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As symbols of Native American cultures, tomahawks were single-handed axes originally made from rock or antler based blades and wooden handles.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

The Legend of Master Craftsman Roderick “Caribou” Chappel

Master Craftsman, Roderick “Caribou” Chappel, was a custom bladesmith based primarily out of Washington state. All of his blades were high-caliber works of art. He was an artist that brought his pen and paper drawings to life with ease and dexterity. A trail blazer, his passion for bladesmithing greatly impacted the custom knifemaking industry. His artistry is immortalized through his unique one-of-a-kind knives, daggers, and bowies. He has even been known to make a few hatchets and swords (very rare).

Rod Chappel was of Spanish and Native American descent. A man of artistic and calculating intellect, Rod switched gears from engineering to knifemaking exclusively. He learned some of his skills from working with famous knifemakers Harvey Draper and Gil Hibben as well as Bill Moran. He would make blades with standard cocobolo handles and brass finger guards and pommels. It would cost customers extra to upgrade to a superior handle materials, sub-hilts, and stainless steel finger guards and pommels. Interestingly, due to his Alaskan Native American lineage, Rod was able to legally utilize supreme materials such as walrus tusk ivory or whales teeth for some of his knives.

Rod started his first knife shop in Airway Heights, WA. At one point, he had his knife shop stationed at a shooting range in Mountlake Terrace, WA where he received custom orders for knives and would also serve to regrind and sharpen blades for $5 dollars each in less than 7 minutes flat per knife. The knife shop he established in Spokane called Davis Knives derived its namesake from his maternal grandfather (who we believe was a boat maker). He made hunting and fighting knives of all shapes and sizes that incorporated his elegant grind lines. He had knives ranging from small to very large, all with heft and quality feel. These include the Pioneer, Scout, Pheasant, Quail, Bobcat, Little Wolf, Redwood Forest, Mohawk Warrior, Salmon River Utility-Skinner, Lady Diana, Arctic Fox, Coeur D’Alene Fish Knife, Chief Joseph Utility Knife, Barren Ground Caribou, Micro Mini-Mag, Mini-Mag Bowie, Eagles Talon Boot Knife, Trophy Caper, Mini-Skinner, Sheffield Dagger, Marquis Lagdames De Espina, Hunter’s Bowie, Woodsman Bowie, and Hunting Leopard Bowie. From his smaller skinners to his big bowies, Rod’s artistry contributed timeless pieces to our knife culture. Typically, his blades were clad in beautifully tooled knife cases made by none other than the master saddle maker, Jesse Smith, of Jesse W. Smith Saddlery.

Rod Chappel and John Dingman visiting over lunch in 2015. Photo Credit: John Dingman

Notorious for his ergonomic hand sculpted grips and the superior mastery in his sweeping grinds, he implemented a hollow grind with a rolled convex edge that would be resilient and sharp through many events of usage. He was known for putting his body weight into the grinding wheel with expert sweeping motions during his knife profiling. He believed that there are 200 essential steps that must be executed in the construction of a good knife from beginning to finish and that a masterfully made blade can be made in only 22 hours. He used the stock removal procedure which is generally outlined in this previous blog post of mine. He was esteemed as a top member of the American Knife Makers Guild in the ’70s.

The world lost one of its greatest knifemakers as Rod passed away in 2017, but his elegant and pragmatic artwork remains ever alive and inspiring for collectors and sportsmen alike. He was passionate about inserting his unique knifemaking flare by making products that looked as fantastic as they performed. Many, intrigued by his work, took to Blade Forum’s discussions on Rod’s artistry. It’s great to hear everyone’s nostalgia via experiences with him and how his knives affected their lives. As collectors, we appreciate the hard work and artistry that went in to making these fantastic tools

If you appreciate knives and artistry, please leave a comment and subscribe! This post is dedicated to the memory and legend of Master Knifemaker Roderick “Caribou” Chappel, may he rest in peace.

1999 Roderick “Caribou” Chappel King Hunting Leopard Photo Credit: Kammi Dingman

Field Dressing Kit

Organic meat beats the hormone pumped alternatives any day. That’s why I support hunting and conservation. Once you receive your hunter’s safety certificate, you are able to purchase a hunting license and tags either through a raffle system or over-the-counter. In Nevada, we have a raffle system. There are different types of game to hunt from small to large. For big game there are various seasons such as muzzle-loader, archery, and regular rifle seasons. 

My brother is actually the one that got me into archery and hunting. He taught me how to shoot a BB gun, 22 rifle, and bow. I find the most enjoyment in doing archery for target practice. Arrows are basically reusable ammunition that last for a while. Archery is more difficult than rifle due to the close range you must be within to harvest the animal. Regardless of the method chosen, a field kit is a necessity for your hunting pack. Even a simple, but good knife can make a difference.

A decent field kit is a must. It will allow you to properly process the animal to the point where you can efficiently transport it to your campsite or kitchen for consumption or freezer storage. Listed are the components of a field dressing kit: caping knife, skinning knife (which may have a gut-hook), boning/fillet knife, bowie knife, wood/bone saw, and game shears. The first three types of knives (caping, skinning, and boning/fillet) are very essential and are the base of most kits. The purpose of a field kit is to essentially be as efficient as possible when processing the game. A variety of tools with plain edges and serrations are used. Here is a review of some popular field dressing knives by James Johnson from 

There are new advancements in field dressing equipment such as the Havalon series of knives. Each time the blade dulls, you are able to easily switch out the old scalpel for a new one. If interchangeable parts aren’t for you, sharpening your blades in advance and packing a field guided sharpening kit for on-the-go sharpening should do the trick! Check out this previous blog post of mine for tools and tips on sharpening your knives!

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Polished damascus steel knife by John Dingman made for our friend, Blaine.
Photo Credit: Kammi Dingman

Outdoor Chef

We have experienced false Spring, second Winter, and will be slowly transitioning to Summer here in Nevada. As things begin to warm up, BBQ or smoked meat and veggies sure hit the spot. When camping, taking a hardy knife will make the task of cooking a lot easier. If you don’t want to take your fancy chef’s knives from home, you can invest in a decent cooking all-around camp knife, which I talk about in a previous blog post, or knife kit that will aid you in your food preparation tasks. If you do want to bring your nice knives to the outdoors, just be aware of the rusting that the environment inflicts on the steels with higher carbon content.

From onions and meats to twine and sticks, the robust camp kitchen chef’s knife will perform and prove its worth in more than just the camp kitchen activities. Chef’s knives are the bigger and more robust knives in the kitchen. Rubberized handles make it easier for you to clean and sanitize the knife between tasks. After your adventure, these blades can usually be put in the dishwasher to deep-clean and sanitize at high temperatures. Let’s not underestimate the usefulness of a good camp kitchen paring knife. Paring knives are smaller knives that are great for peeling skins in addition to chopping fruits, vegetables, cheese, and sausages. I would also greatly recommend bringing tin foil and a pair of tongs to pull things off of the grill or fire so that you don’t burn your hands during your outdoor cooking experience.

Of course, we can take our nice cutlery to the wilderness, but we shouldn’t expect some of the indoor oriented knives to perform well in the conditions of the environment. For instance, some blades like the Japanese carbon steel gyuto knives require really stringent drying and maintenance, otherwise the blade will rust. Also, the patina must be maintained for aesthetics. Chef’s knives constructed from stainless steels are the much lower maintenance option that are better for the outdoors. Wusthof, Zwilling J.A. Henckels, and Shun have great options for everyone. I’ve owned a lot of cooking knives and I really enjoy the Wusthof brand.

Camp kitchen cutlery knife sets are reviewed from Gerber Freescape Camp Kitchen Kit ($35 on Amazon), GSI Santoku Knife Set ($35 on Amazon), and Opinel Nomad Cooking Kit ($85 on Amazon) in a post written by Cameron Martindell from Some even come in hard cases that are designed to double as cutting boards. When you’re on the go, sometimes you’re in your car and in between destinations. It’s much easier to make a sandwich or prepare a good snack with a trusty camp kitchen set that was born for the job! Multi-utensils, like those made by Light My Fire, are great because they offer the knife, spoon, and fork all-in-one ($10 for four on Amazon).  Don’t forget the java with the portable AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker ($30 on Amazon). Happy outdoor cooking!

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