There is something primally appealing about tomahawks. Something about a crescent blade on the end of a stick that gets the blood up. Maybe it fires the imagination with a vision of a lone, rugged individual making his way against nature.
Perhaps its history as a vicious and brutal close combat weapon is an object of equal parts awe and terror. Maybe it is the sheer handiness of them that makes them so appealing.
Whatever the reason and however they affect an individual, tomahawks are here to stay, having been around in one form or another since at least the 16th century if one uses the strict definition of what a ‘hawk is.
Used in war as formidable weapons and in peace as all-purpose field tools, even as ceremonial implements, tomahawks have a rich history and when made to modern standards remain an undeniably effective tool or weapon.
In this article, we’ll be taking look at tomahawks, how they fit into your prepping plans and also offering up some of the best ‘hawks to be had on the market today.
What is a Tomahawk?
If you are late to the party (tomahawks have become hugely popular again since a few years after the War on Terror started) a tomahawk is in essence a thinner, lighter hatchet with a straight, round haft and usually some type of tool on the poll, or end of the head opposite the blade, this being most often a hammer or spike.
Those are the broad strokes, as many blade and tool aficionados will argue the minutiae between hatchets and tomahawks till they are blue in the face, and I have little doubt that one of them will be along to correct me in the comments below.
The short list is that hatchets have handles that are recurved, and the eye of a hatchet head (the opening the haft is inserted into) is more oval than a tomahawk’s, and hatchet heads are installed from the top, whereas tomahawks have round or nearly round eyes and are inserted onto the haft from the bottom and slid all the way up.
Do take note that modern tomahawk construction methods may ignore some of these design standards.
In the strictest sense, original tomahawks were a North American native tool that was made of a stone head affixed to the top of a stick, and was used prior to the arrival of any settlers of any other race, tomahawks did then and now have much in common with hatchets, small axes and other similar implements.
Today, they are made of all kinds of tempered steels, and while the handles may still be a traditional and effective wood of some kind you are also likely to see metal or synthetic ones on modern ‘hawks.
Tomahawks made for powerful and brutal weapons, and they still do, being as a rule lighter than hatchets of similar size, but they were undeniably useful as tools to chop, cut and pound. Their other end, be it spike or hammer, made them doubly effective either on offense or as an additional tool for work.
Uses for Tomahawks Today
Tomahawks are not mall ninja fodder or tools for a deranged murder-movie slasher. Far from it. A good tomahawk is worth its weight in gold if you need a tool kept close at hand for chopping, smashing, breaking, pounding and piercing. Civilians, military and law enforcement all make use of tomahawks to good effect in different roles.
Members of the military often keep tomahawks handy as tools, useful for mechanical breaching, general purpose destruction, as a deadly close quarters melee weapon and as a type of crash axe, that is an axe used for extricating personnel from wrecked or crashed vehicles.
A good tomahawk will easily chop laminated glass and do serious damage to any metal bodywork short of hardened armor. Now as then, tomahawks serve all kinds of purposes.
Police officers, in particular members of SRT and SWAT teams have become enamored with tomahawks as handy, jack-of-all-trades breaching tools, often with pry bars built into the handles.
Spiked tomahawks also have the unique advantage of being able to make short work of padlocks by way of leveraging the spike between the shackle and lock body, which is then rotated violently and destroys the lock quickly with a minimum of fuss.
Civilians love tomahawks for all kinds of reasons, and many reasons at once! A tomahawk gives you the ability to cut down small trees, chop firewood, pound pegs, pierce containers and have a nasty weapon all in one.
A tomahawk is not as well suited to any of those chopping and splitting tasks as a more specialized axe or hatchet with their wider blades, but neither is an axe or hatchet as light and lively in the hand as a tomahawk when it comes time to split skulls.
Especially for survival and general readiness, tomahawks have features that make them arguably superior to hatchets, at least as an all-around tool. Yes, it is the very rare tomahawk that will chop wood as well as a hatchet designed for the purpose, with its thin blade and significantly lighter weight, but a tomahawk can readily handle that task, even if takes a few more swings.
The tomahawk’s additional tool on the poll, be it spike or hammer, gives you additional capability that you likely would not have with a hatchet.
Any tomahawk kept sharp is a deadly weapon capable of inflicting gruesome, show-stopping wounds with ease. Even with a glancing blow or if used to dullness, any strike delivered from a ‘hawk will deal significant damage to an attacker.
Any tomahawk affords more reach than a knife, and most ‘hawks save the heaviest are pretty nimble in the hands, and do not require the big windup and swing that a proper axe demands.
The thinner profile of your average hawk allows them to accept a seriously sharp edge, and if you choke up on their straight handles you can deliver snap cuts and punch-type cuts with ease.
Hammer or Spike Poll?
Not all tomahawks have a spike or hammer on the poll, but most do, and one or the other is often considered mandatory for the bestowal of tomahawk status.
A hammer poll is ideal for pounding tent pegs, splitting wedges, or other impact-drive manual tools. It is also ideal for busting block or any general demolition where you don’t want to risk damaging the blade. Hammer polls may take the form of a pronounced protrusion or simply a smoothed or faceted face on the poll.
A spike poll gives you a hardcore tool for piercing, allowing you to puncture everything from knots in wood to auto glass and thin metal. A thin spike can also be used to break padlocks with surprising ease, another handy feature if you are considering a hawk for a SHTF implement. It goes without saying that the spike can cause a terrible wound, and will readily pierce heavy material like many helmets or heavy clothing.
If you want a little more general purpose demo and tool use out of your hawk, go with a hammer poll. If you want more capability in extrication and forcible entry, not to mention a more versatile weapon, go with a spike.
The Best Tomahawks on the Market
The following ‘hawks represent some of the best all around tomahawks to be had on the market in all price ranges. No matter what your budget and needs, you are certain to find one here that will make for a fine and constant companion on your adventures.
CRKT Woods Chogan and Woods Kangee
The beefiest tomahawks on this list, CRKT’s newest are a stellar blending of old and new, and readily bridge the gap between ‘hawk and hatchet. Made from excellent 1055 carbon steel head atop a genuine Tennessee hickory handle, the Chogan sports a hammer poll where the Kangee has a wicked spike. The handle is easy to replace and both models are well suited to a variety of tasks.
Both of these hawks are highly durable, utilize great steel and can be had for awesome prices, each about $50. The Chogan is one of my personal favorites, and I always keep one in the trunk of my Jeep.
Cold Steel Rifleman’s Hawk
Cold Steel produces a wide lineup of tomahawks, and their compact Rifleman’s Hawk is one of their better examples. 1055 carbon steel atop hickory, just like the CRKT’s above, and a hammer poll make this one a breeze to handle in the “traditional” category.
Unlike the comparatively massive CRKT tomahawks above, the Cold Steel echoes a classical and thin head and blade profile, making it even more nimble, and suitable for throwing.
The gold standard of modern tomahawks by which all others are measured. Cerakoted 80CRV2 steel from top to bottom, and possessing a wickedly thin spike with tip geometry well-suited to piercing without breaking, this magnificent tomahawk also has a unidirectional overmolded rubber grip for no-fail control. A bottom-eject sheath and integral receptacle for a field sharpening file make this a perfect doomsday companion.
A tactical hawk that is capable for bringing you back from the shores of Hell.
If you need a Swiss Army-esque tomahawk, look no further than the 5.11 Operator Axe. The Operator is packed with utility features and is far more than a sexy, tactical face. The handle features a pry bar at each tip for nail pulling and other prying duties and also has cutouts that function as metric and standard size wrenches.
A massive, protruding hammer poll means you will never have to subject the blade to basic demolition duty. The blade itself is ideally shaped for high performance in a variety of cutting scenarios, and there is even an integrated sheet metal cutter. The handle features jimping for a secure grip and also functions as a ruler.
Sometimes you need a lot of bite in a tiny package. The smallest ‘hawk on our list, the Shock N Awe is an intimidating weapon: midnight black stainless steel, a glassy smooth blade and long, hateful looking spike make this a nightmare in close quarters.
The cord wrapped handle adds a little bit of East-meets-West flair, but don’t worry: it is highly functional wet or dry.
If you need a concealable ‘hawk for serious social work and only distantly care about processing wood, this is a good one.
Estwing is a company known for their legendary hammers, and it sure shows in their tomahawks. A solid, one-piece forged full tang hawk with a thin, short blade and diamond shaped spike on the back, the Estwing all but guarantees it can take anything you throw at it (or throw it at!) and laugh.
With your choice of a rubber overmolded handle or classy and traditional stacked leather washer handle, the Estwing is a classically arranged hawk made with the best modern techniques.
Tomahawks have been accompanying men afield for centuries, into war, into the wilderness and out to sea. They have been responsible for plenty of felled trees and spilt blood, and this fascinating, and terrible, heritage continues right to this very day.
The tomahawks combination of cutting power and agility makes it unmatched in an up close fight and also a joy to use when processing wood or performing light demolition. Take a scroll through the list above and you are sure to find a tomahawk to suit you.