Like many war veterans, my father didn’t really like to talk about his experiences to his family, trivializing his involvement any time it came up. I was well into college when I realize that Guadalcanal was something more than just a name spoken in the same fashion as ‘toaster oven’. So the times when I could hear a story or two were rare. The specific story that came into my mind when I first laid eyes on the Cold Steel Spike Hawk tomahawk was stolen when I was a child, by hiding myself in the shadows at the top of our stairs when my uncles were over for a late night visit.
My father recounted how he passed the boredom common to soldiers by practicing throwing knives into the wooden door of his shared tent. He and his fellow leather necks had reinforced the door by adding scrap wood and were throwing their k-bar knives over a variety of distances. One afternoon, another member of their platoon walking by heard the noise of metal sinking into wood, and came to investigate. It was their ‘communication specialist’, a soft spoken American Indian my father called ‘Boxer’. After being invited to join in, Boxer pulled from his belt a handmade tomahawk. Fashioned out of scrap spring steel and a wooden handle, he taught my father and the others the art of throwing axes. I can picture the odd scene in my head; a very light skinned but huge soldier of obvious Eastern European descent, standing in the Philippine jungles, being taught how to throw a tomahawk by an American Indian.
It was this odd image that was flitting through my head as I stood before my cut log target, holding on to the Spike Hawk. Coming in around 22 inches long, this axe harkens back to a simpler time. Made under The American Tomahawk Company name, these Cold Steel axes are actually produced in Taiwan. This can be a source of confusion to some, but in my experience it’s not the location of the production facility that determines the quality, rather the skill of the work forces. And if you are looking for a camp axe with a little more flair than what you can get at the cookie-cutter camping mega-stores, you could do a lot worse and spend a while lot more! With an MSRP of $48, these can be found online in the upper 20s to lower 30s. And what you get for the price is a good tool for both the camp site, and a nice throwing weapon to boot. As with any non-custom built thrower, if you want to have the performance, you need to be willing to put a little bit of time in to the Cold Steel Spike Hawk, but in my opinion no more than any other mass produced throwing axe.
Upon delivery, the Spike Hawk comes with a 22 inch American Hickory handle attached to a 9 inch 1055 carbon steel head. As the name implies, a nasty looking curved spike lies opposite of the cutting head, and both come shipped with a factory edge and point. This axe doesn’t come with a scabbard, so you may feel the need to address this, but more about that later.
Unlike my father, I didn’t expect to have to quick draw and throw the weapon at a moment’s notice, but I must admit I was tempted to try when I saw a ground hog go darting out from my family garden! If I had decided to go varmint hunting with it, the 3 inch cutting head, even with a factory edge, would have made short work of the whistle-pig. And if my throwing spin was a bit too fast, the spike on the other side would have also stopped him in his tracks, the 25 ounces of weight adding plenty of mass to the impact.
Since I wanted to test this out of the box, I didn’t do any tinkering with the axe itself, but I will address some changes that I would have done to personalize the weapon. I have been taught that a throwing axe, be it a tomahawk or mammen, needs to have a little slop in the handle fit. This is to distribute the shock of impact and reduce the chance of splintering the handle after a forceful hit. Contrary to expectation, it’s not when you miss that the handle is in the most jeopardy, but when you hit, the lever point being the neck of the head acting on the handle after the sudden stop of hitting the target. The Spike Hawk comes equipped with a set screw to secure the head and handle, and I was sorely tempted to remove it, but I resisted the temptation.
As it turned out, I should not have been too concerned. You see, while I could imagine myself in the same setting that my father was in all those years ago, the skill imparted to him (and that he passed on to me as a teenager in the woods of central Pennsylvania) apparently had better things to do that day. I’m not going to blame my failures on the equipment, they will rest securely on my decrepit body. I found the Spike Hawk to be well balanced, a quality enhanced by the long handle. On the occasions where I actually contacted a sharp or pointy bit with the target, it stuck with a satisfying ‘thunk’. The factory edge was up to the task for a throwing weapon, and the spike sunk it deep enough that I had to worry it out rather than simply pull. No, the time when I didn’t sink it were old fashioned flat hits, the head pinging like an angry bell, striking the target soundly on the side of the axe.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I had a chance to work with the Spike Hawk as well and had much better luck making her stick in a tree in Mike’s backyard. Within three throws I had my range and could consistently stick the hawk edge first just about every time. She was a joy to throw and worked well for me and my form.)
While not providing the sticking data I had intended, it did give me insight to the durability of the axe, and despite my efforts, it held up well. The set screw either backed itself off a bit or shifted on the shaft, loosening the head and shaft nicely. After about 30 minutes and a few dozen throws, I gave up, the perceived laughter from the ground hog following me over to the wood pile. That was where I gave the Spike Hawk a ‘camp site’ evaluation.
The only negative thing I encountered were when I tried to use it to make kindling out of a split log. The factory edge wasn’t up to the task, and I needed to swing hard both from the lack of edge and the light weight. The spike was a nice thing to have however, and I used it to sink into a new log and drag it to me for further ministrations. Overall, it performed as well as most other out-of-the-box camp axes I have encountered, the spike proving an unexpected bonus.
(ANOTHER EDITOR’S NOTE: Having worked with a fair number of hawks over the years I have to say that while Mike’s assessment is accurate, splitting logs, even smaller diameter ones, has never been a hawks forte. Taking down smaller trees, dried branches, and limbing low hanging deadwood seems more suited to a hawks firewood gathering abilities. They’ll generally chop fairly well, but splitting isn’t necessarily one of their primary functions. That said, touching up that factory edge is never a bad idea and will generally help in whatever task you’re taking on.)
That being said, I then turned my thoughts to what I could do to personalize the weapon/tool. Folks who play with hand tools can be an odd lot; making custom handles, modifying things, and making tweaks that create a truly one of a kind device out of a stock tool. I’m no exception, and my odd looking collection of hammers, pliers and jigs will attest to that. So if you’re like me, then you would love to have this axe.
As I said, the only ‘required’ change I would recommend would be to put a good edge on it, especially of you are going to use it as a camp axe. Past that, everything else I would do would be to make the axe more ‘mine’. First off, with a properly fitted handle, I see no need for the set screw. By removing the handle to sand it (and perhaps dressing off the burrs on the inside of the cast head), you will get a nice fit that would be firm enough to chop up kindling while retaining enough of a gap to prevent it from shearing while being thrown.
I would also treat the wood itself, to prevent water from causing it to swell, again making the fit too tight. Some folks rub in linseed oil, and I know one guy who treated his handles only with mink oil (typically used for waterproofing leather). Myself, I like to use beeswax. What I do is lightly warm the wood near a camp fire (or the kitchen stove when my wife isn’t around) and rub the wax in by hand with a soft cloth. Any of these methods will work, infusing the wood slightly, providing a water repellant coating that will prevent surface moister and humidity from swelling the wood. Please note that the oils and wax will also swell it slightly, but not so much that you need to sand down more to compensate. Also, don’t forget to seal both ends of the wood well, since the capillary action will be greatest where wood has been cut against the grain.
(LAST EDITOR’S NOTE, I PROMISE: I’m a huge fan of the modding potential on Cold Steel axes and tools. If you look back on the Monkey you’ll find the review I did on the Trail Boss where I stripped the black paint, did a patina finish, had the axe professionally convexed, and stripped and torch striped the handle before coating it with Linseed oil. It came out fantastic in my opinion. I did a similar treatment to a Cold Steel War hammer later on as well. I’ve seen some great hawk mods done on Cold Steel projects and they’re superb platforms for customizing and making them your own.)
And finally, as I mentioned earlier, I’d make or buy a custom made cover for the head when taking it into the woods, just to prevent accidental cuts. I plan on making mine out of 4 ounce leather which I will punch and lash with leather strapping.
So in conclusion, I would recommend the Spike Hawk from Cold Steel to both a person new to tomahawks, as well as a tinkerer looking for another afternoon weapon project. For the money you spend, you can’t beat it, and I think my dad would have liked it too.
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