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Tomahawk vs Hatchet: What’s the Difference?

Last Updated on May 20, 2020

tomahawk vs hatchet
By definition, a hatchet is a small ax with a short handle for use with one hand. A tomahawk is a light ax used as a tool or weapon. They are practically the same, yet technically, they are different. Let’s explore both of them and see if we can find what differentiates them.


Tomahawks were initially made by Native Americans to be used as tools, and more commonly, as weapons. They had lightweight heads with medium-length handles. Today’s tomahawk doesn’t differ that much from centuries ago.

A tomahawk is a multipurpose tool, but it was specifically designed for tactical uses. It has a perfectly straight handle with one of three different kinds of heads attached to it. Tomahawks have blades that are thin and pretty much flat to make them more aerodynamic, since they were made to be thrown. They can be used as you would use a hatchet, too.



You can get tomahawks with three different types of heads:

  • Single: Has a cutting blade on one side, shaped like a hatchet.
  •  Single with spike: Has a longer cutting blade that is shaped like you took a hatchet head and added a beard. These spikes, as they are known, are great to penetrate things.The back side of either of the singles can be flat or have another precision tool on it.
  • Double: Has a cutting blade on both sides. One of them can be spiked.

You can get longer cutting edges on tomahawk blades, but that adds weight. They are meant to be thrown, though, so you will often find circle cheeks cut into the center of the head. That takes away some of the weight without sacrificing the length of cutting edge.

You can get tomahawks where the blade and handle are one unit, but most of them are two pieces. The blade is made with a large hole so it can slide on or off the handle easily to swap out the blade. That is why you will often see rope wrapped around the joint of the head and handle.


Tomahawk handles are always perfectly straight, and can come in lengths from 20 to 50 centimeters.

Long handles:
Long handles give you better leverage and increased force, but they are larger and heavier, making these tomahawks harder to take with you. Some things that long-handled tomahawks can be used for are:

  • Splitting wood
  • Opening doors
  • Breaking locks
  • Butchering large game
  • Prying

Short handles:
Short handles give you better control over your weapon and are lighter and easier to carry. Some things that you would use a short-handled tomahawk for are:

  • Long hikes
  • Throwing
  • Precision chopping
  • Butchering small game


Hatchets are designed more as work tools for chopping, splitting, shaving, carving and more. They can be used as weapons in a pinch, but are quite heavy for that.

Hatchets have large, wedge-shaped heads with short handles to give you maximum control over the tool. Unlike the tomahawk, the head of a hatchet is permanent. You can sharpen the blades, but the head does not come off the handle. This is because you are using it for heavier work and the head is much more substantial, so you wouldn’t want it to fly off the handle in mid-swing.


The weight of the head is vital in hatchets, so you won’t find any cheeks cut out of their blades. You can get double-headed hatchets, but for the most part, they have hammerheads on the backsides.

The handles on hatchets are usually made out of wood or composite materials and have a slight curve to them. Since you are needing more control, these handles are ergonomically shaped to fit in your hand firmly without slipping. Some hatchets even offer multiple hand positions.


Tomahawks and hatchets can be used for the same purposes if need be, but they were designed with two totally different things in mind.

The tomahawk, being light and aerodynamic, is meant to be thrown and used more as a weapon. It has a thin and flat blade on a removable head, and a straight handle that is made for ease of releasing while throwing.

The hatchet was made as a work tool. Therefore, it has a massive wedge-shaped head and a short handle for control. The handle is shaped to fit the hand comfortably for a firmer grip.

They are different but can be used the same way. It is easier to use a tomahawk as a tool than it is to use a hatchet as a weapon. The extra weight can actually hinder using it that way. Which one to get depends on what your primary purpose is for getting it, and how much weight you want.

About the Author Adam Harris

Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!