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Tomahawks are as American as AR15s and the Stars and Stripes. Created by the Algonquian Indians by lashing a stone to a wood handle using strips of rawhide, it wasn’t just a weapon; it was part of the EDC and used much as we use a pocket knife today. That is, for just about everything: cutting, slicing, chopping, etc.

When the Europeans came, they introduced metal to Native Americans, and the tomahawk quickly became the lethal fighting implement we know today.

Tomahawks first saw a resurgence as a military-issue fighting weapon during the Vietnam War with an updated version designed by Peter LaGana. It saw another spike in popularity during our war in Afghanistan with the American Tomahawk Company’s VTAC (Vietnam Tactical Tomahawk), which was even issued with an NSN (National Stock Number).

TOMAHAWK CONSTRUCTION

Traditionally, tomahawks are made using a short handle approximately 2 feet long and are designed to be lighter and nimbler than a hatchet. However, models designed in the last couple of decades use various handle lengths and angles to optimize balance, speed and power.

Now, there are no less than a dozen different companies making tactical tomahawks as more people see the versatile tool that they are, in addition to being an effective edged weapon. Here’s a sample of nine found on the market—we have tested each one. And fittingly, all were tested, at least in part, in Tomahawk, Wisconsin.

We felt that given the tomahawk’s primary role as a fighting weapon, it was important to test it in that role. Chopping wood wasn’t going to “cut it.”

So, we tested penetration against a Clear Ballistics 10 Percent FBI Gel Block.

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PUTTING THEM TO THE TEST

To better gauge how the tomahawks compared, I came up with a wound score based solely on the size of the wound it opened up. The more tissue cut, the more chance of blood flowing and something vital being cut. The wound score takes into account the length of the blade, as well as the depth of the cut, and was computed using this formula: Depth x Blade Length. A 3-inch blade that penetrated 2 inches would have a wound score of 6, and a 6-inch blade that penetrates 2 inches would have a score of 12: The blade is twice as long, so in that 2 inches of penetration, it will do two times more damage.

Keep in mind, wound score is not the be-all and end-all. Many other factors go into the effectiveness of a fighting weapon. A weapon that weights half as much as another will be faster and would perhaps mean two slashes compared to one cut. A heavier, blunt-shaped head will mean there’s more bludgeoning action, in addition to penetration. Secondary blades/spikes, heft, control, comfort—all of these are factors to consider.

I did not do a throw test … because I do not throw my weapons. Throwing is fun for play, but as a weapon, a tomahawk would be my third-in-line choice after a rifle, then a handgun; and if I’m using it, it’s most likely my last resort. Obviously, I’m not going to throw it and be unarmed.

That said, if you do throw one, remove the lanyard, if there is one. After you release the ’hawk and it starts to spin, if that lanyard catches your hand on the way out, it’ll come around and plant in your leg (not good).

 

1. Hoback MCUT
  • MAKE: Hoback
  • MODEL: MCUT (Modular Combat Tool)
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 10 inches
  • BLADE LENGTH: 5.3 inches
  • SECONDARY BLADE LENGTH: 2.1 inches
  • WEIGHT: 1.38 pounds (22.08 ounces)
  • BLADE THICKNESS: 0.27 inch
  • CONSTRUCTION: 1875 Thick S7
  • HARDNESS: 57 HRC
  • HANDLE: 0.75 inch thick; 6061 T6 aluminum, Type III hard anodized; dark gray anodized, 3D-machined texture
  • DESIGN: Jake Hoback
  • MSRP: $650
  • ORIGIN: USA

This good-looking ’hawk is one of the inspirations for this roundup, and the MCUT quality and performance match the looks. The edges have unique “scalloped bevels” that help guide the edge into the intended target. The primary cutting edge is curved, backed by a beard that drops down, curving back, with the heel pointing toward the haft. The secondary blade is just as sharp and has a beard that juts out into a point. The haft is very comfortable and just the right thickness. At the knob end of the haft, the grip curves sharply forward to keep the MCUT in the user’s hand.

It’s modular, as the name says, with the axe head held into the notched aluminum handle by a cover plate fixed into place by two stainless hex-head screws and two stainless dowels. (Future modular heads will include ones for breaching, throwing, chopping, combat shovel, sickle and more.)

As well made as the MCUT is, there are a couple of things that could be done better. One is an easy fix, given the modular nature, and the other one is already fixed in the next run. For one, the handle isn’t nearly long enough, causing efficiency and power to be lost when chopping. This concern has been addressed, and a longer handle is in the works and will be offered. The second thing: The heel is a pretty sharp point that curves back to the handle, and there’s only about .94 inch of clearance between it and the handle— not enough room for an average-sized hand to slide between. With the little finger positioned on the throat of the handle, there is under a ½ inch separating the heel tip from the finger. When choking all the way up on the handle for precision cutting, there’s only about a ¼ inch of space between the heel tip and the little finger. This has been addressed in the second run, and an additional ¾ inch of space has been added between the blade and the handle.

The MCUT is an excellent design, but the short handle is a limiting factor in how well it performed in the gel block test: It’s almost impossible to get any leverage. It penetrated only 1.13 inches deep, which was a bit disappointing; but the massive, 5.3-inch blade has to be factored in, as well. That’s still a lot of real estate getting cut. I’m certain a handle of about 2 feet in length would make this one a force to contend with.

A Kydex sheath covers the entire axe head.

 

2. Hogue EX-T01 Tomahawk
  • MAKE: Hogue
  • MODEL: EX-T01 Tomahawk
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 14.25 inches
  • BLADE LENGTH: 3.24 inches
  • WEIGHT: 0.95 pound (15.2 ounces)
  • BLADE THICKNESS: .26 inch
  • CONSTRUCTION: S7 steel with a black Cerakote finish
  • HARDNESS: 54-56 HRC
  • HANDLE: G10, OD Green (available in additional colors)
  • DESIGN: Elishewitz
  • MSRP: $300
  • ORIGIN: USA

The EX-T01 is the lightest of the group, and its skeletonized head also makes it very aerodynamic. It doesn’t have a lot of weight behind it, but it does accelerate fast and reach a higher velocity. For chopping wood and for all-around field duty, it’s below average. But it’s not really intended for that. For its intended purpose—as a weapon—it’s fast and agile, making it perfect as a slashing weapon.

As far as “burying the hatchet” goes, once again, its light weight hinders it from attaining good penetration. In the gel test, it opened up a hole 0.81 inch deep. For use as a light weapon, it’s built well, but it’s definitely not for heavy-duty field use. Think of it as an extended knife. It’s also modular, with a screw-in pry bar, hammer and spike that are available for $70 each.

The sheath is an interesting design that works well: The skeletonized opening in the EX-T01 Tomahawk’s head fits into the form-fitted, magnetized G10 sheath, and a turn of the tek-lok keeps it in place. The sheath comes with a paddle attached for OWB carry. MOLLE and belt loop attachments are optional.

 

3. Böker Plus Carnivore

 

  • MAKE: Böker Plus
  • MODEL: Carnivore (09BO111)
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 14.3 inches
  • BLADE LENGTH: 2.5 inches
  • SECONDARY BLADE LENGTH: Top edge: 3.4 inches; center to spike edge: 3.6 inches
  • WEIGHT: 1.75 pounds (28 ounces)
  • BLADE THICKNESS: .23 inch
  • CONSTRUCTION: SK-5 carbon steel
  • HARDNESS: 55-56 HRC
  • HANDLE: G-10
  • DESIGN: Jim Burke
  • MSRP: $186
  • ORIGIN: Japan

Designed primarily as an entry tool, the Carnivore has an angularshaped head and the overall appearance of a fireman’s hatchet. Designer Jim Burke partnered with a scientist and used biomechanical motion analysis to determine the optimal impact angle relative to the swing arc. The result is a very efficient chopping tool, particularly for wood. The blade face is straight, and a sharpened top edge comes back approximately 3.4 inches; then, another sharpened 3.5-inch edge drops at about a 45-degree angle until it reaches the spike. The tang and G-10 scales form a handle that has finger grooves to enhance grip … and it really needs it, because the G-10 is as smooth as glass and becomes a little slippery when wet. The butt end of the handle is a triangular-shaped pommel for smashing, with a triangular-cut lanyard hole.

Gel block penetration was 1.63 inches, which is respectable. But the small blade kept the overall wound score low. The square-faced blade is more suitable for chopping wood than penetration in simulated flesh. It’s also the third most inexpensive, making it a cost-effective option.

It comes with a Kydex holster that’s secured in place with three synthetic leather straps that snap closed.

 

4. Böker Plus Tomahook
  • MAKE: Böker Plus
  • MODEL: Tomahook (09BO110)
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 18.2 inches
  • BLADE LENGTH: 5.74 inches
  • SECONDARY BLADE LENGTH: 1.42 inches
  • WEIGHT: 1.78 pounds (28.4 ounces)
  • BLADE THICKNESS: 0.20 inch
  • CONSTRUCTION: SK-5 carbon steel
  • HARDNESS: 55-56 HRC
  • HANDLE: G-10
  • DESIGN: Colin Despins/Max Venom
  • MSRP: $170
  • ORIGIN: Japan

This is a well-thought-out tomahawk that can fill duties in its primary role as a close-quarters weapon, offering an extended reach surpassing any fighting knife and most modern tomahawks. It’s one of only two ’hawks tested that measure more than 18 inches (but still short of the 2-foot length of traditional tomahawks). The head has a long, front-cutting surface to maximize damage as a weapon, but it also works well as a camp tool for chopping wood or any other task. The beard drops down to serve as a hook; and choking up all the way on the tang positions the hand directly behind the edge for precision cutting. The top of the head is also edged for use as a chisel. The rear of the head comes to a point for smashing glass or anything else that needs smashing.

On the opposite end of the tang, the curved handstop prevents the weapon from slipping from the hand, as a result of the knob being an angled semipoint for smashing. With the Kydex sheath covering the sharp edges, the Tomahook can be turned around and gripped behind the axe head for using the butt end as a bludgeon.

Penetration in the ballistic gel was only 1.13 inch, but the nearly 6-inchlong blade is massive and boosted the overall wound score to third place. At its price point, it’s a great option that offers a lot of bang for the buck.

It’s a solid weapon and tool, but it lacks a hole for a wrist lanyard. We also wish the grip filled the hand better. It’s on the thin side, which is fine for quick work. However, for extended cutting jobs, it gets uncomfortable pretty fast. This is quickly fixed by wrapping the grip with 550-cord—the “duct tape” of today.

 

5. SpyderCo Szabohawk
  • MAKE: SpyderCo
  • MODEL: Szabohawk
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 11.88 inches
  • BLADE LENGTH: 2.94 inches (total cutting surface)
  • WEIGHT: 1.56 pounds (24.9 ounces)
  • BLADE THICKNESS: 0.3 inch
  • CONSTRUCTION: D-2
  • HARDNESS: 57–63 HRC
  • HANDLE: G-10
  • DESIGN: Laci Szabo
  • MSRP: $360
  • ORIGIN: Taiwan

The front of the head on this ’hawk looks like the front of a stealth bomber—or at least two-thirds of one. The cutting edge has a steep angle, which does limit penetration somewhat, especially for woodchopping, but also in the gel block. However, whereas the Hogue is half ’hawk and half knife, this one is half bludgeon.

The rear of the head is a hammer poll for use as a bludgeon, as well as a hammer for use in field chores. Overall, the Szabohawk feels lighter than it is, primarily because the curved handle changes the center of balance so it doesn’t feel as head-heavy as straight-handle designs. The flared grip knob ensures that it won’t slip out of the hand, and a hole allows for the user to affix a 550-cord lanyard. The handle culminates with a pry tip.

I was a little surprised at how little penetration it had in the gel test. At 0.75 inch, it had the least penetration of all the ’hawks tested. And it only went that deep at the front point of the edge; the rest was shallower. I believe the steep angle of the edge had a lot to do with it: It slowed almost immediately upon impact. The ability to penetrate isn’t the only consideration, however. Keep in mind, this one is half bludgeon.

A Boltaron sheath snaps over the entire head and stays snug in place. The whole thing comes in a padded zipper case for protection in long-term storage.

 

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.

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