Story and Photos by Kevin Estela
Why do people still carry .45s when modern ammunition has made smaller calibers comparable in performance? Why do people restore older off-road vehicles, instead of driving new ones? Why does wearing wool hunting clothes make more sense than nylon? A single word can answer all these pressing questions – tradition.
Another word closely associated with tradition is history.
The American Tomahawk Company revives a rich history in their new Model 1 Tomahawk, and it is everything you might expect.
One of the most recognizable features of a tomahawk is the back spike.
Most axes and hatchets have hammer pols, whereas tomahawks generally don’t. A back spike, to some, is meant more to be a weapon than a tool. However, if you’re looking to puncture, break, split or rake, the spike might be the perfect appendage.
We recently tested the American Tomahawk Company Model 1 on some bricks and cinder blocks. You would think a cinder block would trash anything pointy – or resembling an edge – that gets pounded through it. But, after breaking the first few bricks, and graduating to the larger blocks, I examined the spike and found no damage. It actually made me somewhat disappointed when I ran out of bricks to break.
Rest assured, breaking through a wall may never be in your plans but just know, if you needed to, you could.
The Model 1 comes with a very utilitarian edge. You probably won’t shave hair from your arm with it, but it is a true working edge.
It’s possible to resharpen and reprofile the edge to something that will accomplish this, but why? Keep in mind what this tomahawk was originally designed for. In a combat zone, a fine edge on a tomahawk is a liability, where a more robust edge is less likely to chip or roll.
The Model 1 stays true to this original intent and, even though the edge is meant to be utilitarian, both hawks sent for the review were highly polished. The edge was perfectly suited for limbing branches and turning sticks into pointed sticks, for stakes and camp furnishings.
The beard of the Model 1 is not sharpened. Some previous models from different manufacturers – as well as user-modified versions – may feature this edge but we’re glad this one doesn’t have it.
A sharpened beard is better utilized for hooking cuts and combatives but when the head of the tomahawk with an unsharpened beard is grasped, in different positions, the user doesn’t have to worry about cutting their hand.
If the user wants to sharpen this feature or the back spike, a simple bastard file and some stones are all that will be needed to bring the ground bevels to a sharpened state.
For fun, I put up an Instagram poll, shortly after receiving both tomahawks for testing. I asked my followers if they would prefer a synthetic or wooden handle. The vast majority wanted good ol’ fashioned hickory, over the Nylon 66 offering.
To be fair, I will say that each one is pretty incredible and buying both will let you have the best of both worlds. Keep in mind, you can purchase 2 hawks for the price of just one of the competitors.
The hickory handle option, painted OD green, is a throwback to the way things were. If you like M1A/M14 rifles, the Colt 1911 slabside, Marlboro Reds, and Budweiser heavies, you’re probably going to pick the wood.
If you’re a Call of Duty fan, wear Vans, appendix carry a Glock, and drink Monster energy drinks, you’re going to go with synthetic. This nylon 66 (STN 66) version is the more durable of the two, with a handle that simply isn’t going to come off no matter what you do to it.
The generalities and stereotypes of the users just mentioned will probably annoy some people, but we’re ok with that and apparently so is the American Tomahawk Company.
Take a look at their website and read the section called, “We’re So Sorry.”
I’ve seen a lot of sheaths, and edge covers, that come with knives and wondered, “was this an afterthought?” Often, sheaths can be of such poor quality that you immediately jump online and look for an aftermarket option. This is not the case with the American Tomahawk Company Model 1.
Made from thick Kydex, with hollow-rivet construction, this sheath feels substantial and built to last. The Kydex body of the sheath can be configured for belt carry (with MOC straps (made by partner RMJ)), MOLLE carry, over the shoulder carry, or backpack carry to name a few.
The Kydex sheath has pull-the-dot snaps, on the MOC straps, for security but I doubt it is even needed beyond the rigid retention the Kydex offers.
The Model 1 inserts, and deploys, from the bottom of the sheath and requires a good tug on the handle to remove it. If you are not attaching a lanyard to the bottom of the handle, you really won’t find much of anything that can catch on the handle and accidentally remove it.
Be forewarned, like all bottom access sheaths, you really need to be careful where you place your support hand as you draw the hawk.
We carried the Model 1 while preparing the teaching location for an upcoming bushcraft/survival class. This meant clearing spots of small saplings for students to camp, taking down any standing dead trees and pounding in markers to denote the training ground boundaries. We also used the Model 1 to prepare seminar materials, including cutting wooden kindling for the campfire and making camp kitchen racks.
We tried the Model 1 on 2×4’s and different materials, commonly found in buildings and general construction. We chopped through different wires and PVC, as well as cut through ropes of different thicknesses and composition. One weekend, we used the Model 1 on a number of dead oak and pine trees bound for the fire pit.
We also wanted to try out both hawks with and without gloves, with slimy and wet hands. The textured nylon handle stayed right in place and, surprisingly, so did the grain of the hickory. If you look closely at the hickory, the grain actually gives just enough traction for a secure grip.
The Model 1 begs to be thrown – it just has that balance that screams “throw me.”
Between the two samples sent to us, we opted to throw the nylon (STN 66) over the hickory version. We’ve experienced enough handle splitting and breaks with other throwing tomahawks over the years and, even though replacement handles are available through American Tomahawk Company for $28, we didn’t want to worry about rehanging one.
We used two different targets, one made from blocks of 2x4s and the other a suspended end cut of hardwood, in our throwing test.
We led with the forward edge on both targets and it stuck well on both. The tomahawk was very easy to track in midair and could zero in on what distance was required to stick the edge perfectly.
Then we turned the hawk around and threw the back spike with mixed results. The back spike stuck in the split end grain of the 2x4s and sometimes in the hardwood. We believe if we sharpened it to a more distinct point, we could stick it into the hardwood but would lose the strength of the point for concrete bashing.
We settled to keep it as is instead of modifying it.
We knew it would happen, but we also knew we could fix it.
During the throwing tests, our synthetic handle Model 1 deflected off the target and into a rock, edge first. This put a flat spot in the factory edge.
It should be noted, the hawk still cut with this flat spot and we didn’t hesitate to continue using it. It was a good thing, getting a blemish in the edge, in the same way getting a first scratch or ding in a new car lets you park closer to others and be more open to getting a second little imperfection.
Sharpening was easily accomplished with a Worksharp Guided Field Sharpener – the diamond stones put a good working edge back on the hawks. As previously mentioned, a simple bastard file would also be a good addition to the kit that supports this hawk.
We didn’t stress too much about putting a nice finish back on the edge, but we did play around with some simple black and green compound. 1060 steel could be mirrored in a short time if the user wanted it that way.
Here’s my take on the American Tomahawk Company Model 1.
It’s the chopping tool version of a Swiss Army Knife, duct tape, WD40 and Tabasco Sauce. In other words, it isn’t the best tool for any one job in particular but it will get the job done, because it’s capable of many.
Like the Swiss Army Knife in my pocket, the duct tape and WD40 in my tool box and Tabasco sauce in my camp kitchen, the Model 1 is a multi-tool that will ride in my vehicle when many of life’s problems need a solution.
Sure, I could carry a full-size ax, a crowbar, and a mallet or I could carry the Model 1. I also could carry a bottle opener, a small folding saw, a pair of scissors, etc., etc. or I could just carry my Swiss Army Knife. The Model 1 is a multi-tool with a lot of character and history. It’s an amazing tool, made right here in the United States of America, and I’m comfortable in saying that I’d take it anywhere stateside or internationally, in the pursuit of exploration. K&G
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Head Material: 1060 high carbonCutting Edge: 2.5 inchesOverall Head Length: 8 inchesOverall Length: 14.125 inchesWeight w/o Sheath: Nylon 21.8 ounces, Hickory 18.6 ouncesHandle Material: Tennessee Hickory or Nylon 66Sheath: KydexManufactured: In the USAMSRP: $189.00
American Tomahawk Company(423) 541-5342www.AmericanTomahawk.com
American Tomahawk CompanyKnifeCenter
If you are wondering why the Model 1 looks familiar, it’s because it has a rich history spanning decades.
Peter Lagana created the first version of his updated tomahawk in the mid-1960s and it earned a solid reputation for strength, versatility, and capability in the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam.
Lagana was a mail carrier with a bloodline traced back to the Iroquois. He was a combatives instructor in “silent weapons” before those skills were referred to as “combatives.”
There were about 4000 Lagana tomahawks carried by American armed forces overseas and there were also accounts of the hawks coming into lethal play when firearms failed and the enemy closed in.
Those accounts were told by the victors by the way. Victors who carried the Lagana.
Handing off the baton
In 2002, Peter Lagana passed away after a battle with cancer. After his death, the American Tomahawk Company continued to produce hawks for some time, later followed by other companies who produced their version of the tomahawk.
In 2019, RMJ USA assumed the helm and purchased the company, along with the dies used to forge them.
RMJ is known for their integral-designed tomahawks, including the Shrike, Kestrel, Jenny Wren, and Loggerhead. The acquisition of The American Tomahawk Company made sense and the Model 1 hawks we received for testing were the result of RMJ throwing their collective knowledge, technology, and experience into the equation.
Kevin Estela is a professional Bushcraft and Survival Instructor, Author, Martial Artist, and teacher. He is the former Lead Survival Instructor of the Wilderness Learning Center under Marty Simon and the Owner of Estela Wilderness Education. Kevin’s book, 101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods is an Amazon best seller and his 140 published print articles in 20 different magazines with many more online blog posts make up over a decade of his outdoor-industry writing career. Additionally, Kevin is a Sayoc Kali Senior-Level Associate Instructor and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple Belt. He has trained under top firearms instructors and he enjoys shooting and marksmanship. A knife guy through and through, Kevin has been tapped by numerous companies to assist with knife designing and testing. His company motto was born of his no-nonsense outdoor experience in many countries around the globe, “Trusted information proven in the field”. When not wearing these hats, he is a mild-mannered high-school history teacher in a public school in Bristol, CT.
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