One of the biggest issues a monkey can face when heading out into the bush is what to take and what to leave behind. Say you’re going on a weekend trip to the trees with some friends. Now we all like to think that all of our friends like us for our company, but face it, everyone is just a ‘little’ competitive when it comes to our gear. Some like to flaunt the awesome cooking set they have, others enjoy making a roaring fire (even on the hottest summer nights… ugh) with nothing more than what they can find. Me, I like having the unexpected or impressive, but useful little widget.
And over the past 10 years or so, the tomahawk has had a nice resurgence into the world of the outdoorsman. Sure, you could always find a few around, if you knew where to look (the guy in traditional buckskin is a ringer), but more and more folks are taking a ‘hawk with them. For the most part, the basic form and design hasn’t changed over the years – a small bearded axe head with the occasional spike / hook, mounted on a wooden shaft. For the American Indians, the tomahawk wasn’t an option; it was a necessary tool for survival. With metals precious, the wooden handle was a more logical choice, as it was easy to repair and replace with minimal skill and tools. Today however, we have ready access to materials that have allowed the design to grow and evolve in ways that would have astounded those braves.
So what better way to impress your camp mates than with a high quality, dependable modern tomahawk? Well you would be hard pressed to find a more evolved tomahawk than the All Steel Tomahawk by Demko Knives. These tomahawks are crafted with longevity in mind, balancing the benefits of the traditional design with durability. This is a fine line to walk, as a design that would be ‘indestructible’ runs the risk of becoming heavy and too cumbersome to be practical, but this is exactly where Andy Demko’s design and craftsmanship place the All Steel Tomahawk. This beauty measures 16 inches overall, with a head width of 7 inches, blade length of 2 7/8 inches, and a spike length of 3 ½ inches. The full tang and handle combination make for an overall weight of 10 ounces. This is heavier than a non-full tang construction, but the use of G-10 handles in place of a full steel configuration keeps the mass in a range that is reasonable for use at the camp site. The steel surface has a powder coat finish in either black or brown/green to prevent corrosion, and the handmade handle scales are bolted on, and come in a variety of colors. Bolting the scales on makes repair easier, should you get a little over zealous and manage to break them. Also each All Steel Tomahawk comes with a leather sheath, custom designed and manufactured by JRE Industries.
What impressed me the most is the intelligent use of the steel in the construction of the piece. Rather than use a lesser quality, lighter steel, S7 tool steel is used. S7 is typically used for impact tools, such as punches and dies, and is made to take punishment. By forming the tomahawk using differential heat treatment (that’s using variable tempering to give different hardness over the whole piece – you did read our articles on blacksmithing, right?) Andy Demko has varied the hardness to be able to handle all of the typical tasks you would attempt. To begin the process, the entire tomahawk is tempered to 58 Rockwell Hardness (C). Then from the base of the head to the handle is tempered to 48 HRC. This provides a more forgiving and shock resistant handle, but a hard, strong head and spike. The only drawback with this technique would be the additional waste of metal as a result of the work required to accomplish the differential heat treatment. Of course, that’s like saying that an M1A2 tank is really nice, but uses a lot of steel. If you want a tank, don’t think about it like it is a pickup truck. If you are interested in getting a reliable and nigh on indestructible tomahawk, don’t think about the All Steel Tomahawk like it is a camp axe. Of course when you are actually using it, the heft and feel work to remind you that this is a serious piece of hardware.
When I took my tomahawk out for some field work, it was a typical Western Pennsylvania morning. A light drizzle was coming down, and the sun was going to have to fight hard to make the mercury climb, so I was looking forward to some exertion to get warmed up. So when I sidled up to the first stand of small trees to hack away on, I debated leaving on my light leather gloves. I’m not a big fan of gloves in general, as I prefer the fine control a bare hand allows when working with simple hand tools, but this morning I opted for the warmer option, expecting to have my grip slip about a bit. I should not have worried since the G10 handles had good surface contours and a thick grit sand blast finish held tight in my hand. Even after getting a good slime of cold, wet mud on it, I wasn’t concerned about slippage. And as I said before, you have to keep in mind is a tomahawk isn’t a camp axe. With the slim head, you will sink into wood with little chance of separating it into halves. But for clearing brush out of your way, the All Steel Tomahawk works great. I know of folks who have it lashed to their quads to clear pathways, and it works like a charm. Chopping small limbs up was assisted as the mass of the piece added impact to my swings, as opposed to some other tomahawks that were a bit to light for clearing work. Finally the spike was very easy to sink into wood, and felt like it could really take a beating.
After about an hour of some chopping and making a few tent stakes, I felt limber enough to try my hand at throwing. I’m just going to say it; I’m not a very accomplished thrown weapons guy. But since the All Steel Tomahawk has durability as its hallmark, I wasn’t too worried about damaging it. Maybe this made me more relaxed because I threw some of the best throws I had done in years. Again the weight may have actually helped me, with the extra mass helping to sink in throws that may not have had enough speed to really stick, but I wouldn’t have wanted to throw more than a few rounds. Traditional tomahawks would be easier, but see my previous discourse on tanks; for my money if it comes to ease of throwing over durability, I’ll take the weight and not have to worry about it breaking.
A bit later, I took the tomahawk out with me to our camping group and passed it around for some general camp chores and all around work. The JRE leather sheath got almost as many smiles as the tomahawk itself since quite a few of my friends do their own leather work. The sling carry allows the tomahawk to lay, handle down, with the head near your belt line. Using only one hand, it was very easy to unsnap the clip and angle out the piece for quick use. A few folks were taking a stab at ‘quick draw throwing’ with it, but got distracted by our daily rum-ration call so I can’t report a clear winner. As I experienced earlier, most folks commented on the advantage of the weight, and the nigh on indestructible design.
Finally one fellow with a significant military career commented that this would have been fantastic to have in Afghanistan. The geographic and political significance of the country has, over centuries of conflict, spawned a culture that values a show of strength. I was told that even today, when openly carrying a firearm is outlawed for civilians, having a knife by your side is a symbol of power and status. To enter a person’s dwelling without such a weapon may be considered an insult to the occupant, as a show of contempt. The fellow I was speaking too said that having this slung on your side would be the equivalent of riding around in a Mustang, if the Mustang also had machine guns mounted on the top. And just like the Mustang, the Tomahawk itself is as American as the soldiers in harm’s way, and was, in my friend’s opinion, a worthwhile investment for anyone in Afghanistan or anyone who had friends/family over there.
And that brings us to the price; the All Steel Tomahawk and a sticker price of $525. For a handmade tomahawk, this is a great price for all of the craftsmanship that goes into them. And this is a tool that you will take with you and use, as opposed to something really pretty that you cringe over every time it comes off of the mantle.