Talking About Tomahawks

As symbols of Native American cultures, tomahawks were single-handed axes originally made from rock or antler based blades and wooden handles. They were made and used by Native North Americans which traded with European colonial settlers in the 17th century. The Europeans made metal axe heads for their tomahawks, essentially improving the design to be more robust. Tomahawk nomenclature originates from Powhatan tamahaac, which translates as “to cut off by tool.” A straight staff or pipe is typically used for the construction of the tomahawk.

Interestingly, pipe tomahawks had a hole drilled down through the shaft and a bowl on the opposite side of the blade and could be used for smoking tobacco. They were designed to be diplomatic gifts from the European settlers to the Native Americans. The pipe side was symbolic of peace; whereas, the axe head was symbolic of war. The pipe tomahawk is a blend of the technologies from the two North American cultures during this time- that of the Native Americans and the new North American settlers. A great review of the best tactical tomahawks is written by Christopher Joseph from Total Guide Best Tactical Reviews.

Tomahawks were used by some United States soldiers in the Vietnam War during the 1950s. They have survival and tactical versatility as they are lighter and slimmer than hatchets. They are also useful in camping and bushcraft related activities. The cutting edge of a standard tomahawk is usually around 4 inches. They tend to feel rather ergonomic when used out in the field.

Tomahawks feature a nice long grip for leverage and good weapon control during chopping tasks and hand-to-hand combat. Similar to the concept of throwing knives, which I have written a blog post about, tomahawks may be thrown for self-defense or attack. Tomahawk throwing is considered to be a constituent of competitive knife throwing. Okichitaw, a martial art created by Plains Cree Northern Native Americans in regions of Canada, incorporates tomahawk (and other traditional indigenous weapon) fighting techniques.

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Decorative mini tomahawk in John’s collection.
Photo Credit: Julie Dingman

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Kammi Dingman

In addition to pursuing my cellular and molecular biology research and medical professional careers, I am a knife artistry dealer. My husband and I started Big John Blades in 2018 with a mission in mind: Everyone needs a sophisticated cutting edge. I think that everyone deserves the best quality knives; I’m here to deliver the education and product. I’m a believer that quality and price are highly correlated. As a custom knife collector with a scientific mind, I continually research the market and invest in high quality knife-making materials. I'm here to listen to the customers expectations and help them create their custom knife. Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast, survivalist, hunter, adventurer, camper, hiker, or connoisseur, an exceptional knife is an asset to any collection. Retail stores can't offer the unique artistry and quality a custom blade will. Custom knives hold their value and in certain instances, increase in value over the years. They are distinguished pieces of art passed down through the generations.

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