Tomahawks vs Throwing Axes : What’s the Difference?

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Tomahawk VS Throwing Axe

Early examples of tomahawks and throwing axes have dated as far back as 4,000 B.C. They have evolved over time and continue to evolve to this day.

When early settlers colonized America, tomahawks were primarily used by explorers. They were also used as trade items with Native American tribes. Today, there are only small differences remaining between modern tomahawks and throwing axes.

Tomahawk and Throwing Axe Similarities

Modern day tomahawks and throwing axes generally appear the same.

They typically weigh between one and two pounds.
The handles are typically 15-20 inches long.
They are both used primarily for target practice, hunting, and defense.
They are both thrown from the same stance, the pitchers stance.
They both typically have one blade and a blunt butt, but some designs have blades on both ends of the head.
They can both be thrown with one or both hands.
They are typically thrown with a soccer ball type throw.
The pitchers stance requires the thrower to stand with their forward leg the opposite of their throwing arm. Someone throwing with their right arm would have their left leg forward and vice versa.

Tomahawk and Throwing Axe Differences

The design differences between tomahawks and axes revolve primarily around the head of each. On a tomahawk, the eye – or the part of the head that the handle is inserted into, is rounder. An example can be seen here:

tomahawk eye

Another difference is that the head of a tomahawk is typically inserted onto the handle from the bottom and is held in place by a wide portion of wood at the top of the handle. Friction and momentum keep the head in place on the tomahawk.

With a throwing axe, the eye is narrower and is typically triangle shaped. An example can be seen here:

The head is inserted from the top and is held in place by a wooden wedge inserted into the top part of the handle. The wedge causes the wood to expand, which, in turn, keeps the head in place.

With both tomahawks and throwing axes, extreme care and safety should be the priority. Sheaths should be used to protect the head of both while not in use. There are different types of sheathes – some more expensive than others. Be sure to get the right size for the blade you have. Here are some axe sheathes to chose from.

Best Practices for Throwing:

You should never throw in the direction of anything that you do not want to hit; in other words, only throw at your target.
You should never stand directly behind someone that is throwing.
You should never throw at any object that can cause the axe or tomahawk to ricochet.
You should never hand an unsheathed axe or tomahawk to someone else.
Always place the axe or tomahawk down on a flat surface so that someone else can pick it up. This avoids accidental injuries.
You should always inspect the axe or tomahawk prior to use to ensure that there are no flaws or damage.
Always keep pets and young children away from the throwing area.
When not in use, make sure all axes and tomahawks are properly stored and away from children or pets.

While neither axes nor tomahawks need to be very sharp in order to be accurate while throwing at targets, both should be sharp when used for hunting or camping. A great way to sharpen both is with a sharpening stone. Here is one that I use that gets the job done for me:

Blade Sharpener

There are certain official requirements for tomahawk and axe throwing. Each league may have its own rules and regulations. For example, the World Axe Throwing League has the following requirements:

All throws must be done overhead with one or both hands.
There must be at least one rotation of the axe in order for the throw to count.
Each target must be between 12” and 15” away from the thrower.
All equipment must be inspected and must be in good condition.
The blades must be sharp enough to hit and stick to the target, but they cannot be razor sharp to the touch.

What Are They Best Used For

In regards to camping and survival use, tomahawks are typically weapons first and utility second. Axes tend to be the opposite, being used for splitting and chopping before hunting and protection.

Axes take a lot of their effectiveness from mass and geometry, whereas tomahawks are efficient because of their speed, which comes from their being longer and narrower. Tomahawks are typically better for hammering given their wide poll.

The U.S. Army Stryker Brigade has a specially made tomahawk in every vehicle as part of their tool kit. Their multi-purpose uses have ranged from opening crates, digging trenches, removing road obstacles, knocking out improvised explosive devices, and detonating landmines. These particular tomahawks are manufactured by the American Tomahawk Company.

Likewise to tomahawks, axe usage in the U.S. Military has increased. Many soldiers are choosing axes over knives for several reasons. An axe is much more effective in chopping wood, making shelters, and traveling through dense areas than traditional knives.

Axes also have more reach and require less dexterity than a knife in close quarters combat, which is useful in situations where visibility is low and corners are common. Humans using axes for self defense and survival has been documented going back thousands and thousands of years, much longer than that of a knife type weapon.

Axes can also cause more damage with a glancing blow than a knife. Some soldiers have been known to use an axe in creative ways, including as a paddle and a frying pan. Axes have also been known to be used as climbing aids.

Tomahawks and throwing axes have each had their own place in history. As their uses and our knowledge of them has evolved over time, so too has their design. They have become very similar in the modern age. As the popularity of throwing axes and tomahawks continues to grow, the remaining differences between the two are sure to continue to diminish.

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