What’s the Difference Between a Hatchet vs. Tomahawk?


It’s common to have the hatchet vs. tomahawk conversation as you prepare for your next outdoor adventure. Both of these tools are useful for many aspects of survival, and several books and news stories tell riveting stories of stranded individuals with limited supplies.

However, there are a few key differences between a hatchet and a tomahawk that make them two different tools.





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The differences between the two are the whole reason the hatchet vs. tomahawk debate exists. It’s true that hatchets and tomahawks appear similar, especially when the size and shape of the head can vary from brand to brand. For many people, both of these tools look like a small ax.

Nevertheless, anyone can learn the difference between a tomahawk and a hatchet. They each have a different style and shape, as well as different backgrounds and purposes.

You’ll quickly learn that you can do most of the things a hatchet can do with a tomahawk. On the other hand, it’s harder to do what a tomahawk can do with a hatchet.



image by pixabay

There are several similarities you can find between hatchets and tomahawks because they both are smaller, more unique versions of an ax.

People across the globe have used axes for thousands of years to chop, cut, and even saw through materials. Over the years, people altered the tools to meet more specific needs. This included making axes for war and for hunting.

The ax’s long handle wasn’t ideal in some situations, leading to smaller versions. Though this leaves out much of the history, this is a crude synopsis to give you the general idea.

Hatchets and tomahawks had the same basic shape of an ax. The head consisted of stone or metal that narrowed to a blade on one end, and the head attached to a short, oftentimes wooden, handle. Today, not much has changed in the design, but metal has proven itself to be a much better material than stone.


man holding hatchet

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Though tomahawks and hatchets have some similarities, there are many other differences to acknowledge when you consider a hatchet vs. tomahawk comparison. These differences may be the deciding factor that helps you to decide which tool to take with you on your next adventure.

These tools have two different backgrounds and purposes. In order to fulfill their purpose, they also have a different build and weight distribution. Your needs will determine whether a hatchet or tomahawk is best for you.


For some people, a hatchet is essential to any survival kit. It’s very versatile and can help you in a variety of situations.

With a hatchet, you can cut down small trees, remove limbs, and build a shelter in the wilderness. It’s also a great tool for splitting kindling, creating tinder, and starting a fire. It can even process small game, chop through snow and ice, and hammer in tent stakes.

If you have an emergency situation, you can survive with a hatchet. With it, you can ensure you have food, shelter, and warmth.

As stated previously, you can do many of the same things with a tomahawk. It’s a great tool that can help you with a variety of tasks. However, tomahawks have another well-known purpose in history.

Tomahawks are also built in such a way that they make great weapons. Native Americans used them in everyday life, as well as in battle. Early soldiers in the United States also carried tomahawks along with their guns.

Tomahawks act as an extension of the arm, and you can protect yourself with it in an emergency. Sure, it won’t hold up to gunfire, but it’s great for close combat. You could use a hatchet for self-defense, but it’s more awkward to fight with than a tomahawk.


Both the hatchet and tomahawk trace their roots back to European explorers and settlers. The Europeans carried small, metal axes with them and used them to trade with the Native Americans. The Native Americans quickly adapted this tool for both domestic and military use, since they were still using stone for all of their tools.

Europeans popularized throwing tomahawks, and the original settlers oftentimes wore one on their belts. On the other hand, the Native Americans decorated their tomahawks using paint, engravings, medicine bundles, eagle feathers, or locks of hair from their pony. Both peoples used tomahawks for everyday activities and battle.

There was a time when all small axes in the Americas fell under the tomahawk category. Back then, even hatchets were appropriate for melee combat and throwing. Today, hatchets have gone back to being more like an ax than a tomahawk in the sense that they’re better suited for domestic tasks.


throwing tomahawks

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The most obvious difference in the hatchet vs. tomahawk debate is that tomahawks are good for throwing and hatchets are not. This is mostly due to their weight distribution and design. They may look similar from a distance, but you’ll notice the difference if you handle each tool.

Hatchets have a short handle and a large, wedge-shaped head. This makes it so that the majority of the weight is in the head, which isn’t ideal for a throwing weapon. The imbalanced weight will cause the handle to flip after you throw it, meaning that you’d likely hit your target with the handle instead of the head.

Hatchets also have secured heads and curved handles that allow you the most control possible over the tool. The curved handles oftentimes have grooves for your hand placement, making you less likely to lose your grip.

Tomahawks have a thinner head that’s lightweight and typically detachable. In fact, the circular cheek in the center of the head isn’t just a menacing decoration. It removes weight from the head without limiting the length of the cutting edge.

Tomahawks also have short, straight handles that are also lightweight. This keeps the tool light in the user’s hand, and it distributes the weight more evenly to allow a clean, straight throw.


Many people have a conversation regarding hatchet vs. tomahawk use because they want to know which tool to purchase. If one is better than the other, it only makes sense to buy the best product out there. However, it isn’t that easy.

If you’re looking for a heavy-duty hatchet or a sleek tomahawk, you’ll see that both have high ratings and reviews online. People recommend both hatchets and tomahawks for everyday outdoor activities, so which one is the best choice?

The answer depends on your needs and preferences. A hatchet is a good, classic choice that won’t disappoint you. A tomahawk is a good choice if you also want your tool for self-defense or participating in throwing competitions, as well as everyday survival.

You should also handle each tool to see which one feels more comfortable and natural in your hands. Some people may feel better about a lightweight option, and others may want the power behind a heavier tool.



While hatchets and tomahawks are essentially miniature axes, using a hatchet offers a different experience than using a tomahawk. Each has its own unique designs that serve different purposes.

Hatchets are perfect for survival kits because they can do everything from building shelters, starting fires, and processing small wildlife. Tactical tomahawks can do many of the things a hatchet can do, but they’re lightweight and make an intimidating weapon too. Which tool you decide on depends on your individual needs.

Which tool would you choose in the hatchet vs. tomahawk debate? Tell us your reasoning in the comments section.

Featured image by: Pixabay

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