What is the Difference Between a Tomahawk Vs. Hatchet Axe?

Want to learn the difference between a tomahawk and a hatchet axe? This is the page to be.

Most people often interchange these names. However, these tools have distinctive appearances and usage.

Quick Overview

Here is a simple comparison between the two axes:

  • Head – Tomahawks are designed with thin, light heads to reduce weight without compromising their efficiency. On the other hand, hatchets have heavier heads, but the weight is evenly distributed to the head.
  • Weight – Tomahawks are long and lightweight, but hatchets are small and sturdy.
  • Uses – Tomahawks are more versatile than hatchets. They can be used for chopping, throwing, combat, and self-defense, while hatchets are ideal for cutting and chopping.
  • Eye Shape – Hatchets have a narrow eye shape while tomahawks have a round eye shape.
  • Handle – Tomahawks have more extended handles compared to hatchets.
  • Hafting – Hatchets are hafted from the top but tomahawks from the bottom.

That’s just but a general idea about how different the two axes are.

In this guide, you will find more detailed information about each axe’s key features and why you should get one. In addition, I will recommend one hatchet and one tomahawk that stands out in terms of performance, efficiency, and durability.

Let’s get started…

What is a Tomahawk Axe?

tomahawk axe

A tomahawk is a general-purpose axe native to the indigenous people of North America. Its original name ‘otomahuk’ means ‘to knock down’ – a critical feature that tomahawks hold to date.

The original axe resembled a hatchet attached to a straight shaft. However, tomahawks have undergone numerous transformations in materials used, quality, and design over the years.

There are two types of tomahawk axes today: the throwing tomahawk and the tactical tomahawk. The throwing tomahawk is optimized for sports and fun.

Today, however, we will be looking into the tactical tomahawk, which serves as a multipurpose tool. It is often used by bush crafters, campers, hikers, DIYers, and the military.

Here are the key features found on the tactical tomahawk.

Key Features of a Tomahawk Axe

Even though there are numerous brands of tomahawks, these features are universal.

  1. Head Design

A tomahawk axe features a thin head design that serves more than one function. It may have one of these three head styles:

  • Single blade: The axe has a one-sided edge that resembles a light hatchet.
  • Double blade: The axe has sharp edges on both sides.
  • Single with a spike: These tomahawks have a sharp blade on one side and a tip on the other side for penetrative purposes.

The blade side is ideal for chopping or cutting, while the poll side is used for breaching, digging, hammering, or breaking.

Other tomahawk designs feature small circles cut out on the blade. At first glance, operators regard the circles as an aesthetic effect. However, they reduce added weight from the head to improve efficiency.

  1. Removable Head

Tomahawks stand out because they have a removable head. You can detach the head from the long handle for easier backpacking and portability.

However, not all brands have removable heads. Some tomahawks are forged into a single-piece axe.

  1. Cutting Edge

These axes have a narrow cutting edge with circular cut-outs to save weight without compromising the cutting-edge size. This feature allows the axe to pierce deeper without much resistance with each strike.

  1. Handle Length

Tomahawks measure 14″-21″ in length. The long handles offer significant leverage and help chop trees, split wood, open doors, prying, break locks, and piercing through rigid materials.

On the other hand, small tomahawk handles are perfect for butchering games, throwing, taking on long hikes, evacuating vehicles, and precision chopping.

  1. Size

Tomahawks are compact, lightweight axes that are easy to carry when hiking and camping. They also have a balanced weight that makes them ideal for throwing, combat, and self-defense.

  1. Weight

These axes have little weight, which is necessary for the axe to maintain rigidity and balance when throwing or chopping.

  1. Durability

These axe heads are made of high-quality steel to guarantee durability.  They are mainly made of 1055 tool steel, D2 stool steel, SK5 carbon steel, 4140 Chromoly steel, and 420HC stainless steel.

That’s not all. The edges on tomahawk axes are corrosion and impact-resistant. Most of these axes are coated on the edges to prevent oxidation.

Besides, the handles are either made of hardwood or composite handles that can withstand the test of time. Such construction ensures that the axe is robust.

  1. Extra Provisional Tools

Unlike other axes, tactical tomahawks are integrated with extra provisional tools for added utility. Some of the included tools are a hammer, spike, compass, knife, and flint, which come in handy when outdoors. 

For example, a compass is helpful when navigating, while a flint helps to start a fire. 

If you are not excited about owning a tomahawk, here are reasons why you should buy one.

Why You Should Buy a Tomahawk Axe

A tomahawk is a versatile, virtually indestructible, yet practical tool to own. Not only can it chop wood and help to make shelter, but it can also supplement your knife to skin game. Even though it comes in a small size, the axe is sturdy to perform heavy-duty tasks.

In addition, the modern tomahawk is designed to shatter glass, cut into a car, and pierce through Kevlar. And if you are not looking to break glass, you can use the axe for self-defense.

Pros

  • It is lightweight.
  • The axe can be used for cutting and chopping.
  • Tomahawks have robust and sturdy construction.
  • They have additional supplies, like a compass, emergency whistle, magnesium rod flint, or knife.
  • They feature comfortable and durable handles.

Cons

  • They are not great at splitting wood.

My Recommendation

I recommend the SOG Tactical Tomahawks (F01TN-CP) as the best tomahawk axe in the market today. It has a stainless-steel construction that makes it strong, sturdy, rust, and corrosion-resistant.

The axe also has a perfect balance for portability and versatility. You can use the 420 stainless-steel blade to cut or chop wood and the spike for cutting wires or prying boards apart.

How about the flat edge on the head? It’s excellent for hammering.

The axe features a durable fiberglass reinforced nylon handle that is comfortable to use over long periods.

Get this lightweight, tactical tomahawk for home and outdoor usage.

Now that we have an understanding of tomahawks, let’s take a look at hatchets.

What is a Hatchet Axe?

hatchet axe

A hatchet is a small, all-purpose, one-hand axe for small-scale projects. It is relatively more minor than full-blown axes but powerful than a knife. Note that the keyword here is ‘small.’

Its size, however, does not discredit it from felling small trees, chopping, creating tinder, and splitting logs. Instead, the axe features a sharp blade on one end and a hammerhead on the other.

Hatchets have an overall balanced feel that delivers more accurate cuts with every swing. They have an overall length of 10’’-16″ and weigh approximately 1-3 lbs.

Here are the key features found in a hatchet.

Key Features of a Hatchet Axe

  1. Size

A hatchet is small in size, which makes it easier to handle and more maneuverable. Besides, you only need little energy with each swing.

  1. Head Design

One side of the head features a large, wedge-shaped blade, while the other sits a hammerhead. The large, weighted head has smooth cheeks that enable the axe to split small logs with ease.

How about the hammerhead side? It is ideal for hammering nails, driving tent stakes, busting rocks up, clearing trails, creating travois, and chopping small animals.

  1. Handle

These axes have short, stout, and curved shafts. The curved handle offers excellent hand placement, which translates to good grip and better control.

Hatchet handles are either made of metal, wood, or fiberglass. Metal handles are heavy but durable. Wooden handles are comfortable but not as durable. Fiberglass, however, offers the best of both worlds.

  1. Versatility

Hatchets can serve a variety of purposes. They can chop kindling, split wood, remove small limbs, cut back bushes, build shelter, or hammer tent stakes. In addition, the axe can process small game or chop ice.

  1. Efficiency

The weighted head in hatchets versus their small handle improves the axe’s efficiency. How? When more weight lies in the head, the user gets more power and control, translating into efficiency.

Do you need to buy a hatchet? Yes, and here’s why.

Why You Should Buy a Hatchet Axe

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, a hatchet is a must-have survival tool. It is a mini-version of large axes but can work as effectively on small projects.

This axe can chop small trees, split wood for kindling, and carve wood. Its 3 lbs. weight is easily portable all day.

The same applies to DIYers. With this lightweight axe, you can cut off branches and small trees in your yard.

Pros

  • The axe is versatile.
  • It is lightweight.
  • It is a single-handed axe.
  • Hatchets are a smaller version of axes.
  • It is ideal for light chopping.

Cons

  • Due to its weighted head, the axe is not ideal for throwing.

My Recommendation

When best hatchets are mentioned, the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe -E24A always finds a spot. I love that it is lightweight, available in 12″ and 14″, and has a 2.75″ cutting edge. It can strip bark, chop greenwood, split small logs, and carve!

The hatchet is forged in one piece with a full tang. This makes it comfortable, rugged, unbreakable, and durable. What’s more, the one-piece construction provides users with solid balance.

If you are a camper or an outdoors lover, this hatchet is a keeper.

I believe that so far, I have provided critical details on the tomahawk and the hatchet. Now, the next big question is, what are the best ways to take care of an axe after purchase?

Read on to find out.

How to Take Care of an Axe

All things need caring, and an axe is no exception. But what is the best way to maintain your axe in optimal shape?

  • Clean After Use

Any time you are done using an axe, always remove any dirt, debris, or moisture before storing it in the sheath. If you don’t have a sheath you should store the axe in a dry place.

  • Apply Oil/Grease on the Head

Oiling the head prevents it from rusting. Therefore, apply a thin layer of oil/grease on the head, leave it to dry, then store it. If the axe has traces of rust, use oil and steel wool to wipe it off before applying another layer of oil.

  • Sharpen it Frequently

You also need to sharpen the edges frequently to maintain their optimum performance.

  • Use the Axe for its Intended Purpose

Always use your axe for the intended use. For example, if you own a hatchet or a tomahawk, do not subject them to large wood projects.

  • Use Boiled Linseed Oil on Wooden Handles

To care for wooden axe handles, apply boiled linseed oil. All you need to do is clean any dirt from the handle before applying a new layer of oil with a rag or small paintbrush.

Summary

What is the difference between a tomahawk and a hatchet? For starters, the difference lies in their appearance. A tomahawk has a long handle and a severely tapered head. A hatchet, however, has a short handle and a less drastic taper.

Second, tomahawks have thin, long bits but hatchets have broad, short bits. They also weigh differently since hatchets are heavier and sturdier than hatchets.

Lastly, hatchets have short, stout handles, whereas tomahawks feature straight, long handles.

Related Questions

Which Performs Better, a Tomahawk or a Hatchet?

Both are excellent performers, and the answer lies in what you seek. Tomahawks are lightweight axes that are more suitable for camping, recreational fun, and sports. On the other hand, hatchets are more maneuverable and ideal for little projects around the home and outdoors. 

What Factors Should I Keep in Mind When Buying a Tomahawk or Hatchet?

First, examine the shape of the blade as it determines the degree of contact and penetration. Next, look into the thickness of the shaft and how it feels and fits in your hands. Lastly, consider the overall weight of the axe.

James Thomas

James Thomas

Tool Enthusiast

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