Comparison Axe vs Hatchet vs Tomahawk

Comparison Axe vs Hatchet vs Tomahawk

Comparing axe vs hatchet vs tomahawk is a little tricky because people often use these terms interchangeably. I understand why it is easy to confuse these tools, after all, they look the same, don’t they? The differences are staggering, however!

Weapons and tools are extensions of our body. They enhance our potential to create and destroy. So, if you want to become more effective as a human being, learn how to use all the necessary tools to get the job done! I will clarify what sets axes, hatchets, and tomahawks apart, and I will even explain how to use them effectively. But it’s up to you to become a master survivalist and combatant though hard work and practice.

I often use the terms “axe” and “hatchet” to describe the same tool, and here’s why… When writing about a topic, it quickly becomes irritating for the reader to hear the same word repeatedly! I smoothen the syntax by using synonyms, which is why I intentionally overlap these terms. But make no mistake, there is a vast difference between axe vs hatchet.

What Are the Differences Between Axes and Hatchets?

Basically, an axe is a heavy, two-handed chopping tool. Hatchets serve a similar function, but they are smaller and lightweight, better suited for an all-day carry.

Axe vs Hatchet

A decently-sized axe has a heavy head and a long tail, up to 3 ft (1 meter). Conversely, hatchets are smaller, one-handed choppers, weighing less than 2 pounds and about 17 inches long. There are other differences between the two: application, handling, balance, design, material, and we shall go through each of these.

Just know that another common term for hatchets is “standard axes”.

Are Axes More Powerful Than Hatchets?

A typical axe is a large, heavy instrument (up to 7 pounds, or 3-4 kg). It has a very long wooden handle with a bulky iron head at the end. Most axe heads feature a sharp bit and a flattened spine, good for hammering and breaking stuff. Double-axes have two sharp sides, but you can barely find them at the local hardware store – they are rare and unpopular.

The bulky head makes for the greater percentage of the mass. So, it delivers a very powerful blow, but it is difficult to manage the swing. That’s why axes are two-handed chopping tools: you need a firm, wide grip with both your hands to control its motion and deliver enough force.

Heavy Felling Chopping Axe and Maul
Felling axes are the best chopping tools.

Back home, at the farm, I use an axe only for splitting logs to make kindling for the fire, during the cold winter days. Traditionally, axes were the best tools for felling thick trees. The user must hold it firmly, with both hands and apply extensive back-swing to develop momentum. It becomes easy to use a purely momentum based cutting tool since it demands less technique and more endurance on your part.

Common use (nowadays) is mostly in construction and agriculture. Firefighters arm themselves with an emergency axe to break locked doors, windows and entrances – in case of a fire hazard.

Which is Better: Flat Spine vs Pointy Spike?

Axes are incredibly similar to hatchets, at least regarding appearance and shape. The main difference is size, but that factor alone determines how we can and cannot use the tools.

Let’s get back to our topic, comparing axe vs hatchet vs tomahawk – since I was talking about shape. In contrast with the first two, a tomahawk is a weapon, not a tool! It’s designed for throwing, stabbing, and debilitating an opponent.

Hatchets and axes have a sharp bit and a flat spine. Tomahawks can be double-edged, or they can have a piercing spike, instead of a spine. That way you weaponize both sides, to increase effectiveness and chance of striking with the dangerous part.

Size comparison between these instruments: axe > hatchet > tomahawk. It is the shortest and lightest because it is designed for throwing.

What is a Tomahawk?

Tomahawks are throwing axes – they are smaller and lighter than hatchets. We found many models and prototypes through Europe, dating back to the Middle Ages.

Native American Tomahawk
Traditional tomahawk model. I prefer the modern designs.

We associate tomahawks with Native American warriors, but I think that’s a product of human ignorance and pop-culture. They had many types of tools and weapons, and they weren’t the only people who threw axes for hunting and fighting.

The traditional Native tomahawks had wooden handles and sharp stones heads, but in the hands of an experienced hunter, these were very effective weapons.

After discovering America, the early Europeans settlers started making iron axe-heads (much better quality). They traded these with the Natives in exchange for supplies. That’s how the Natives quickly upgraded their tools.

Both the early American and European models (others as well) could function as replacements for a small hatchet or as throwing weapons.

That is a key difference when comparing axes and hatchets to tomahawks. The later is designed for perfect balance, to spin predictably when thrown at a target. Center of mass drops towards the middle of the handle. Axes and hatchets have poor balance, with their center of mass shifted towards the head – to increase momentum and centrifugal force.

Best Weapon for Combat – Axe vs Hatchet vs Tomahawk

Can you use an axe in combat? How about a one-handed hatchet? Wouldn’t throwing be preferable over hand-to-hand engagement?

Norse Axe Fighter with Hatchet

In a recent post, I mentioned “Vikings”, which is an amazing TV series about the lives of Norseman: their adventures, wars, alliances, and political games.

I enjoyed watching them fight – swords were their primary weapons of choice. But you may see deadly battle-axes rampaging through the battlefield. Rage-fueled berserkers strike fear in their enemy’s hearts while decimating their troops with hatchets. And I will never forget the amazing accuracy of Ivar the Boneless when throwing a tomahawk (I will not spoil it for you)!

Simply put, these tools can be deadly in the hands of a seasoned fighter. Swords were better but expensive – they were available only to rich lords and high-ranking commanders.

So, for fighting and self-defense in the historical context, people could use small hatchets or large axes. They are very powerful, and a single blow can kill or wound even a heavily armored opponent. What makes them so overwhelmingly powerful is the extra momentum from that heavy bit. Unfortunately, that also makes them slow and hard to control. In my opinion, axes and hatchets are poor choices for a duel or battle.

This guy has been training with a war-hatchet of some kind. He is very skilled and fast. One devastating blow from him, and you’re a goner! But just look at how after every swing he rotates the axe behind him, leaving an open space for a swift counter-attack! In a real-life scenario, that would not end well. I still admire what he is doing! Amazing!

Depending on the design, a longer tomahawk is preferable to a thick hatchet. Less force but more control, plus the ability to throw efficiently. Tomahawks were made to spin in balance and reach the target. Both sides of the metal head are sharp and dangerous. That’s also true for battle-axes and war-hammers – they have a pointy beak, instead of a flat-spine.

Whatever a hatchet can do, so can a tomahawk (to a certain degree). Much less true when it comes to felling trees, but we are talking about fighting.

Can You Throw a Hatchet?

No! Hatchets have an offset of balance. Their center of mass is located close to the heavy, metallic head, so when you throw it, the handle will spin around the axe-head. You won’t hurt anyone with a flying wooden handle!

So, you cannot properly throw a hatchet! Because it doesn’t spin the right way, you will strike the target with the handle, not the bit. I tried it, believe me!

When I was trying to create a tomahawk, it ended up being just a very short hatchet, because the balance was off point. It would not spine or stick in the target.

Conclusion – Best Combat Weapon

Axes are too large and heavy, which makes them slow. When you muster up the strength to land a powerful blow, it takes too long to leverage the momentum – you have to prepare to strike. A careful opponent will read your move and prepare for it. Axes are slow! In the heat of the moment, every split-second counts. So, I think they would be my last choice! 

Hatchets are slightly better suited for combat. But they have the same drawbacks as an axe! You can grab it with both hands and draw faster, or opt for a shield.

Tomahawks are the best combat weapons among these three options. Throw it at the target, or use it as a light-weight hatchet in close-quarter combat. You gain speed at the expense of unnecessary force and momentum. Off course, tomahawks come in many shapes and sizes; selecting the right one is even more important than anything else.

To summarize: a tomahawk would be my first choice among these. A hatchet would be my second one.

Which Is Better For Camping?

When camping out in the woods all you really need is a decent, sharp hatchet to chop, cut and hammer with. Or you could go with a tough machete!

Hatchets are ideal for outdoor adventures: light enough for an all-day carry, but better suited for routine work than a tomahawk.

An axe is too heavy, so a good quality steel hatchet (3 pounds) should do the job! Camping tasks will become fun! 

How to Use Hatchets for Camping

As far as camping goes, we have a winner in our axe vs hatchet vs tomahawk contest! I would only be interested in a comfortably sized hatchet. 

Some camping tools are more expensive than others, mostly because of higher-quality materials and better design. There’s an impressive difference between an iron and a high-carbon steel axe. The handle should be shock-resistant and comfortable to grab – I prefer wider, more rounded handles.

Which Tools Are Sharper, Tomahawks or Hatchets?

Tomahawks needs to be very sharp to be effective. There is just no point in throwing a dull bit against a hard target – it won’t penetrate, it won’t do any damage. These are weapons primarily, but they can function as survival tools.

Axes and hatchets can afford to be rather dull. I keep mine just sharp enough to do the job, but not razor sharp so it slashes a finger when grazing along the edge. These tools are heavy, which means they benefit from extra momentum and centrifugal force. A heavy back-swing helps get the job done!

You can split a log nicely with a moderately dull axe. But not with a dull tomahawk. The heavy your tool is, the less of an edge it needs!

Which Tool Is the Best Carry When Hiking?

I prefer a moderately sharp hatchet with a protective leather sheath. I can attach it to my belt, and off I go into the wild.

The first time I went out hiking like that my friends made fun of me but screw them! I own what I do and I define who I am!

How To Start a Fire With An Axe

A hatchet is ideal because it’s useful for setting up a tent and guarding a fire. Next time you go on a mountain trip, bring a reliable hatchet with an adherent, shock-absorbent handle. It is much better than an axe or a tomahawk at feathering wooden stakes, hammer them into the ground, to secure a tent or a canoe. Chopping is an added advantage.

Which Is the Safest?

A good sharp hatchet is safer to cut and chop with than an axe. Many people would argue with that – it’s my opinion! If work safety is your primary concern, then there’s an even better option for you: a kukri. I learned that the hard, painful way:

Chopping dry branches is a real eye-hazard! I wear gloves and protective goggles whenever I work, so I spared myself a visit to the emergency room. Whether I used an axe or a hatchet, there would be stiff pieces of wood flying left and right, at every chop. My forehead was full of scratches and bruises. Then I switched to a kukri, and it worked like a charm. It was safe enough to take off the goggles (but I didn’t – and neither should you).

Between axe, hatchet, and tomahawk – I think working and chopping with a tomahawk is safer. But if you are going to the range to practice your throwing, then take all measures of precaution. You can easily hurt yourself and others if you aren’t careful.

Can You Hunt With a Tomahawk?

Camping is more demanding than it appears, and it helps to prepare yourself with a professional hatchet. But how about if run out of food? You need to hunt.

There’s nothing cooler than hunting with a throwing axe. The sheer badassery of it! … It’s difficult to mark a fixed, close target because it requires a high level of skill. How about a small and mobile prey, which can run, jump or fly? Look at this guy:

I wouldn’t be able to accomplish such an accurate hit, but that guy did it! You can’t hunt with an axe or a hatchet, but with enough training, you can manage it with a tomahawk. If that guy can do it so can you! Imagine the jaw drop on your friends’ faces when they witness your awesome skill… Who will be making fun of who then?

While tomahawks are not ideal for hunting, it is possible to do it! Bows and crossbows work much better though.

Which Tool Is Best for Construction?

You need many tools to build a house but the one you cannot do without is the axe. Whether it is a felling axe or a splitting maul, you need a powerful tool by your side.

The Vikings preferred battle-axes because they could use them both for creating and destroying things.

When they were not fighting, they were preparing for the next battle or raid by building boats, forts, and defenses.

Best Tools for Construction

If I would ever be in a code-red emergency or post-apocalyptic world, with the option to bring along two items, then those would be a Latin machete and a heavy-duty axe.

Whether you want to build a shelter in the deep woods, make a raft or break in a building – you need an axe. Hard times call for strong men with good tools!

Can You Chop Wood With a Tomahawk?

Yes! A tomahawk can be used for chopping wood. Why not? Since you can chop very effectively with a kukri or short machete…

There is a catch! Tomahawks come in all shapes and sizes. I have seen tiny ones with short handles. These would not be very effective at chopping! You must have a decently long handle, at least 11 inches.

Thick tree trunks (especially if they are not dried up) can present a challenge even to a heavy axe. There’s not much a machete or tomahawk can do! Unless you have limitless patience to land hundreds of carefully planned blows.

So, you can chop with tomahawks, but don’t go after thick logs and don’t push it! Don’t apply excessive force to the point that you can’t control the swing. Force won’t compensate for the lack of weight, it will only increase the chances of injury and accident.

Does Quality Matter?

Remember, quality should be your number one criterion for buying any product. Low-quality tools will disappoint you; they will do a poor job. I rather buy one expensive item instead of two cheap ones; It’s all about efficiency! Plus, a top-quality tool will last longer, and you will be more satisfied with its every aspect.

Is Axe Quality Important

From chopping logs to precision cutting and feathering – axes, hatchets, and tomahawks will serve you according to their quality and your skill level. However, it’s best to gain hands-on experience, by practicing how to use and take care of your tools, to understand them better.


There is a role for everyone in life, just as there is a role for every tool and instrument. The key to success is making sure you pick the right one and use it the right way.

Are you going out camping or hiking? True survivalists never venture out in the open without a trusty hatchet or a sturdy machete. Whether you are a construction worker or a house wrecker, a heavy-duty axe will faithfully serve your needs.

A real combatant is a martial master of all weapons and skills. The tactical tomahawk is his best friend. He can fight, hunt, win and he never misses the mark!

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