Making a Tomahawk Better

I bought a tomahawk for my mountain hunting trip because its lighter than a hatchet and well… I’ve always wanted a tomahawk. I wasn’t particularly happy with the fit and finish of it so I decided to make it better, with a little help from the internet and my step-dad.

Here it is brand new

Here it is brand new

When I first got it the handle was unfinished and splintered a bit at the bottom and the head was loose. For a quick fix I put a wrap of tape around the handle under the head to keep it from wiggling and wrapped the bottom of the handle with cotton hockey tape to protect myself from the splinters. After the trip I decided to actually do something about it.

Lets look at the handle first since it was the easiest. Basically I took out the set-screw holding the head onto the handle so I could take the head off. Then I removed the tape I had previously put on. I then began sanding the handle down. I found that no matter how much I sanded the last four inches or so of the handle just seemed to be too damaged to be recovered. So I just cut the end off, I decided to do this at a 45 degree angle, I like the way it looks and there was no way I was going to cut it perfectly square with my hand saw.

Pre-sanding and cutting

 

Post-sanding and cutting

Post-sanding and cutting

Next I used a rub-on oil as a finish. I wanted a darker finish so I went with minwax brand antique oil. I just followed the directions and rubbed on a few coats with a cheese cloth.

Now the tomahawk head. After taking the head off I placed it in a plastic grocery bag with some paint stripper and let it sit for about a day, reapplying more paint remover ever few hours. Once all the paint on it was loose and flakey I rinsed it and used some steel wool to remove all the excess.

The tomahawk head after the paint was removed

The tomahawk head after the paint was removed

Next using a metal file, I ground the edges of the eye of the head (the hole that sits around the  handle) this is to make it fit a bit tighter on the handle and prevent it from scraping and splintering the handle when the head is taken on or off.

Just take enough to dull the edge

Just take enough to dull the edge

Next I decided to give my tomahawk a little more character, I wanted to patina the head making it look much older than it was. I decided I wanted a bit of an uneven patina, to me that looks more “authentic” so first I cleaned the head thoroughly with nail polish remover to get any grease or oils off of it. From this point on I was careful to never actually touch the head with my hands, I just handled it with paper towel, rubber gloves would also have worked. I then spread some mustard on the metal head, then wrapped it in paper towel and then soaked it in vinegar for about an hour. The acid from both the mustard and the vinegar forced oxidization at different rates which created a unique pattern.

Finally, a use for mustard

Finally, a use for mustard

Wrap in paper towel and soak in vinegar

Wrap in paper towel and soak in vinegar

 

What it looked like after an hour

What it looked like after an hour

I unwrapped it and rinsed it in the sink to remove all the surface rust. In my research I had seen people leaving the head in a jar of vinegar for a more even finish, if you wanted a wilder one you could use a lot more mustard and wrap it in plastic. This is a part where you can really get creative and make something interesting, there aren’t a lot ways to do it wrong.

Now that my tomahawk head had no finish on it and had already been rusting I needed to do something to make sure it wouldn’t start rusting the first time I took it outside. I was informed that the best solution was to heat it with a hair dryer and then coat it with a protective oil. So I heated it up and wrapped it in an old rag soaked in a CLP (Clean, Lube, and Protect) there are many of these on the market but I opted to use “Frog Lube” for no reason other than I had some handy. Wd-40 would likely work just as well. I then left it to soak and cool over night.

The following day I put the now completed head onto the previously completed handle, but something was still missing. So I decided to fancy up the handle a bit with a leather wrap. I could try and explain how I did it but it would be much easier to link this video that showed me how to do it.

The finished product

The finished product

I opted not to put the set-screw back in. In an emergency if I ever break the handle I can just pull the head off and use it to make a new handle.

I found that I had trouble getting the head to stop wobbling on the handle so I put a wrap of tape under it, it worked well but kinda feels like cheating… so dont tell anyone I told you. If you have any questions feel free to ask, also search online for “custom cold steel tomahawk” and you will find a lot of fancy projects and an overwhelming amount of information on the subject.


Posted in How-Towith 2 comments.

Comments

  • Jeanne says:

    Interesting Tyson. I would call what you purchased a hatchet.
    When I was young we had a tomahawk (toy ??). It was a wooden handle with bulb shaped head.
    This head was not perfectly round, it had various points on it. One could say that the head was carved as, the points were situated at various angles protruding from the head.

    I know, things change, and considering my age..thanks for the update.

    • Tyson says:

      Hmm, I would be interested to learn the difference between a tomahawk and a hatchet because to be honest I just trusted the packaging on it. I would also be curious to see what you’re describing, sounds pretty wild.

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