they were also used for chopping, cutting and other tasks around the campsite. Tomahawk throwing became a popular pastime and sport.
Europeans were introduced to the tomahawk when they first came to America. They, in turn, introduced metal blades that made the tool much more effective and easier to maintain an edge. A variety of blade types were crafted from metal with a spike and hammer opposing the blade to those with a pipe bowl and hollowed-out handle that were ceremonial, often used as gifts. During the American Revolution, tomahawks were used by both Patriot and British sides. The ’hawk reemerged during the Vietnam War in part as a combat weapon, but more of a versatile tool used for breaching doors and windows, excavation and extraction, removing obstacles and other utility applications.
If something needs to be cut or chopped through, a tomahawk makes an excellent tool. Today’s ’hawks are made with better materials to withstand the harsh environments in which they are subjected.
Tomahawk Throwing Tactics
When starting off, use a dull blade, it doesn’t need to be razor sharp to stick. The edge should be blunt enough so that it cannot cut paper or skin. As a beginner, you don’t want any accidental lacerations. Your target should be wood, either a crosscut section from a good-sized tree trunk, say 2 to 3 feet in diameter, or a solid piece of plywood.
Since I did not have an appropriately sized tree trunk available, I made a target from a 5/8-inch piece of plywood cut 2 feet wide and 6 feet high to simulate the size of an average-sized man. I used 2×4 framing boards to build a stand, braced it against a tree and staked the legs into the ground so the target was steady and solid. Wear safety glasses since wood splinters are a byproduct of good ’hawk throwing. Here are the three steps to throwing a ’hawk.
1. Get A Grip
Grasp the tomahawk at the end of the handle just like you’re shaking hands with your friend. Your thumb should be over the handle, and the blade should be perpendicular to the ground, not cocked left or right. Let your throwing arm naturally fall to your side, with the blade parallel with the side of your leg. There’s no need to grasp the handle hard—just enough to control it.
2. Take Five Steps
Walk or pace off five steps from the target and turn to face it straight on. Mark a line on the ground so you can come back to the same spot. With the ’hawk in your hand at the side of your body, check to see if the blade is cocked. If it is, loosen your grip and readjust it. It should naturally fall to the side of your body without cocking. If it is cocked, it will wobble when thrown. It may still stick, but you will get the most efficient throw it the ’hawk is straight on.
3. Stick It
Now that you are facing the target with the ’hawk at your side, slowly raise it up in an arc. The ’hawk should be pointing straight at the target. If it isn’t, adjust your stance. Raise it until it is just over your head, then reverse direction and with the same speed, release the ’hawk just as it passes your head. Your empty hand should be pointing at the target. Keep both feet on the ground as you release. I sometimes take a step forward with the leg opposite my throwing arm.
The ’hawk should spin end-over-blade and, depending on the distance to the target and speed of the throw, make one complete spin, sticking into the target with the blade over the handle. There’s no need to throw fast or hard in the beginning. You will soon learn to find a balance between range of motion and speed. Once you have thrown the ’hawk a few times, you will soon become more proficient and able to stick it every time.
Remember to use one hand to pull the ’hawk out of the wood in the direction of the blade. Do not place your non-throwing hand on the target to better leverage the blade out—you might accidentally amputate a digit. This is another reason to keep the blade dull.
SOG Tactical Tomahawk
The SOG Tactical Tomahawk is the modern evolution of that ancient Algonquian design, with a 420 stainless steel axe blade treated to a Rockwell hardness of 51-53. It’s plenty tough for hard use, yet takes an edge with ease. Out of the box, the 2.75-inch blade is not that sharp. You can run a finger over the blade and not cut skin. This is a good thing when throwing. Opposing the blade is diamond-tipped spike for punching holes and prying as well smashing glass and digging.
Two checkered areas on the sides allow you to use the tomahawk as a hammer—nails, tent spikes, whatever needs to be driven. Two bolts and a steel sleeve fit over the handle to protect that front section of the handle that gets abused from missed chops. The handle is made of glass-reinforced nylon so it has some give and is impervious to weather. The grip section of the handle is grooved so even in driving rain you will still have a sure grip. At 15.75 inches long and 24 ounces in weight, this is a full-sized thrower. It’s durable enough and forgiving enough for beginners.
The SOG FastHawk is a scaled-down version of the Tactical Tomahawk. Even though it is more compact and easier to carry, it is as rugged and useful as the Tactical Tomahawk and will take whatever you bring. A stainless steel edge on both the blade and spike sides and a 2-inch section of steel sleeve protect the handle from whatever you are breaching or chopping through. It weighs 19 ounces and has an overall length of 12.5 inches. The blade is 2 inches long. Both of these ’hawks, as much as they are helpful around the camp or in an emergency situation, were also born to be thrown.
For more information on the blades shown here, visit SOG Specialty Knives & Tools.
This article is from the winter 2018 issue of American Frontiersman Magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.
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