Alex Ribar demonstrates how to grip a tomahawk. Photo courtesy Michael Eric Berube

The Art & History of the Tomahawk

What is a tomahawk? Is it a functional tool, a weapon; or a historical art piece? If you ask me it’s all of the above.

The tomahawk, a single-handed axe that traditionally resembles a hatchet, is an iconic weapon that was first developed by the Alogonquin Native Americans.  The word tomahawk was derived from the Alogonquin word “Tomahak” or “Tomahakan,” meaning “used for cutting.”

The Native Americans made tomahawks with stone heads attached to wooden handles, secured with rawhide and sinew.  It was a general-purpose tool used for chopping, cutting, and even used as a weapon.

Four hundred years ago, the Europeans introduced metal blades as an alternative to the tomahawk’s primitive stone blade or deer antler.  Settlers, American soldiers and Native American tribes quickly integrated the use of metal into the design of the tomahawk from that point forward. During the Revolutionary War in the late 18th century, the Continental Congress required all military men to carry either a tomahawk or a cutting sword. Tomahawks have even been used during World War II, The Korean War, and in Vietnam. You can even find it being used by the armed forces of today as well.

How to throw a tomahawk

Photo: Michael Eric Berube

The tomahawk grew in popularity among the Native Indians, frontiersmen, trappers and European settlers. The meaning of the tomahawk grew beyond its use as a tool or a weapon.  It became an integral part of everyday society; signifying status among peers, including friends and foes.  It was even used and given as a diplomatic gift.

The tomahawk came to symbolize both war and peace. If a red-painted tomahawk were placed in front of the chief during a war council, the war chief would deliberate and raise it to rouse the warriors to declare war. However, if the tomahawk were buried, that symbolized peace—giving rise to the phrase— “burying the hatchet.”

A peace pipe could also be incorporated into the design of a tomahawk with a hollow handle and a type of bowl forged into the head.  Some were very ornate used for ceremonial and tribal meetings or during treaty signings. Any way you chop it, the tomahawk has an important place in history.

Today, the tomahawk continues to be a functional work of art, made with drop forged, differentially heat-treated, alloy steel. The handles can be custom engraved, decorated and sold as art pieces.


Move over darts, the art of throwing sharp objects has a new competitor.

All across the country, tomahawk and axe-throwing has become a big attraction at local establishments, outdoor venues, fairs, brew pubs and other events.

Now I’m not big on throwing axes, but throwing a HAWK; that’s more my style. The tomahawk is the easiest weapon to master. Young and old can learn the art of throwing with some instruction and a little practice.

Alex Ribar

The target

First you will need a target. A 4×6-inch thick cut from a piece of large pine or cedar log that is about 18-24 inches in diameter is commonly used. You can either make a stand to hold it up about five feet off the ground, or hang it from ropes with eye hooks. You can also build a frame and use pine boards for your target.

The throw

To begin, start at five paces from the target. Hold the tomahawk at the base of the handle. (Do not choke up on the handle.) The tomahawk should be held firmly, but not too hard. Bring the tomahawk straight back over your shoulder, and step forward as you throw it at your target as though you are throwing a baseball. The tomahawk should only rotate once at this distance. You may need to move half a step forward or backward to get the tomahawk to stick to the target. Once you get it to stick consistently, staple a paper plate to your target. Keep practicing until you can get the tomahawk to stick to the paper plate on every throw. Then, move back about nine to ten paces. The tomahawk should rotate twice at this distance as you get better at throwing.

Before you know it, you will master the art of tomahawk throwing. Most anyone can do this; it’s loads of fun and sure to please your primitive side!

Here at Liberty Rogue Outdoors, the tomahawk has always been a part of our outdoor events, bush craft outings, classes and survival kits. I enjoy teaching others how to throw tomahawks and also compete in throwing competitions. We also produce custom tomahawks with hand-forged heads and custom-engraved hickory handles. Each one is a functional work of art. If you’re interested in a custom tomahawk, please contact Liberty Rogue Outdoors at

Last thing: “If you bury the hatchet” or in this case the HAWK, don’t leave the handle sticking out –just in case you or the other party changes his mind! (Just kidding!)

— Alex “TheRogue’stah”Ribar, reminding you to get outside, find yourself a hobby and remember, it’s all about attitude; the right one! Liberty Rogue Outdoors; History Channel’s Alone, Season 4 contestant; Marine and professional survival instructor.

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