In recent years the outdoorsmanship industry (shooting, hunting, hiking, climbing ect) has definitely become more inclined towards products that are described as “tactical”. I actually wrote a piece on the phenomenon called “The trend of tactical”. With seemingly every accessory offering a tac option (at a price) we should ask ourselves what does it offer that is “better” than a standard option? While tactical has a military connotation it also denotes a tool which is ideally suited to a specific job at hand. With this question in mind I have taken a look at a couple of modern takes on the ancient Tomahawk – a traditional tool which is historically intertwined in outdoorsmanship and bushcraft.
Most people percieve the Tomahawk commonly sold today as an ancient American Indian design. While they did indeed use axe type tools with a shape vaguely similar to the modern version this shape was born from materials and tech available rather than design. The traditional Tomahawks were crafted from wood, bone and rocks.
The modern design that most associate as a Tomahawk – relatively slim metal head with cutting side and a spike or hammer on the opposing side is actually derived from the naval boarding axe. Boarding axes became common during the 1700s. The design was not a coincidence but was born purely out of need for specific functions. At the time naval warfare would have involved boarding an enemy vessel or defending your own from being boarded. The ships were wooden and used rope and heavy fabrics. The boarding axe was ideal for chopping into wood, cutting heavy rope, prying boards and at a pinch as a weapon. I say at a pinch because those that required weapons would no doubt have used something more suitable such as a sword. As naval fleets modernised the boarding axe became surplus to requirements and many were traded with tribes for food and provisions or simply discarded.
A boarding axe.
The modern “tac hawk” is virtually identical in looks to the old boarding axes. Why do we need them? I think it has a lot to do with the modern urban environment. A classic axe or hatchet is great for chopping trees but try prying a door open with one. The wedge shaped head of a standard axe struggles to cope with some modern laminates and plastics where as the thinner profiled Hawk usually does a much better job. Bottom line is that unless your just felling trees then the Tactical type Hawk is probably going to give you many more functional options in modern environments than an axe.
I have two modern takes on the Tomahawk to review in this article and I also have a modern small axe/hatchet to compare them with in order to explore which gives better function.
The Estwing Axe.
The Estwing Sportsmans axe is a hugely popular American made model. It retains the classic axe shape and as such offers a great comparison to the T-Hawks. I have owned the E24A model for around 5 years. It gets used for processing firewood and sometimes as a hammer as the back edge is nice and flat. The E24A is a one piece steel construction which makes it very strong. It has a pleasing look to it in part due to the leather handle. While it has been a great tool in the woods it has not been as useful in an urban environment.. It has a classic wedge shape which is perfect for tree branches but useless for modern hard materials. I attempted to use it to disassemble some furniture we were throwing out and it was bouncing off the laminate. This is not a fail on the part of Estwing it is just physics. Wedge shape axes are amazing for chopping logs which is exactly what they are designed for. Can our tactical T-hawks split logs and take on modern materials? Lets find out..
The Schrade Scaxe5
Although it doesn’t get a cool name you would struggle to miss this based on looks alone. Whenever I have taken it out to test or photograph it has inspired plenty of interest. Schrade describe the Scaxe 5 as a “tactical hatchet” which I think is a pretty accurate sub heading.
Although I am sure it will appeal to the “zombie preparedness” crowd it is not predominantly a weapon or defensive tool. It is designed for maximum functionality for use in a variety of situations. In Martial terms it would no doubt be a very useful method of entry tool. The secondary use (and no doubt the most popular) is as a general camping or household tool.
The first thing I noted about the Scaxe5 was the full tang design. The tang runs a 1/4″ thich down to the base which finishes with a Pry tool and nail puller. I have used it as such and it performed very well and displayed good strength when I put some weight into the prying. The pry tool also makes an excellent digging implement which can be useful when finding water or digging out edible plants.
The handles are nylon and very securely fitted. I found the handle fine and its contours offered several variations in the way you can hold/use the Scaxe5. You can grasp the end for increased leverage/power or take a mid grip for added control. You can also comfortably choke right up next to the head for really fine work such as feathersticks.. Some people have replaced the nylon scales with paracord wrap. I personally did not feel the need to do that as it is perfectly functional in standard guise.
The handle features a lanyard hole which is always useful. The large oblong hole just beneath the head is apparently for valves on cylinders. I am guessing you would just slip it over and torque it. Personally I have no cylinders to test it on but it also serves as weight reduction which gets my vote. The weight of the Scaxe5 is 1.56lb which is on par with the Estwing Sportsman at 1.5lb.
Blade Steel and use.
The steel is SK-5 which hails from Japan. It is a carbon steel similar to 1080 and retains good edge retention. I kept an eye out for the edge thinking it might roll or fracture under abuse but It maintained a good edge during every use. I maintained it with a Lansky Puck sharpener when required (approximately every 5 uses). I should mention that the Scaxe 5 has claimed several cut fingers due to its sharpness. Do not be fooled into thinking this brute lacks a fine edge.. It will slice paper clean just like a well sharpened pocket knife. The rear “spike” is quite dull in comparison which is a good thing. The spike acts as a penetrative pry tool or again can be used for digging/scraping. It bites into timber with ease. I also tested it on a Firedoor (laminate) and modern window frames (PVC). The spike will puncture pretty much anything that is softer than the SK-5 steel and affords plenty of leverage. For the civillian this function would be useful in small demolition or bushcraft tasks. For professional use this would obviously be a useful method of entry tool or could be put to use in urban escape situations. Of course the size of the Scaxe5 means you have to be realistic. It took me quite a while to punch a decent looking hole in the firedoor making the Scaxe 5 more of a utility backup than a primary demolition or entry tool.
The same can be said of its performance in the woods. It does an excellent job of chopping given its size and weight. It would certainly out chop any standard machetes and large blade knives. As mentioned before the axes made for chopping timber are going to have the edge in the woods but they cannot perform the multiple functions of the Scaxe 5.
As usual the price point on this is incredible. The Schrade website has it for around $100 but a quick look around online reveals it can be had for around half of that. UK dealers for the more specialised Schrade items seem few and far between although I did note it was listing on Ebay.co.uk from international sellers.
I really do think this is a superb product. I have used it often and it fills multiple roles really well. It isn’t perfect for all tasks but as a multi use tool you would struggle to find better at the price point..
The Shwartz Tactical “Patry Hawk”.
Now for something really different. Some of you may not have heard of Schwartz Tactical. They are a relatively new field cutlery company in the States producing edged items using Titanium and Carbon fibre. Not something you see everyday.. They have a range of beautiful minimalist knife designs as well as producing custom and special order pieces.
The story of the Patry Hawk is an interesting one. It was a comission from a gentleman by the name of Kyle Patry (see www.kylepatry.com) who is undertaking a record breaking solo Kayak journey. Size and weight constraints are a primary concern in such an excercise which is where Schwartz Tactical step in. Kyle required a multi use tool which would take up minimal space and be incredibly durable and reliable. Titanium tools are well suited to water based activity as Ti is almost completely corrosion resistant. It also has a fantastic strength to weight ratio. The only slight downside to Ti is that it will not take a fine edge like carbon steel. Lets be honest though for a tool or a general purpose knife the edge does not need to be sharp enough to shave with. It just needs to be sharp enough for the task at hand.
The first noticeable features are the size and weight. It is just under 9″ long and weighs a very svelte 0.75lbs!!! Half the weight of both the others with sheath included….. The head of the axe is encased in a carbon fibre sheath which fits very well. The bungee quick release on the sheath works extremely well and is simple to use. The sheath has multiple lashing points so it could be mounted to you or your pack. The handle has grippy CF scales which are securely bolted onto the tang. The edges of the handle have deep jimping which provide further grip. During pronged use the jimping can bite the hands a bit so gloves would be a good idea. I am guessing a secure grip is more important to someone who is spending much of their time on or around water as opposed to worrying about ultimate comfort.
The handle ends with a finger sized hole which can be used to tie rope or a lanyard to. Keeping a length of rope with a caribiner tied to it would allow you to clip on quickly and use the Hawk for snagging floating objects or even hanging from a branch as a hook for game or utensils in camp.
As already mentioned the only two materials used are Ti and Carbon fibre. When the Patry hawk arrived it had been to a blade show previously and had not been sharpened for some time. I gave it a touch up with a Lansky Puck and it was sharp enough to cut paper. The main cutting blade is finished in a stubby point which really helps it bite. As the Patry Hawk is small and comparitively light the extra bite is appreciated. I have taken it out into the woods multiple times and used it for processing wood for camp sized fires. It did this with ease. You can also choke up tight and use one of the main blade edges for feather sticks and kindling which was no problem at all.
The rear part of the head features a spike which is suited for penetration or prying. I tried it on some large pieces of timber, just digging it deep and levering to gouge a deep hole and it performed well. It is a little short to be used like the Scaxe5 for method of entry ect but the Patry hawk was never supposed to be anything other than a small and very versatile wilderness survival tool.
The Patry Hawk is well made and incredibly tough. It will never rust or break on you, even losing it would be difficult given the generous attachment point for lanyard and fantastic sheath.
If I were looking for the ultimate wilderness survival tool in the lightest and smallest package possible I would be buying a Patry Hawk from Schwartz Tactical. They do not currently list the Patry on their web page as the design is very new but I am sure if any of you contact Schwartz they will give an update on availability and price. Their entire range is really well priced given the materials used, most of their knives are around the $150 region – bargain.
Once again this article shows that each item has its own speciality. We get back to that word “tactical” – tools or methods to best achieve your goal. As the consumer you must have a good think about what you need to achieve. Is weight an issue? Or size? Do you require a specific function or are you looking at a jack of all trades type of tool? There are always going to be trade offs. For me these tactical hawks do indeed provide functions which a standard axe or machete could not and as such represent a sensible option. I will continue to put both of these items to good use. The Scaxe5 will be fulfilling an urban role while the Patry hawk will sit nicely in the hiking pack. As for the Estwing it will retain its role as a small splitter for firewood at home.
As always I only review items which I personally like and recommend. If I use something and it fails then it will never make it to review as I do not have time to waste on negativity. All three of these items are recommended with great vigour as they performed flawlessly. All that remains is for you to work out which would best suit your needs.
Schrade – www.taylorbrandsllc.com
Schwartz Tactical www.schwartztactical.com