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Exploring Tomahawks

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: July 6, 2021
Exploring Tomahawks

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The tomahawk is a very old weapon and tool. So many people like to have a hatchet in the woods but don’t consider a tomahawk for survival or bushcraft.

Tomahawks can be used in a smaller space than a lot of tools and weapons. Of course this can depend a lot on the handle size you choose. Some people that really like tomahawks may want to have several sizes.

Here are a few of the uses of a tomahawk. I bet a few of these a lot of you haven’t tried yet.

Fire duties

A tomahawk can be used to create tinder and kindling for a fire. It is also somewhat useful for chopping wood. Some tomahawk heads are wider than others so chopping function may be better with some hawks than others.


The tomahawk has long been used as a formidable weapon in battle. It was not just Native Americans that used the tomahawk even though it is often portrayed that way in popular culture.

During the Civil War it was very common for soldiers to carry a tomahawk with a long handle. While this was useful when making camp, it could inflict horrific damage when used in battle.

Remember that those old muskets took time to reload. You only had one shot at a time and that meant that combat would often take place hand to hand. It was brutal and any edge or better reach you could get, the better. I have a photo of my great-great-grandfather in his Civil War uniform and he definitely had a tomahawk style axe on his belt.

My great-great grandfather John Buchanan of the 11th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, Mrs. Joe Brown’s Boys. This was taken in 1861. His hand is resting on the handle of his tomahawk.

Reasons the tomahawk was a favored choice for combat in the past.

The 90 degree angle created by the head and handle can be used as a hook to disarm someone that is coming at you with a weapon. This was an often used tactic if someone found themselves going up against someone and a tomahawk was their main weapon. It is easy to see how this would be a major advantage in hand to hand combat situations.

In some cases of course both people may have a tomahawk. While one opponent may have the advantage of size or strength, if the tomahawks meet each other it is possible for anyone to gain the advantage if they are fast enough to twist their hawk so that the other party cannot deal another blow quickly . This movement may be enough of a surprise or blow that a weapon is dropped, and it is all over.


A skilled person could use a tomahawk for a variety of butcher tasks. Removing the head and cracking open the rib cage of a medium to large animal is a few of the tasks that I think a tomahawk would do a decent job at. It would be a little awkward to skin with one but I think it could be done with a little patience and practice.

Hacking at ice

Under icy and frozen weather conditions a tomahawk can be used as an ice pick or ax. This could help you out if you are out in the bush and need to break up ice or even used as an ice pick to make your way over icy terrain.

Breaking windshields or glass

If you need to escape from a vehicle or rescue someone you could do it with a tomahawk if necessary. It may seem extreme and you would have to be careful because you are using something so sharp, but if you carried a tomahawk in your car it could be used for escaping and as a defensive tool while finding a way to help or getting home during a long emergency.


While you should be careful using any blade to pry, for some jobs it can work just fine to use a hatchet or tomahawk to pry up something if needed.

Busting Open Drums

While it may not be something that comes up often, you can use a tomahawk to bust open steel or plastic drums if you have no other way to access the contents


A lot of people really like to practice throwing a tomahawk at wooden rounds or other targets. They are designed for it and could be thrown at an enemy if needed.


If you have a tomahawk that features a blunt back end then you can use it as hammer if needed. Don’t expect it to be as good as a hammer though. While it is neat when a tool is versatile, it seems that a great many are not as good as having a very specific tool for a job,

Things To Consider When Purchasing


Like any blade or tool, come in a big price range. Consider what you are actually going to use it for when deciding which to buy. There are some beautiful decorative tomahawks out there but they are expensive and probably not something you are going to feel good about actually using.


Tomahawks vary in weight based on size and materials used. If you are just using a tomahawk for around your place or occasional use for camping then weight may not be that much of an issue. If you plan on making a tomahawk part of your backpacking gear, car kit, bug out bag, etc, you might want to consider the weight a bit more. There are some hawks that are lightweight enough that you could carry two if you thought it was worthwhile to do so.

Handle Material Considerations

A lot of people have a handle type they prefer for hatches, axes, tomahawks, and other long handled blades. If you plan on using your tomahawk often in wet areas then you should consider a good synthetic handle rather than wood. You could of course carve a new handle for a tomahawk with a split or warped handle but that would take some time and skill.

A synthetic handle will offer a higher level of durability and strength in the long term. If you can find a tomahawk that offers a replaceable synthetic handle and high quality head then you could always replace the handle with a carved wooden one in the future. No handle will last forever if you use a tool a lot.

Head Style and Metal Used

Some tomahawks have a sharp second side shaped like a pick that can make them more useful in some situations. These can be fairly sharp so you need to be extra careful when using this style. Getting a light tap with the blunt head of a tomahawk is bad enough but a sharp point can really cause a lot of injury.

In some ways this makes me think that this type of tomahawk is best suited for someone that already has experience with tomahawks and wants to try out a different style.

While all the hawks I have listed in this post are made of high quality metals, the type does vary. Remember that carbon or high carbon blades are easier to sharpen but require more care to avoid rust. Stainless steel will not rust as easily but it is more brittle and harder to sharpen. If you see a hawk you like, confirm what type of steel you are getting so you know what to expect in terms of care and use over the years.

Cold Steel Rifleman’s Hawk

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Overall Length: 19 inches

Tomahawk Head Size: 8 1/8 inches

Weight: 32 ounces

American Hickory Handle

I like the idea of an actual hammerhead on one side of a tomahawk. There is a greater chance of me needing to hammer something properly than needing to use something that is more dagger like. Honestly I never cared for the idea of swinging something towards me that is really sharp like that. The Cold Steel Rifleman’s Hawk seems to me like it would be more useful for actual bushcraft projects than a lot of the more tactical style hawks. This is an affordably priced tomahawk that you can find for under $40.

Those that like traditional tools and craftsmanship will find this an appealing tomahawk. The American Hickory handle gives it a classic look and a good feel in the hand. At 32 ounces this is not a lightweight tomahawk so that is something to consider if you plan on taking your hawk into the bush. Cold Steel includes a Cordura sheath for safe storage and carry.

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Cold Steel War Hawk Axe with Sheath

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Hawk length: 8 1/2″

Handle: Polypropylene

Overall length: 19″

Weight: 29.8 oz

This is a tomahawk that is designed for chopping and breaching with ease. It is not full tang but the tang does go down 6 inches into the handle. While I prefer full tang myself, there are a lot of reviews out on the Warhawk and it appears to be solid despite the less than full tang construction.

The bearded head gives you a lot of chopping power while the tanto style spike will penetrate with ease.

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SOG FastHawk

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Length: 12.5 inches

Weight: 19 oz

Stainless Steel

If you are looking for a company that makes blades that are a good value and have a great reputation, SOG is one to consider. SOG makes a lot of different tomahawks and hatchets that are worth consideration, especially if you want to buy multiple hawks for throwing practice or to stash in various places.

This is a smaller tactical tomahawk that is similar in design to the classic Vietnam Tomahawk design.

SOG Tomahawk Pack of 3 – Throwing Hawks Throwing Axe Set

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Each hawk weighs a mere 18.6 oz and measures in at 10.75 inches overall length. A wrapped paracord handle offers a reliable grip. If you wear out the paracord by throwing a lot, you can always rewrap the handles yourself.

If you just want a lot of inexpensive tomahawks for throwing practice then you might consider this 3 pack of full tang throwing hawks from SOG. I like that they come with a nice protective sheath for storing all of them together and for safety.

These are fairly small and although you could perform some tasks with them, they are really mostly for throwing. They could be a good inexpensive way to see if you really like to throw hawks or not.


Some folks don’t care for Gerber that much but I have found their products to be reliable. I think part of the issue is that they have started producing products at different price points so the quality is not as uniform as it was years ago. A lot of tool brands are like that. Don’t expect a lot out of a blade you pay $15 or $20 for.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there is one out there that will surprise you and exceed expectations but I don’t think it is a good idea to gamble with survival and camping gear, especially when a lot of folks put together kits that they rarely, if ever, use.

It would be a hard lesson to swallow to be in a long emergency and realized that you probably limited yourself to cheap gear to save $100-$200 overall on things you could buy a little at a time, anyway.

I am going to highlight two different tomahawk options from Gerber, one of which is a serious splurge but an amazing tool.

Gerber Downrange Tomahawk

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  • Overall Length: 19.27″
  • Weight: 1.9 lb without Sheath, 2.5 lbs. with sheath
  • Steel Type: 420HC
  • Handle Material: G-10

The Gerber Downrange Tomahawk offers a lot of versatility and it is made of quality materials in the USA. This tomahawk is made with breaching doors and other barriers in mind but the same tools can be used for a variety of situations.

The Downrange tomahawk features a pry bar on the end of the handle, a hammerhead, and a beveled edge axe head. The hollowed out design of the head may look strange to those of us that are used to a solid head on a tool but this design is plenty strong and backed with a lifetime warranty.

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Gerber Gator Combo Axe II

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  • Forged steel head
  • Gator grip handle
  • Glass-filled nylon handle
  • Axe Overall Length: 15.60″
  • Axe Blade Length: 2.70″
  • Axe Weight: 26 oz.
  • Saw Overall Length: 10.24″
  • Saw Blade Length: 6.10″
  • Saw Weight: 2.40 oz.

For an affordable Gerber option there is the Gerber Gator Combo Axe II. My husband and I have a small version of this that has a paring knife in the handle and it is an amazing tool. The Gator has been on my list of blades to buy for quite some time.

At under $50 it is a real bargain and you get a saw in the handle. The handles on these are excellent. I can personally attest to the fact that we have used our Gerber hatchet heavily for more than 12 years and it will go another 12 with ease.

The saw is held in place with a magnet. We have never had the knife in our small hatchet ever accidently slip out but at the same time it is not hard to withdraw the blade when needed.

Below is the small Gator Axe and knife combo that Matt and I own.

Gerber Gator Combo Axe

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CRKT Woods Chogan Tomahawk Axe

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Blade Length: 3.500″ (88.9 mm)
Steel: 1055 Carbon Steel
Grind: Hot Forged
Open Length: 19.000″ (482.6 mm)
Weight: 1.99 lb (0.9 kg)
Handle: Tennessee Hickory

The Chogan is a great all purpose tomahawk with the advantage of a hammer style head on one side. While this is a practical and simple design made for a variety of tasks, it is also a reasonable size for throwing. For those that want a quality blade at a good price, it is hard to go wrong with CRKT.

CRKT Woods Kangee Tomahawk Axe

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The Kangee is almost identical to the Chogan except with a more pronounced groove on the axe head and a spike rather than a hammerhead.

CRKT Freyr Tactical Axe: Outdoor Axe with Deep Beard Design

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Blade Length: 4.528″ (115.01 mm)
Steel: 1055 Carbon Steel
Grind: Hot Forged
Overall Length: 16.125″ (409.58 mm)
Weight: 1.79 lb (0.81 kg)
Handle: Tennessee Hickory

This design stood out to me due to the unique head. CKRT puts out a lot of standout designs from a lot of different designers. This particular model was designed by Elmer Roush right down the road from me in Brasstown, North Carolina.

This tomahawk was designed to offer a good size head for chopping and other practical tasks. I think that the head would be formidable for disarming an opponent during combat because there is such a hook there to catch someone else’s hawk.

The Original Vietnam Tomahawk

This is a classic tomahawk that has an outstanding reputation for durability, toughness, and functionality. It is an affordable choice when you can find them. At this point in time, you will probably have to buy The Vietnam Tomahawk on Ebay or another auction site if you must have The Cold Steel version that has been discontinued. There are plenty of other makers that have used the same design.

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The Cold Steel Vietnam Tomahawk has unfortunately been discontinued.


The tomahawk is a useful and formidable weapon for hand to hand style combat. It also comes in handy if a door must be breached. Some smaller tomahawk style hatchets like the Gerber Gator are useful for butchering and other bushcraft skills.

Throwing hawks may be a fun activity for those that love a good blade and have the space.

On the other hand, I think that while all blades must be used with care, the tomahawk can be more dangerous to use in some situations because you are bringing something sharp or blunt towards you when performing some tasks like chopping.

While a lot of axes have blunt heads, a lot of tomahawks have spiky sides. This is one reason why extra care must be used when learning how to use a tomahawk or honing bushcraft skills.

I think learning how to throw hawks would be a lot of fun and something I will probably get around to one day.

Do you throw hawks? Do you have a favorite brand or model of tomahawk that I did not mention in the post? Please share in the comments below!

Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected].

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4 Responses to “Exploring Tomahawks”

  1. My father knew a native American man. He met him working as a black Smith at a pioneer festival. He made dad a tomahawk that has a balance point that looks like a peace pipe but it’s solid. He and dad were fast friends. Over 40 years later dads tomahawk is still being thrown with deadly accuracy. I bought the Cold Steel version and I can throw it as good as dad can his. My handle has been replaced, but dads 40 something year old handle is still in use. A person might consider box elder wood from Indiana. Dads handle gets loose but then he soaks it overnight and he’s ready for competition the next morning.

  2. I really enjoyed the article and especially the Civil War photo of your relative standing with companion and musket; but are you sure the “tomahawk ” you mentioned wasn’t a scabbard for his bayonet?

    • You know it might be. We tried to blow up the photo and look. The first two men standing are members of the same infantry unit as my great-great-grandfather. I just wanted to show that they carried tomahawks too. The guys would carry a lot of weapons because it often turned to hand to hand combat. The Southern boys would have swords, big knives, tomahawks, etc but not necessarily all at once. The pic of my great-great-grandfather was taken in 1861 before the South was totally broke and unable to really outfit their men. His unit was Mrs.Joe Brown’s Boys which meant she likely sponsored them and helped pay for all the equipment they had. There was no money for that later. Thanks for reading!

  3. I’m kinda meh on the tomahawk thing. I bought my son one many years ago. I think it was a Gerber or an SOG with the spike in it. We did use the spike to dig a trench around our tent in a torrential rain and hail storm once. The ground was hard being in the rocky formations of the Wichita mountains.
    For general duties I like the hatchet with a flat head for a hammer.
    For defense/attack a proper hawk is better but even in the Army my ability to go full “Patriot” mode was severely limited so the conditions would have to be just right.
    Even in some SHTF conditions you might have to answer for your actions and especially in today’s world of cameras folks are conditioned to stabbings and shootings but to watch a killing with a tomahawk could swing some votes to disfavor.
    I also look at the efficiency of the weapon. A 3” krambit for example isn’t great because you gotta make a thousand cuts and it can’t penetrate to organs in fat folks.
    A hawk is 50/50 in that you might get an instant fatal first strike in the head or throat but it’s a maybe on the rib cage area which means you gotta expend more energy and they still have the capacity to harm you. The spike could help in that area IF you know anatomy.
    You will also need room to swing it. In CQB the edge can be used but again fatality through a thousand cuts is hard work. A pointy blade is better.
    Of course I lose cool points at the range, meetings and trainings but even in grade school I sucked at that soooo

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