Issue 18 Tactical Tomahawk Buyer’s Guide Patrick Vuong Join the Conversation Chopped Forget everything you think you know about tomahawks. Disregard those centuries-old paintings of Native Indians using them to scalp Europeans. Ignore the critics who say it's nothing more than an ancient tool that only belongs in display cases. Tomahawks are back, and they're more badass than ever before. If all you know about this versatile and powerful tool is what you saw in The Last of the Mohicans, find that familiar ass-groove in your couch and take the time to peruse this primer on tomahawks. We're certain at least one of these can be a solid supplement to your kit. ‘Hawk History In the United States, people are probably most familiar with tomahawks as the weapon of choice for American Indians of the Old West, thanks to their depictions in pop culture. Derived from the Algonquian word tamahaac (which translates roughly as “to cut off by tool”), the tomahawk was indeed used as a deadly projectile, a fast-moving edged weapon, and a multipurpose utility tool. Sometimes, a ‘hawk was outfitted with a pipe and used ceremonially or as a commodity when trading. What about that whole bit about Indians using tomahawks to scalp their enemies? Probably just conjecture, experts say. After all, that's what knives were for. Another myth: Tomahawks are unique to North America. The truth is variations of this weapon have been wielded by many cultures throughout time (e.g. the Malay silat practitioners of Southeast Asia, the Maori warriors of New Zealand, and the Sudanic cavalry in Western Africa, just to name a few). The tomahawk reemerged in the 1960s when roughly 4,000 models of this specialized axe were issued to U.S. soldiers and Marines in the Vietnam War. Then for a while it was no longer the flavor of the month — until the Global War on Terror made it a delicious tactical addition once again. After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, certain special-operation-forces units found themselves in need of a rescue tool, a breaching implement, and a backup weapon for close-quarter combat. Re-enter the tomahawk. Evolved for today's purposes with quality materials made with state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, and — whack! — the weapon made its tactical comeback. In all black, of course (because nothing's tactical unless it's black.) Form and Function Generally, a tomahawk is a one-handed tool that's shorter than 24 inches and designed for combat, unlike the longer axe that requires two hands and is meant for chopping wood. This makes the ‘hawk lighter and faster to unleash (when throwing) or to strike and retract (when fighting up close and personal). And unlike a hatchet, the ‘hawk isn't a shrunken-down version of an axe — a tomahawk usually has a spike or hammer opposite its cutting edge, and some of the fancier handles have a claw or wedge at the end for prying or chiseling. Of course, these are broad generalizations, and there's nothing that says one can't use a hatchet for fighting or an axe for throwing. The ancient tomahawk consisted of an axe head (made of stone, bone, or antlers) lashed to a tree branch. It eventually became more refined and, after Europeans introduced metal axe heads to the New World, became decidedly sharper and more durable. Nowadays, you can find them made of all sorts of steel, supplemented with different kinds of handle scales, and sometimes even decorated with laser etchings. The tomahawks in this buyer's guide are just a small sampling of the many amazing models available on the market today. Using our unscientific yet practical testing methods (we chopped firewood and threw them at pine tree logs before slicing copy paper), we put each ‘hawk through its paces to find out which would be most applicable for our uses. If you read on, there's no doubt you'll find at least one of our test subjects will satiate the wants of your inner warrior. For More 411 If you're wondering how the hell you should use a tomahawk, see “More Than Chopping” on page 100 by Jared Wihongi, a combatives expert with considerable experience in Filipino martial arts and in the use of the Maorian tomahawk called the patiti. Bawidamann Blades Ragnarok 12 OAL: 12 inches Material: 4140 chromoly steel Weight: 1 pound, 4 ounces MSRP: $550 Url: www.bawidamann.com 411: Bawidamann Blades has a reputation for blending hardcore materials with visually striking designs. RMJ Tactical stands out as an industry leader in tactical tomahawk construction. When these two companies get it on, they give birth to an elite level of offspring: The Ragnarok 12 shares some DNA with RMJ's Kestrel, but is slightly shorter and lighter, featuring the art deco/Viking style that's a Bawidamann trademark. Made in the USA. Available in a 14-inch version and various colors. Pros: Lightweight, sharp, and robust, it'll make short work of doors, trees, and zombies alike. Comes with a high-quality Boltaron sheath that's both durable and easy to use. Paracord lanyard prevents the handle from slipping out of your hands. Easily the most gorgeous ‘hawk of the kettle we reviewed. Cons: It costs as much as a Glock — but you definitely get what you pay for. The cutting edges on the axe head's beard (bottom) and on the spike extend to the handle, preventing you from choking up your grip for certain uses. Benchmade Knife Company 172BKF OAL: 16.25 inches Material: 4140 chromoly steel Weight: 2 pounds, 4.8 ounces MSRP: $385 Url: www.benchmade.com 411: This bad boy has been available for a few years now and has been a proven player in the resurrected tomahawk market. It combines the look of a traditional ‘hawk with modern quality materials and various tactical uses — its spike and wedged end allows for prying, digging, door breaching, and many other uses. Plus, it comes with a riveted PIM sheath that allows for multiple carry options. Made in the USA. Pros: Those looking to keep a certain distance will find that it's a suitable length: not too cumbersome in close quarters, but not so short that you'd have to get in kissing range to do damage. Cross-hatched pattern on G-10 scales provide an assured grip. One-piece forged construction ensures long-term durability. Claw on the handle's end is great for prying nails, boards, etc. Cons: Sheath was loose, leading to retention problems. The cutting edge (or face) and spike are disappointingly dull (time to bust out the sharpener). Availability is limited and MSRP is steep, but you should be able to search online and find it for much cheaper. Browning Black Label Shock N' Awe Tomahawk OAL: 10.5 inches Material: 1055 tool steel Weight: 1 pound, 7 ounces MSRP: $98 Url: www.browning.com 411: The smallest model in our buyer's guide is by no means the weakest. The Shock N' Awe from Browning's Black Label tactical line comes out of the box sharp, sturdy, and durable. While its aesthetics suggest modern ninja rather than old-school Navajo (thanks to its black powdercoat, Russ Kommer design, angled striking pommel, and paracord-wrapped handle), this ‘hawk will work effectively at a basecamp, a crash site, or a dark alley. Pros: Its compact design is ideal for those who operate in tight spaces or need to stow their gear in a car or a go-bag. The full-tang 1055 tool steel holds up to repeated abuse (though you'll need to clean it to prevent corrosion) For less than a Benjamin (street price is closer to $75), you get solid bang for your buck. Face is sharp and easy to sharpen. Cons: Its main benefit (short length) can be a turnoff if your task at hand requires more leverage — though Browning promises a longer version that should be available by the time you read this. Paracord-wrapped handle can be a bit slick if your hands are sweaty or wet. Columbia River Knife & Tool Chogan T-Hawk OAL: 14 inches Material: SK5 carbon steel Weight: 1 pound, 8.6 ounces MSRP: $185 Url: www.crkt.com 411: This collaboration between CRKT and Ryan M. Johnson of RMJ Tactical (see the Shrike entry in this buyer's guide) gives consumers a production tomahawk with Johnson's innovations for only a quarter of the cost of a hand-forged RMJ model. (We've seen the Chogan sold online for less than a C-note.) The single-piece design comes with a flat-edge hammer opposite the cutting edge and a Kydex sheath with MOLLE clip platform. Pros: Ergonomic handle features grip choils that provide your hand solid purchase, whether you're holding it at the bottom for a power swing or need to choke up for more precision work. The axe head's spine and beard also have laser-like edges. Lightweight with near-perfect balance in the hand. Cons: Suffer from sweaty palms? Working in the rain? Beware. The glass-filled nylon handle scales can be slippery when wet. The beard's sharp edge and the axe head's geometry leaves little room for choking all the way up on the handle. Gerber Downrange Tomahawk OAL: 19.2 inches Material: 420HC stainless steel Weight: 2 pounds, 1 ounce MSRP: $285 Url: www.gerbergear.com 411: Assembled in the USA, this Gerber model was made to capitalize on the tomahawk's multipurpose nature. In addition to the cutting edge/hammer at the top, there's a substantial pry bar at the end of its handle. Already highly corrosion resistant, the full-tang 420HC steel body has a Cerakote treatment for added protection. Ideal for military personnel or first-responders. Pros: When using it as a pry bar, you can grip the cutaway handle in the axe head for greater leverage. As the longest tomahawk, it gives you the most leverage and momentum while swinging. It has that sexy “tacticool” look. Cons: The design seems to favor prying over chopping (e.g. the G-10 scales don't extend all the way down the body, resulting in an off-balanced, awkward swing when going full power). The grooves in the G-10 handles are too jagged, causing hotspots on our palms (even a little pain) after extended use. Though MOLLE compatible, the two-piece sheath prevents quick access. For the price, we'd expect better steel than 420HC. RMJ Tactical Shrike Tomahawk OAL: 15.5 inches Material: 4140 chromoly steel Weight: 1 pound, 10.9 ounces MSRP: $425 Url: www.rmjtactical.com 411: RMJ Tactical is one of the companies instrumental in the tactical tomahawk revival of recent years. As one would expect of a bestseller from an industry leader, the Shrike strikes a perfect balance between form and function, as well as construction and durability. No wonder it's popular among certain elite military members. Made in the USA. Available in various colors with the option of a custom engraving. Pros: Perfect dimensions for throwing or swinging. The oval-shaped rubber over-mold on the handle is quite comfortable. Cerakote finish, hammer-forged steel, and single-piece body means tough-as-nails quality. End cap works as a pommel and can be unscrewed to access a sharpening stone, which is included. Cons: For blue-collar journalists like us, the $425 price tag ain't no trifling matter. The workhorse Kydex sheath comes with belt loops, shoulder strap, or the Rigid Universal MOLLE Platform — but not all three, limiting your carry options. SOG Specialty Knives & Tools Voodoo Hawk OAL: 12.56 inches Material: 3Cr13 and glass-reinforced nylon Weight: 1 pound, 12 ounces MSRP: $75 Url: www.sogknives.com 411: SOG created this stout little guy by combining its FastHawk and Tactical Tomahawk models, resulting in a hybrid that's agile and lightweight. An extended cutting head provides plenty of hand clearance while a spike and a metal pommel offer piercing and blunt-force options, respectively. (For SOG fanatics or those who want a slightly smaller version, SOG also has the Voodoo Hawk Mini in black and satin.) Pros: Lightweight and well balanced. Design allows for a comfortable grip anywhere along the handle, whether you're leading with the face or the spike. In a world where the best tomahawks are half a grand, the Voodoo Hawk's $75 MSRP seems quite affordable for proletariats like us. Cons: Cheaper price tag means cheapo materials: The Chinese-made 3Cr13 steel has poor edge retention, and the glass-reinforced nylon handle doesn't compare to a solid steel body. It's not a one-piece — the steel axe head and pommel are screwed onto the handle, meaning failure is possible during heavy-duty use. Made almost as an afterthought, the ballistic nylon sheath is inconvenient and won't last long. TOPS Knives IDT Axe OAL: 15 inches Material: 1095 tool steel and 4130 chromoly steel Weight: 1 pound, 14 ounces MSRP: $220 Url: www.topsknives.com 411: Its name stands for “Individual Demolition Tool.” No, that's not a euphemism for your moronic friend who manages to accidentally break everything he touches. It's in reference to the IDT Axe's primary purpose: to help you make an emergency entry (or exit). It's ideal for first-responders, military door-kickers, and camping enthusiasts. The IDT also comes with a paracord lanyard and a foam grip over the chromoly-tube handle for a non-slip grip and some shock absorption. Designed and handcrafted in the USA. Pros: Face and spike can do some serious damage. Forward-heavy head enhances chopping power. TOPS's Black Traction Coating adds both protection and the tactical aesthetic. Cons: While the IDT holds up in our initial testing, we're surprised that it's comprised of two pieces rather than being a single body. Unlike most of the other ‘hawks, the bottom of the handle doesn't have a prying claw or striking pommel and is actually hollow. The ballistic nylon sheath is poorly conceived and fits about as well as an XL T-shirt would on Kevin Hart. 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