Hatchets and Tomahawks
Ever since I was old enough to be given permission to own knives and other cutting tools, I have always had a love for hatchets and tomahawks. Something about cutting wood has always been enjoyable to me; even today my favorite camp chore is cutting and splitting firewood, as you may have noticed if you have looked at pictures of my outdoors adventures, there’s usually a picture of the firewood stack of split timber. When I was 16 I took a job as a roofer, and 99% of the houses we did were the thick, wood shake shingles, and the hammer I used had a hatchet blade for cutting the cedar shingles. This is a picture of that same hammer/hatchet that I still have, 37 years later. I spent hours and hours cutting, shaping, and splitting pieces of wood as a roofer, and I did that for several years.
As with any outdoor gear, I tend to accumulate a lot of things. In fact I always kid myself that I have enough gear to be an outfitter, and in reality it is true. I’m not ashamed of that at all though, I actually use all of my gear at one time or another; I have various things for various situations. The same applies to my hatchets and tomahawks.
The main difference between a hatchet and a tomahawk is the handle and how it attaches to the blade. With a hatchet, the handle is pushed up through the bottom of the blade and then secured with a wooden or metal wedge. With a tomahawk the handle is pushed down through the top of the blade and held in place by the wider end of the top of the handle exerting pressure on the blade from the force of swinging the hawk. For that reason, the handle on a tomahawk is always straight and larger at the top than at the bottom. Hatchets often have a curved handle for ergonomic comfort and to increase the force of a swing. The opening of the blade of a tomahawk is therefore round, whereas a hatchet is generally oval.
I have about 10 hatchets/hawks that I can think of, and they are good for more than just cutting wood. They are also good as a hammer in camp, and if you keep the blade in good shape you can also use one to clean an animal or a fish, which is another article I will write some day. Obviously they are excellent for self defense as well. Here is some information about the four hatchets and tomahawks that I use the most.
Wetterling Hatchet – This is a high-end hatchet, hand forged in Sweden from a company that has been around since 1880, and still producing high-quality products. My model is the Wildlife Hatchet, with a 15” curved hickory handle. The blade holds an edge very well, and is easy to sharpen. This is a great hatchet for splitting kindling and small diameter logs, and can also cut through larger logs if you don’t have a saw or an axe for that chore. The back edge can be used for pounding in tent stakes, but it is round, not flat. It still works fine for that though, but if you want a flat edge hammer, this hatchet does not have that. I love this hatchet for its quality, durability, history, and functionality. This hatchet costs about $110, but is well worth the money, it will last a lifetime.
Mountain Man Tomahawk I am not even sure where this tomahawk was made, I bought it 20 years ago when I used to go to mountain man rendezvous where you had to dress in period clothing (pre-1840) and be able to do things in camp like they did in the rendezvous of the fur trade era, which was always a blast! I got this from Dixie Gunworks, which is a specialty store for mountain man era gear and clothing, but you can find these tomahawks in a variety of places these days. It has a 19.5” straight hickory handle, is light weight, and easy to handle. This hawk is great for camp chores, taking care of game, and it is excellent for throwing, which is something I like to do with hawks and knives. You can get one of these at Cabela’s for about $30.
Schrade Hatchet This is an excellent hatchet for camp chores, processing game, and as a survival hatchet; I always keep one of these in my truck. It has a titanium coated 3Cr13 stainless steel head with a hammer pommel, rubber grip over the 12” fiberglass handle, and a large ferro rod inside the handle which can be used to make sparks to start a fire. This hatchet includes a belt sheath, although I am not real fond of the hard plastic one it came with, so I made a leather sheath for it that works just fine. This is the best option for hunting big game and wilderness camping where you might find yourself in a survival situation. Schrade has a great reputation for high quality products, and you can find this hatchet at Cabela’s for $50 – $70.
Columbia River Knife and Tool Tomahawk – CRKT makes a lot of great products, and this tomahawk is no exception. I just got one of these a couple of weeks ago and I have yet to use it in the field other than splitting some wood in the back yard, but I have been playing with it quite a bit, and I can tell that this tool is a beast! With a 19” hickory handle, this tomahawk is big enough and has enough weight to swing with two hands like a small axe, yet is nimble enough to work the blade for game cleaning chores. This is a very solid piece of equipment, with a 1055 carbon steel head that is hot forged and features a hammer on the opposing side of the blade. The handle on this hawk is thicker than most tomahawks, but that is a good thing, especially with the fact that you can swing it with two hands. With the strong handle, sturdy head, and the hammer face, this is a great all-around camp tool. CRKT offers a belt sheath for an additional $25 cost, but I will make my own. This tomahawk cost $70, and you will probably only have to buy one of these in your life.
I realize there are so many choices on the market these days, but those are my top four choices for hatchets and tomahawks. Whether you are an occasional camper or a hard core hunter, a good hatchet or tomahawk is an essential piece of gear. As with anything in life, you get what you pay for, so it is not a bad idea to invest in things that will last you for a long time. Hardware stores sell cheap hatchets that will get you through a few camping trips, but I recommend that you get something that is durable, can be sharpened easily, and meets your needs. All hatchets are not the same, so think about what you really need, and get 10 different ones like I have done so that you have all your bases covered.
Seriously though, I have accumulated my hatchets and tomahawks over a long period of time, and there are times where the need is specific to the activity. For example, I am not going to take my CRKT tomahawk on a horseback trip in the mountains, my Schrade hatchet is the better choice due to its size and functionality. But they all have their place; it just depends on the situation. It’s good to have options, but if I had to pick one for all situations, I would chose the Schrade hatchet, with the caveat that I made my own sheath for it, I hate the plastic one it came with.
So whether you are shopping for last minute Christmas gifts or looking for something for yourself, get a hatchet or a tomahawk, it is a crucial piece of gear for camping, hunting, and survival.