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Striking Weapons: The Tomahawk and War Hammer

These are two of my favorite things. I love blades, swords, knives, axes, hatchets, and tomahawks. I also love striking weapons like maces, war hammers, clubs, and the morning star (like the one pictured below), just anything medieval weapon really.

These are the most common names we know them by, but there are literally hundreds of forms of these types of weapons by various name. Every country around the world throughout time has had their version of chopping, stabbing, cutting, and clubbing weapons. All a little different, but all work the same.

Until the Chinese invented gunpowder that’s how wars were fought. Soldiers lost in the melee, up close and personal, sword and shield, muscle and sinew, sweat and blood, straining against the onslaught. Yelling, screaming, moaning, groaning, and dying. I just think the weapons are cool to look at, and I’m glad I didn’t live in a time when I would have had to go use them or be killed by them.

Modern versions of ancient weapons

That being said, I still like those types of weapons.  I see modern versions of them that I think are as good as, if not better than, the ancient ones. You can go online and buy fantasy weapons that look cool, that look menacing and everything. But those aren’t really real, usable weapons.

There are several that are sold intended to be used as a weapon that are of fair to high quality.

Take the tomahawk for example, for many years I was a carpenter and my favorite brand of hammer is the Estwing. These are high quality tools, so it would go without saying that they would make a high quality tomahawk.

worm farming

For the Native Americans, the tomahawk was used for peace as well as war, like this peace pipe pictured here:

peace pipe tomahawk

Sourcing a tomahawk or hatchet in SHTF/TEOTWAWKI situations

Well, it just so happens that you can go to any home depot or directly on Amazon and you can buy one that looks awesome.

And like I said, their hammers are high quality, so this has to be too. There are also “tactical” tomahawks that you can buy. Brands like Smith &Wesson sell tomahawks that are supposed to be high quality, such as this one.

Then there are the cheaper versions that may only cost $26, but is it going to hold an edge and hold up to use and abuse? How many heads will it split and arms will it chop off before the blade chips and goes dull. Will the handle hold up under duress?

Then there are the “mouse throwing” tomahawks that you can buy here, but they look really cheaply made and generic. The head doesn’t even fit the handle well on the one pictured. I don’t think that one would hold up to any heavy use and abuse at all.

As far as tomahawks and hatchets go, the hardware store and Amazon have these awesome 26” Estwing hatchets. I don’t even own a tomahawk, but I have seen several that I would like to own, just for fun. I have a regular hatchet in my backpack. It’s a Fiskars, I think I misidentified it as a Gerber before, my machete is a Gerber, and the hatchet is Fiskars. I also have had Fiskars brand fillet knives in the past and they are high quality.

Both are good quality products, I have used them both quite a bit and they have held their edge and held up. I think each one cost around $30-40. I have to say though, that I always thought it was strange that the same name on baby foods is also on knives, machetes, and hatchets.

battle axe

I do have a ridiculously top heavy, virtually useless homemade “battle axe” that someone made. I’ve had it for so long now I don’t even remember who made it, but I thought it was “cool” at the time so I got it and stuck it on a handle that’s too short. It’s pretty useless.

The war hammer

I always liked war hammers too. Some of the medieval ones are very ornate and vicious looking at the same time. They were made for denting a head through the armor of the day. Some had a wicked looking spike on the back side, similar to the tomahawks. Those were for penetrating the armored breast plates and helmets to reach the target with a kill shot.

war hammer

Just like the tomahawk, there are several modern day versions of the war hammer. Some are practical and useful, and others are intended for fantasy, for display purposes only.

Also, like the tomahawk, you can go to the hardware store and buy this useful item to be used as a war hammer relatively inexpensively.

Sourcing a war hammer in SHTF/TEOTWAWKI situations

A simple drywall hammer can serve purpose as both war hammer and tomahawk, you also get the all steel construction and higher quality of an Estwing .

Then there is the common rock hammer, like this Estwing, which can also be found at just about any big box hardware store or on Amazon. Just a little sharpening on the “tail”, oir pick side, and it can become a formidable weapon. Again, being an Estwing, it is a quality item that will last a lifetime. I have Estwing hammers that I have had for almost 30 years.

Sourcing a tomahawk or war hammer at the local hardware store is a quick, effective way to obtain such a weapon. You would be surprised at the weapons on display in their tool section. Any object can be a weapon, depending on how that object is applied. And when the object looks and feels like a weapon, well, that just makes it even better.

However, if you are looking for a more tactical style tomahawk or war hammer, and are planning ahead rather than acting after the fact, then you can go online and order something better suited to your needs.

Tactical style tomahawks

This tomahawk looks okay, and the shovel is designed to double as a hand to hand combat weapon. It even comes with some kind of wild looking cross between a harpoon, a hatchet, and a knife that looks like it could function well in a fight or lashed to a pole to make a pike or spear.

If you’re not into the combo set that comes with a shovel and harpoon thing, you can buy this wicked looking tomahawk. If it works half as good as it looks it would be well worth it.

I have never personally handled any of these weapons so I can’t speak for their quality, but YouTube has a ton of videos doing reviews.

Here’s a video showing one of the M48 tomahawks being used to chop stuff and other real world testing:

Here’s the same guy testing a similar tomahawk from SOG, which is another product that you can buy at BudK for $40:

Tactical style war hammer

The BudK M48 brand tomahawk has a cousin in this M48 war hammer. It looks similar to the tomahawk except it has a 5 point hammer head rather than a hatchet blade.

Here is a website that sells authentic medieval replicas that are supposedly functional, but they aren’t exactly inexpensive, and they look rather dainty compared to the hardware store versions that can be used to dispatch an enemy then used to build a house or shed, or what have you.

Making your own tomahawk and war hammer with railroad spikes

If you happen to be handy and want to make your own, or it is in the after days of SHTF/TEOTWAWKI and you HAVE to make one, here is a video on YouTube showing how to make one from a large wrench, or “spanner”, depending where it is that you live.

It’s actually quite awesome looking. Also, being made from tool steel it should be pretty sturdy.

rairoad spike
Photo: rairoad spike

spikes

If you can forge a knife, then you can forge a war hammer (above) or tomahawk. It really isn’t difficult to do, but it is terribly difficult to master. The hardest parts are working the steel and tempering the steel. Well, okay, you got me, those are the only two parts.

It takes some practice to learn to see the right color of the steel when it is glowing red when you work it. If it’s not hot enough when you are hammering it you will get cracks and what is called a cold shut.

A cold shut is where the steel was folded over onto itself but was too cold to forge weld and so it ends up being a fatal flaw in the steel.

My advice would be to walk a railroad track and find some spikes to practice making knives with. Those are excellent steel for that, you can forge weld several together to make a larger billet for a war hammer or axe/tomahawk.

Like anything else, there are tons of videos online to watch and learn from. If you are interested in making your own tomahawk or war hammer you will likely be able to do it yourself.

railroad spike connector

Here’s a video of this guy making a rams head knife from a railroad spike:

Or like this video where he makes a sword from a big wrench:

Yeah, he makes it look easy. But that’s from doing it a lot, practice. If it’s TEOTWAWKI, you will have plenty of time to practice. The best thing is, if you mess up, you just heat the metal back up and keep hammering. If you need an anvil a piece of railroad track will work. Sometimes that’s hard to find, but if the trains aren’t running any more just take a chunk.

anvil

You can find a used anvil for a couple hundred dollars, they usually run around $-2 per pound for a used one. You can make a forge, look on YouTube, it shows you how. All you need is fire, steel, and a hammer. Then you can make your own knives, tomahawks, swords, war hammers, spear heads, arrow heads, anything you need.

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About Eric W. Eichenberger

Eric W. Eichenberger
Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms. A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method. The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.

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