Life in Missoula, Montana.
Everything you need to know about getting the ideal tomahawk.
One of the earliest tools that humans ever made was the small, stone-headed axe. As humans evolved, axes were found to be great tools and powerful weapons. When the iron age came around, it was natural that people would make axes with metal heads and sturdy wooden handles. These were great farm tools, wood choppers, and weapons. For example, many vikings used axes as their primary weapon in war. This was because a good sword could cost more than the rest of their possessions combined. The axe, on the other hand, was a tool they used on their farms on a daily basis. They could sharpen up their axe, tuck it in their belt, and be ready to fight. In fact, the small axe was popular as a weapon in many parts of Europe for this reason.
In the 1600s and 1700s, elite British grenadier units were issued hatchets in addition to their regular weapons. The hatchets were useful for everything from breaking in enemy doors to chopping wood in camp. Presumably, they were also good in a fight, so they had many uses. Veterans of the wars in Europe emigrated to America and took their fighting tools and styles with them, including the axe/hatchet. In The New World, newly arrived Europeans found nNtive Americans that used clubs and stone axes (tamahakan, or tomahawks) for war. America's frontiersmen used axes for cutting wood, clearing brush, and for self-defense. Each group had different fighting styles, but all agreed that axes were useful as tools and as weapons. Being useful for both made it something well worth carrying.
In modern times, tomahawks have been used by U.S. soldiers in several wars including Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Again, the tomahawk is useful because it is both a useful tool and a deadly weapon, a trait that is all important to a soldier where carried weight is critical. Why carry a weapon and a tool if a tomahwak can do both? U.S. soldiers have found tomahawks useful for prying open crates, breaking into buildings, chopping up pallets, and more.
For our purposes, we'll refer to a variety of small axes as tomahawks. We'll divide different tomahawks by how they are best used. There are throwing tomahawks, breaching 'hawks, and tactical tomahawks. Tactical is a vague term that generally means 'combat', or 'fighting'.
A good throwing tomahawk is weighted and balanced specifically for throwing. Some are also good tactical tomahawks, though most throwing 'hawks are too light to be used as breaching 'hawks.
A breaching tomahwak is generally sturdier and heavier than the average 'hawk. They are used for breaking in wooden doors, prying open steel doors, breaking windows, and other heavy duty tasks. They are usually full tang steel (one piece of steel from the head all the way through the handle) and therefore pretty heavy. Because of their weight, many breaching 'hawks are not good for throwing and less than ideal for fighting.
A tactical tomahwak is used for self defense or other fighting applications. The term has come to be used for all sorts of tomahawks though, so the term is not always accurate. In general, a tactical tomahawk has an axe blade and a spike. The main blade is used to slice and chop opponents. If the main blade is biggger, it's easier to hit what you're swinging at. If the blade is smaller, it's harder to land a blow, but the smaller blade penetrates deeper, so it's a trade off. The spike is used to penetrate and may or may not be sharpened. Some tactical tomahawks have a sharp edge under the main blade (the beard). It can be used to trap an opponent's arm, to hook them behind the neck or behind the knee, and to pull an opponent off balance. If the beard is sharp, it also cuts when hooking. The top corner of the main blade on some tomahawks projects above the top of the tomahawk. This sharp corner is useful in slashing and cutting opponents, so the shape of the main blade is a consideration in choosing a tactical tomahawk. When selecting a tactical hawk, keep these design concepts in mind.
A tomahawk with a longer handle has better reach and more options for gripping it, but one with a shorter handle is more nimble and easier to control, another trade off. If you're looking to buy a tomahawk, consider what you would likely use it for. Since the definiton of a 'tactical' tomahawk is vague at best, some tactical hawks can be good throwing or breaching hawks. When choosing a tomahawk, don't overestimate your strength. Swinging two pounds of steel gets tiring, fast, and if your ligaments and tendons aren't tuned up, swinging a heavy hawk could really hurt you. If you get a heavier hawk, 2 lbs. or more, make sure you train with a lighter tomahawk or a rubber training hawk and work your way up to the heavier weight.
A word about chopping wood. If you're thinking of getting a tomahawk primarily to chop wood, think again. A heavier, woodsman type axe with a longer handle is going to out chop nearly any tomahawk. Those axes are desigend to chop wood, and their edges are ground to serve that purpose. Some tomahawks make decent choppers. If you need to build a fire they will do the job, no problem, but if you're looking to chop a few cords of wood on a regular basis, get an axe that's designed just for that.
19" Overall Length, 1.5 lbs., 3.5" main blade
1055 Carbon steel head, polypro handle
Plastic, segmented sheath
For: throwing, tactical
Don't let the price fool you, the Trench Hawk is a pretty good all around tomahawk. It's good for throwing, a decent tactical hawk, and it's tougher than you might think. The handle is long enough that you can grip it in the long position (near the end of the handle), half choke (middle of the handle), or full choke (gripping it just under the head). There are even little finger grooves on the handle just below the head to help you hold it in full choke position. The blade is big and mean and the top corner juts slightly above the top of the head, lending extra damage if you punch with the top of the head. The spike is also a very BA shape, and strong enough to punch through cinder blocks. This hawk would do some serious damage in a fight.
The down side of the Trench Hawk is that the handle is a polypro plastic and some people have managed to break the handle where it bolts to the head. If you're going to put your hawk through hellish abuse, you should look at one of the premium hawks, but if you want an inexpensive hawk to throw and chop with that you might also use for self-defense some day, this one will hold up pretty well. I've thrown mine and chopped with it and its a pretty tough tool. Well worth the price.
Tested: I've owned one of these for a long time. it's good for throwing, bashing things, you name it. The long handle gives you good reach. It's pretty tough and, at the price, you don't mind putting it through some punishment. Customer service: Cold Steel ships things promptly, when in stock.
15.9" Overall, 2.75 lbs., 4" blade
1070 Steel, full tang
Kraton scale handles
The Smith and Wesson is a big, heavy beast. Its too heavy to throw, or to fight with effectively. If you need to bust open a door, though, or rescue someone from a burning car, this hawk is a great breaching tool. Its full tang steel, so you couldn't break it if you tried. Beat on concrete, wood, or whatever and this hawk will take the abuse. It's the heaviest hawk we've found, though, so all but the strongest will tire pretty quickly swinging this. At around seventy bucks you're getting a fairly indestructible tool at a great price.
16" overall, 1.75 lbs., 3.5" blade
Hand forged, heat treated steel head
hickory or ash handle
Sheath costs extra
For: camp use, throwing, (tactical)
The Trapper is a great all around tomahawk, light enough for backpacking but tough enough to do a lot of work. Great for chopping, splitting, hammering (the back is flat for hammering, no spike). If its like other Fort Turner hawks, its probably a good thrower too. The blade is not as aggressive as some, and there is no spike, but in a pinch you could definitely fight with it. If you're looking for a lightweight camp axe in the traditional wooden handle style, this is a great axe and a great value.
Not tested, waiting for shipment. The maker sometimes ignores e-mails and there doesn't seem to be any 'normal' wait time.
13 3/4" overall, 1.75 lbs., 3.5" blade
Full tang SK5 carbon steel with black powdercoat coating
G-10 handles with paracord wrap included and pry/smash pommel
For: breaching, tactical
The Boker is a unique design by Jesper Voxnaes. There are all sorts of surfaces for chopping, hammering, smashing, and prying. The full tang steel makes for a strong and reliable breaching tool. The full tang steel projects past the end of the handle, useful if you need to break a window. This hawk is heavy, but not so heavy it couldn't be used in a fight. Its relatively short length (13 3/4") means you have less leverage for prying, but it also means the Boker is easier to stuff in a pack or a bag. This is a good hawk if you want a uniquely designed tool that could serve as an emergency weapon.
14" Overall, 1 lb., 2.5" blade
Drop forged 1060 steel head
ST nylon handle
For: Tactical, light-medium utility
Designed by Peter LaGana, the V-Tac has served US soldiers in every war since Vietnam. The shape of it is what is known as a Vietnam-style blade. Its small blade is designed to punch deep and its spike is made to penetrate. Since it's very light, the LaGana is a very quick, maneuverable tactical weapon. It is easy to carry, and versatile. The handle is made of ST (Super Tough) nylon bolted to the head. To many this signals a potential weakness, but the nylon handle is fairly durable and keeps the weight low. I would hesitate to use it for much heavy duty, because of the handle and the light overall weight, but for light tasks and digging this is a decent tool. It's a good price for a batttle-tested weapon that can also handle other tasks.
Tested: this is a light, fast hawk, but the nylon handle doesn't inspire confidence in its durability. Modern soldiers supposedly find it really tough, but I hesitate to put it to hard tasks. Tactically it's light, maneuverable, and less expensive than most. Customer service: I ordered from the Fehrman knives website and received my hawk without much delay.
This and other models available here.
19" overall, 1.5 lbs., 4" blade
blued 6150 carbon steel head with hammer poll.
Hickory handle with paracord wrap and lanyard option
Sheath costs extra
For: tactical, butchering animals, assorted camp tasks
At 19" in length and just 1.5 lbs., the Warbeast is a rare combination of big and light. The 4" blade is one of the biggest we've seen, providing a devastating cutting edge. In addition, the top and bottom of the blade are sharpened 1.75" back from the main edge for even more deadly cutting. The aggressive blade shape provides plenty of options for slashing and cutting. Instead of a spike, the back side has a hardened hammer poll for powerful pounding. The Warbeast is an awesome tactical weapon combining long reach with a low weight that's easy to control. The Warbeast doesn't shrink from other tasks either, like butchering animals or chopping. It's a gnarly tactical beast at a lot less cost than some of the high-end steel hawks.
Not tested: On the wish list.
14" overall, 1.5 lbs.
Full tang, 1095 Carbon Steel with four sharpened edges
Skull cruncher pommel (extra cost)
Custom quick draw kydex sheath w/molle attachments
For: Tactical, or tactical/bushcraft
The Jackal is a tool designed for combat. The blade is sharp, the spike is sharp, the beard is sharp. Even the top edge is sharp. This is the unique 'mohawk' blade only from Omnivore. It provides yet another deadly cutting edge for tactical uses that other tomahawks lack. At the pommel end, you can add a small spike called the 'skull cruncher'. Guess what that's for? Yeah, the Jackal is a wicked fighter. At just 14" the jackal is small and controllable. You can order one with combat edges or with edges ground for bushcraft/camp work. There are color options with the cerakote coating, and options for handle color. If you order one with the bushcraft edges, the jackal is good for camp work, otherwise it's a pure tactical killer.
Tested: the Jackal is a great combination of light/fast and solid/durable. I have the one with "combat" edges; It has so many super sharp edges that you really need to handle it with care. Deadly, but if you order the bushcraft edges, it is sharpened more for hard work and holding an edge for more utility. Customer Service: My Jackal took over a year to arrive. The maker doesn't seem all that focused on getting products to his customers in a timely manner, but the quality is good.
15.5" overall, 1.6 lbs.
4140 full tang, chromoly steel with duracote finish
Rubber molded handles and lanyard
Kydex, bottom-eject scabbard can be mounted to belt or shoulder strap.
For: tactical, breaching
RMJ tomahawks are the holy grail of hawks. They are light, well made, and all but indestructible. They have been in use in Iraq and Afghanistan and have stood up to everything thrown at them. They have been used for fighting, breaching, digging, even punching through walls so trapped soldiers could escape. They take amazing abuse without even dulling the blade. Their relative light weight makes them easy to control and smooth to use in combat. The spike is designed to punch through kevlar helmets or body armor. In short, they are great tactical tomahawks that can also be used to chop, cut, or smash almost anything. Truly a great weapon to carry because they do so many things so well. There are options for handle material and colors, and other models are available. They are expensive, but if your life depended on one weapon, you could depend on an RMJ.
Tested: the RMJ is great, super tough, light, and balanced. The size is big enough to be useful, but not so big that it's bulky or heavy, a perfect compromise. it feels comfortable and balanced in the hand. I haven't found anything it can't do. Customer service: RMJ staff is always friendly and helpful, but my hawk took over eight months to arrive.
Shrike and other models available from RMJ tactical
18.5" overall, 2.5 lbs
Full tang, D2 Tool steel with teflon finish
G-10 handles, chisel point pommel
bottom release kydex sheath with mounting options
for: breaching, tactical
Made originally for the soldiers of Australia and New Zealand, the BFT01 is a tactical hawk that also serves as an outstanding breaching tool. Bigger and heavier than the RMJ, the HH hawk is likely to be a bit slower and harder to control, but if you hit someone with this thing, it's battle over. It has an aggressive blade and a monster spike, either of which would wreak havoc on an opponent. But since a breaching tool gets more use from a modern soldier than a tactical tool does, Hardcore Hardware made their hawks superior for heavy duty tasks. According to their website: "Some of the tasks we expect you'll use our BFT01 for include: chopping, hammering, digging, cutting, as a climbing aid, defeating locks, smashing windows & windscreens and raking out their frames, puncturing steel radial tires, smashing steel clad doors, and breaking through walls including those made of brick." These hawks are serious. If you're caught in the next apocalypse, there's nothing you wouldn't be able to do with one of these hawks, including killing zombies.
Tested: The HH is a big, heavy beast. I fully believe that you could break down a wall or smash through a steel door with it - not that I've tried. I wouldn't want to carry it long distances, and you'd have to be really strong to fight with it for very long, but it's great if you're bugging out in a vehicle and need something indestructible. I put grip tape over the handles to pad them and give better grip.
Check out Hardcore Hardware's website
16 in. overall, 2 lbs.
Full Tang, 5160 steel
Leather wrapped handle
kydex sheath with leather retaining strap
for: throwing, breaching, tactical
The Traumahawk is a great all around tomahawk. It's well balanced for throwing, tough enough to take a lot of abuse, and light enough to wield easily. It has the legendary Zombie Tools look of badassery in its apocalyptic finish and medieval design, and the cost is very reasonable. In all, the boys at ZT knocked one out of the park when they came up with this. In addition to the main blade and the spike, the top of the spike is also sharpened- an extra cutting edge for dealing out whatever mayhem is required.
Tested: This axe does most everything pretty well. If you're looking for a super durable 'hawk for all around use, this one is great. Throw it, chop with it, bust up a cinder block, survive the next apocalypse, you can do it all with this axe. Customer service: When ordering, you can be assured that ZT will deliver your axe within their promised wait time.
Available from Zombie Tools
Because tomahawks are such a versatile and deadly fighting weapon, there are many sources where you can learn tomahawk fighting. Some systems are based on traditional sword fighting techniques, others are based on Asian or Western martial arts. Many combine the use of a tomahawk with a knife in the off-hand. Nothing can compare to an experienced, well-trained teacher, and that is the best way to learn by far, but there are some books and videos that will give you an idea of the techniques used in tomahawk fighting.
Here are a few sources of information:
Books - The Fighting Tomahawk by Dwight Mclemore
The Fighting Tomahawk, Volume II by Dwight Mclemore
DVDs - The Fighting Tomahawk, The Video by Dwight Mclemore
The Fighting Tomahawk DVD by Cold Steel
There are also numerous videos on youtube that demonstrate tomahawk or tomahawk/long knife fighting techniques.