Story by Joshua Swanagon, Photos by Jim Cooper (SharpByCoop Photograp
I didn’t realize until recently—when a friend was perusing my cutlery collection—that I must have a serious thing for camp axes and tomahawks. Don’t get me wrong, I always knew I liked them; I just didn’t realize that I have been collecting them. With that said, I now realize that my collection doesn’t have any custom tomahawks, which I need to rectify soon.
The tomahawk has a long history on this continent, getting its start with the Algonquians and eventually spreading across America. Although the tomahawk was initially made of stone—using napping techniques for an edge—Europeans eventually arrived, introducing metal heads. Native Americans then began adding polls to the tomahawks, featuring either hammer, spike, or pipe. Moreover, the pipe tomahawks gave new meaning to the term “war and peace.”
Because of their light weight and ease of carrying, tomahawks have remained popular among the camping and bushcraft community. They are lightweight, and their smaller head makes them easy to fit into your pack or strap to the outside. Although not a true replacement for an ax, the tomahawk provides a functional and very suitable stand-in.
Over the years, tomahawks have found their way into other walks of life as well. The American Tomahawk Company reminded everyone, during the Vietnam conflict, of the combative prowess of the tomahawk. Although it has not become an official part of military battle gear, many throughout the military have adopted it on their own. Notably, many in Special Forces units have begun carrying tomahawks due to their light weight and versatility for both survival and combat.
Law enforcement has also begun to recognize the usefulness of the tomahawk platform, with many SWAT teams using variants of the design. As a result, with SWAT in mind, there have been many tactical tomahawks to enter the market. For this reason, some feature prybar shafts, line/rope cutting notches, wrenches, and broad, heavy heads for breaching doors.
In the civilian market, throwing tomahawks for competition or fun has begun to take on some popularity. Consequently, in recent years facilities have opened where groups can come in and have tomahawk throwing competitions and team building events.
With the versatility of tomahawks, it isn’t surprising that custom makers from around the world would take to this design. As you would expect, any time custom makers get their hands on something, the result is nothing less than functional art.
Overall, with their use of Damascus and various inlay processes, these designs would be just as comfortable on a shelf, behind glass, as they would in the field. The tomahawk has come a long way, and these custom tomahawks exemplify the evolution of this classic, versatile design.
Stay sharp and keep it real. K&G
Model: Damascus Pipe TomahawkBlade Material: Twist DamascusBlade Length: 4.5 inchesOverall Length: 7.75 inchesHandle Material: Curly English WalnutNotes: Smoke hole plug is Damascus, mouthpiece and tomahawk eye cap are walrus ivoryWebsite: RudyDeanCustomKnives.comInstagram: @RudyDeanKnivesFacebook: @RudyDeanCustomKnives
Model: Spike TomahawkBlade Material: W2 Tool Steel Blade Length: Not listedOverall Length: Not listedHandle Material: Curly MapleNotes: Silver inlay and capWebsite: Szilaski.com
Model: TomahawkBlade Material: 1095 & 15N20 Damascus Blade Length: Not listedOverall Length: Not listed Handle Material: Curly MapleWebsite: AKSKnives.comInstagram: @AndrewKSmithKnivesFacebook: @Andrew-K-Smith-Knives
Model: Halfsized Pipe TomahawkBlade Material: 1095 & 15N20 Damascus Blade Length: Not listedOverall Length: Not listed Bolster: Sterling Silver RingsHandle Material: Curly Maple and Deer AntlerWebsite: Szilaski.com
Model: Damascus Pipe AxeBlade Material: Hammered Twist DamascusBlade Length: 4 inchesOverall Length: 15 inchesHandle Material: AshInstagram: @Brothersville_knives
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Joshua Swanagon has studied survival in both urban and wilderness environments in Colorado and Michigan for most of his life, while also adding experience in harsher terrains abroad. He utilizes his experience and years of diverse martial arts and combatives training and real world application as a self-defense/combatives instructor, published freelance writer and Field Editor for various magazines in the fields of knives, survival, self-defense and tactical subject matters. Joshua also brings with him his years of experience as Editor of, and Subject Matter Expert for, Knives Illustrated Magazine.
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