LEARNING THROUGH COMPARISONS: Part 3. Axe Head Design.
WHY LEARNING THROUGH COMPARISONS? This course is based on comparing the use of three categories of tools as weapons, the Bowie knife, the Kukri and the Axe/Tomahawk. My goal is to show you how to recognize both the pros and cons of each design and how to use them effectively, taking into account their strengths and weaknesses.
V1: Some pros and cons of using a tomahawk as a combat tool.
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PTI TOMAHAWK TRAINING: Gear and Principles.
Some considerations to think about when training with a tomahawk for self-defense purposes.
Let’s examine ax head design and compare the differences between axes designed as: a Woods tool, a Weapon, or a Combat/Utility multi-tool.
The tools seen in this video:
MAULS: (Fishkars X15 and a cheap hardware store maul shown), I use the first two axes shown in the video for splitting logs. Notice how thick the bits are. They are used to split logs that have already been cut to length (by a chainsaw these days, but previously, by a handsaw).
Mauls are designed to act as a wedge and are used to chop into the end grain of a log to split it apart along the grain.
Fiskars X15: For some strange reason, Fiskars markets this as a felling axe, but as you can see in the video, it has a thick wedge shape, better suited for splitting logs.
FELLING AXE: ( Estwing “Camper’s” model shown in video. Council Tools Double Bit axe in photo below). The Eastwind axe has a much thinner blade than axes made for splitting logs. This design is common with an axe intended to “fell” a tree; to cut it down and, if you had no saw, to cut it to length. It is designed to cut deeply across the grain, separating the fibers. I will put the Estwing in the toolbox of my truck when we are expecting a bad storm and have used it more than once to cut the branches from a downed tree across our road. I then section the tree's trunk with a large folding saw, cutting it into lengths light enough to move off the roadway. Here's the saw I keep in my truck. It's a Silky brand Bigboy.
A note on the double bit axe. This kind of axe was often used to clear land, with one side sharpened to a fine edge, which would bite deeply into the trunks of trees to fell them with fewer strokes. The other edge was sharpened at a steeper angle for rough work, such as chopping into roots, where the bit might strike the ground and the thicker edge would help prevent chipping.
CAMPING AXE: (Cold Steel Trail Boss) The third axe shown in video V2 is a good compromise design for both light felling and splitting. This style of axe, with a blade that's in-between a maul and a felling axe in thickness and a handle just long enough for use with two hands, is often sold as a camping, bushcraft or hunters axe. Note the tape on the handle to help prevent the wood from splitting if I miss my target and keep the head from flying off.
V3. Basic Axe Skills-Tree Felling:
(From one of my favorite youtube channels The Grey Bearded Green Beret)
V4. Basic Axe Skills II Bucking and Splitting:
V5. WAR VS SELF DEFENSE: Techniques designed for use in ancient warfare, with your brother warriors fighting beside you, may not work well in a modern self defense situation, where you might be fighting alone against two or more attackers.
Note: A Cold Steel Norse Hawk on a 30 inch handle was shown in the video below, as this was the closest thing I had to a long handed Viking axe. A Cold Steel Viking Axe with a 10" head and a 52" handle would have worked better for this demo, if I had one.
LAGANA VIETNAM TOMAHAWK: As explained in the V5 video, this design helps mitigate a major problem in using an axe for self defense purposes, namely getting your axe stuck in bad guy number 1, while bad guy number 2 is attacking you. The SOG Tactical Tomahawk is shown in the video. If you would like a version of a Lagana style hawk that’s closer to the original than the SOG, I would recommend the American Tomahawk company’s Model 1 (with the hickory handle if you want authenticity, but the nylon handle if you want toughness).
V6. A 1999 interview with Peter Lagana:
CRKT KANGEE T-HAWK: This is the tool I keep in my Urban Get-Home-Bag, as it is the smallest breaching tool to get through man-made building materials that will fit into the bag I carry. It is the multi-tool of tomahawks..
V7. Here is a video from RMJ designer Ryan Johnson teaching a first responder how to use a tactical tomahawk to get into a car to rescue a crash victim.
Here is a list of other uses for a tactical tomahawk as a rescue device.
People stuck in their home during a hurricane in Louisiana used a hatchet to chop through the roof of their attic and escape drowning from rising flood waters.
Pry bars are recommended tools to keep in earthquake survival kits to help open doors that became stuck during the initial quake and escape a structure before an aftershock hits and the building collapses. Both the spike and the top beveled edge of the T-Hawk can function as a pry bar, with each having the ability to get into different areas.
V8. Here is a story from a father telling how a RMJ Tomahawk was used to save the life of his son and other US soldiers in Afghanistan.
CAMPING HAWKS & HATCHETS: Photo: Cold Steel Trail Hawk, Fiskars X7 Hatchet, Plumb Boy Scout Hatchet. The short handled Plumb hatchet was the common size we used when I was a scout in the 70s. However, the longer 22" handle on the Trail Hawk makes the tomahawk safer to use, since it can be held in two hands for security. If both hands are on the axe handle, then one can't be holding the wood you are cutting, just in case you miss :-). In general, the longer the handle, the safer an axe is to use, since the length of the swing is increased and you are less likely to hit yourself if you miss your target. These kinds of lightweight tools are designed for smaller jobs, such as splitting kindling, rather than taking down large trees.
PH Left to Right: The eyes of a Cold Steel Trail Hawk with the handle in place, a Condor Greenland Hatchet and the empty eye of a Cold Steel Pipe Hawk.
For most of its history, axes were hung by sliding the head up a tapered wood handle through the eye.
PH Left to Right: Condor Greenland hatchet, a replacement hatchet handle with both wooden and steel wedges and the Cold Steel Pipe Hawk head above its handle.
In video V5 of this essay I mention how the straight poll on the Trail Hawk (left) will not get caught on the beard of another hawk; while the barrel shaped poll of the Pipe Hawk will. This is one of those things you learn while doing experiments with your tools and trying out different combinations of weapon vs weapon.
V9. DRAWING A SHORT HATCHET W/ ATTACHED SHEATH
(From the Learning Through Comparisons video)
V10. DRAWING A TOMAHAWK W/ ATTACHED SHEATH
(From the Learning Through Comparisons video)
V11. DRAWING A SHORT TOMAHAWK FROM A KYDEX SHEATH
(From the Learning Through Comparisons video)
V12. DRAWING A KANGEE T-HAWK FROM A KYDEX SHEATH
(Dominant side draw)
CONCLUSION: One of the reasons I started the Learning Through Comparisons series was to correct a problem. In recent years I’ve watched more and more FMA people pick up weapons from outside general FMA practice, (such as the tomahawk or kukri) and use them with the exact same techniques they had learned in FMA class, without modifications of the techniques required by the differences in the designs of these weapons. Therefore, this series is just as much about how NOT to use these weapons as how to use them.
In comparing three different weapon/tool designs and their functions, my goal is to teach you how to evaluate weapon designs for yourself and take these principles and use them to intelligently compare different things in the future. Learning through comparisons is a technique of learning how to learn and can be used in many areas of life.
Train Hard, but Train Smart,
Tuhon Bill McGrath
You will find the Learning Through Comparisons series and other videos for sale on this page of the PTI web store:
The three videos in the LTC series can be purchased with a Cold Steel rubber training tool on this page: https://pekiti.com/products/learning-through-comparisons-video-tool-bundle
LEARNING THROUGH COMPARISONS: PART 1
LEARNING THROUGH COMPARISONS: PART 2: https://pekiti.com/blogs/news/learning-through-comparisons-pt-2-drawing-the-weapon
Military veteran and retired police detective Hock Hochhiem has a really insightful discussion on the problems with the axe as a modern martial arts weapon on his website: https://www.forcenecessary.com/tomahawks-kathump-a-painful-look-at-tomahawk-and-axe-training-hock/
For more on the history of the axe in early America, visit: https://www.storey.com/article/evolution-north-american-axe/
For some good tutorials on axe use for firewood processing, visit: https://www.youtube.com/@JoshuaEnyart/videos
Cold Steel Trail Hawk IA WOODSMAN https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pvv97vPLHk
AXES DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY: