How would you like to be able to make one of America’s oldest and most effective weapons that’s still in use today?
The tomahawk has a long history and has been associated with Western civilization for centuries. Where does the name tomahawk come from? It’s an Algonquian word that could be spelled “tamahak” or “tamahakan.” The Algonquin Native Americans lived in northern Michigan and up into parts of Ontario and Quebec along the lakes.
Original tomahawks were constructed with chipped and carved stone heads that were lashed with animal rawhide strips to a strong wooden handle. They were decorated with symbols, medicine bundles, and eagle feathers, making them very personal to the user.
Tomahawks were used for more than just fighting. They greatly assisted in hunting, chopping, cutting, and skinning. Tomahawks were considered a prized possession and were also used in rituals such as confirming friendships, establishing allies, and in treaty ceremonies. Native American chiefs had to have their tomahawk in their portrait.
Axe vs. Tomahawk
What’s the difference between an axe and a tomahawk? Sometimes you’ll see a tomahawk called a ‘tomahawk axe,’ but this isn’t correct. Tomahawk blades and axe blades are designed differently.
An axe blade is more like a blunt instrument, with a large square head designed to create a thin but powerful wedge in wood and split it apart. Axes were not designed to be thrown, so they’re heavier, solidly built, and larger than tomahawks.
A tomahawk is more of a weapon, with a lighter, curved blade that features the traditional double-sided design. They were designed to be thrown and to assist the user in combat. Tomahawks are smaller than axes for portability.
Making your Tomahawk
When you make a tomahawk, you’re creating a weapon that has been used in America for many centuries. Modern tomahawks are made from welded or forged steel. They can be created from many items, like wrenches, lawnmower blades, railroad spikes, or forged from scratch.
Note that the directions included in these steps make a single-bladed tomahawk head, not the double-bladed head. This is the traditional design currently in use by the United States Army Rangers and can be constructed without using a forge.
Practice safety precautions at all times by using eye protection, thick gloves, thick boots, and having a clean, clear work surface area. Tomahawks should never be used by children and are to be handled with care and respect at all times.
What You’ll Need to Make the Tomahawk
- Rectangular piece of scrap steel between 3/16 inch and ¼ inch thick, and at least 4” x 5” in size.
- Black marker
- Circular saw with steel cutting blade
- Metal cutting bandsaw/jigsaw
- Small piece of thin plywood
- ¾” in diameter x 2” length of pipe coupling
- Welding torch
- 17” long x 1” diameter hardwood dowel
- Coarse grain sandpaper (60 or lower)
- Thick gloves
- Vise clamp
- Decorations – rawhide, animal fur, cord, etc.
How to Make a Tomahawk
Step 1 – Measuring the Head
- Using the black marker and the ruler, measure the head of the tomahawk on the piece of steel.
- The size of the tomahawk head is 5” in total width from the front to the back.
- The longer side of the tomahawk head is 3.5” long and the opposite short side is 2” long.
- Draw a curved blade line connecting the 3.5” side to the 2” side.
Step 2 – Cutting the Head
- Using the circular saw, make a diagonal line across the piece of steel to cut out a rough shape of the head.
- Set up the bandsaw or jigsaw with a metal cutting blade.
- Clamp the head to a piece of thin scrap plywood to stabilize it and make it safer.
- Use the saw to shape under the curved edge of the blade, following the marker line closely.
- Now the head is completely cut out from the steel and needs to be shaped.
Step 3 – Shaping the Tomahawk Head
- Use a grinder to create a beveled edge for the wide end of the tomahawk blade.
- Still using the grinder, smooth all of the edges of the blade. Using an angled grinder is recommended.
- Attach the entire blade firmly to a welding table or other strong surface, with the short, 2” long end facing out.
Step 4 – Centering and Attaching the Coupling
- Align the ¾” piece of pipe coupling along the 2” length of the tomahawk blade.
- Make sure it’s straight and perfectly centered, or the tomahawk head will be off-kilter.
- Using a welding torch, weld the blade to the pipe coupling. Take your time welding, so that the pipe coupling is attached straight.
- Now the blade is ready to be fitted to the handle.
Step 5 – Sanding the Handle
- Mark a line 2.5” inches from the top of the dowel with a pencil.
- Put on thick gloves, and shape the end of the 17” long dowel with sandpaper down to the line.
- Don’t sand too much.
Step 6 – Attaching the Blade to the Handle
- Stick the long end of the tomahawk blade into a vise clamp.
- Gently but firmly slide the sandpapered end of the dowel into the pipe coupling.
- Decorate your tomahawk. You can wrap rawhide strips and animal fur on it, draw symbols on it, or tie cord for a better grip on the handle.
Beautiful and Deadly
You can make your own tomahawk out of many different materials and using many different methods. You can also spend time shaping the blade, decorating the handle, and creating a truly one of a kind piece. Personalize it and make it your own. It will be much stronger than something mass produced or that you can buy in a store. You might want to create a special case to go along with it.
Tomahawks have been used by Native Americans, settlers, pioneers, soldiers, and weapons experts. Their timeless look makes them an instantly recognizable weapon.
Thanks to the tomahawk’s beautiful and deadly design, they are still a popular and much loved weapon today.