Cold Steel Vietnam Tomahawk

Discussion in 'Edged Tools' started by Draven, Apr 26, 2014.

  1. Draven

    Draven Guide

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    Howdy folks!
    I think it's fair to say that most folks in the world of axes and knives are probably familiar in one way or another with the LaGana tomahawk. I'm not much familiar of the hard facts of its history (though I wouldn't mind being educated, if anyone's better acquainted) but the gist is that Peter LaGana founded the American Tomahawk Company in the 1960s to make tomahawks for American fighting men in the Vietnam war. The company closed its doors in the 70s, and was reopened in the 2000s with Peter LaGana's approval. As I understand it, the company is owned by, but run separately from, Cold Steel. As such, there are two "genuine" Vietnam tomahawks currently in production - the ATC VTAC and the Cold Steel Vietnam Tomahawk - the former is a modern version with a synthetic handle (as I hear it, nigh indestructible) and the latter being wooden-handled, as the original.

    I've never thought it looked like much of a woods tool, but as a grunt, I do have a fascination with the somewhat uniquely American weapon/tool that has been so ingrained in our military history, even before Independence.

    Well, anyway, I bought one - the cold steel version, as I wanted a wooden handle. I know synthetic is tougher, but I'm not a hawk thrower anyway. I think it should hold up fine. If the VTAC proportions are anything like the Cold Steel one, I'm very glad I did - the handle was tiny. Way too thin for my tastes and the total lack of mass at the bottom made the balance terrible. Furthermore, a few of the pics I've seen of originals appear to have regular hammer-handles. So:

    [​IMG]
    These things happen, I guess! The eye was basically just a regular hammer eye:

    [​IMG]
    But it does bring up my second complaint - the eye's small, with a ton of meat around it. This isn't unusual for Cold Steel (the walls on the eye of my Dane Axe from CS are about 3/8" thick!), but I would've been happy to exchange less wall thickness for a slightly larger eye. Still, I think it's large enough to work. I drilled out the haft and saved the round wedge, since they're not stocked locally. Ace hardware provided two good quality hammer handles - different lengths, but I wound up going for the shorter of the two, about the same length as the original.

    [​IMG]
    Went together great, got some nice shavings as I wedged it all together.

    [​IMG]
    Smacked that round wedge in... I don't normally use metal wedges, but felt it was in keeping with the tool. It was a real tight fit though, couldn't get it in that last 1/16" or so, so I ground it flush.

    [​IMG]
    Then I scuffed it with sandpaper and hit the whole thing with the Krylon OD green camo paint. Truth told, I hate this paint, it seems to scratch extremely easily, but it's what I had lying around. I touched it up after this picture and hopefully it'll hold reasonably well.

    I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out - the hammer handle feels much better.

    Thanks y'all,

    Pete
     
  2. field-expedient

    field-expedient Misfit Supporter Bushclass II

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    thanks Draven, I have had a interest in one of these for a while but wasnt quite sure if I would like the handle. Nice to know it can be fixed with a trip to the hardwear store. thanks for the post!
     
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  3. Draven

    Draven Guide

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    Glad to help!
    I think the hardware store handle could do with being a little bit slimmer, tbh - maybe it's just me, but it seems like hammer handles are a lot beefier than they used to be.
     
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  4. field-expedient

    field-expedient Misfit Supporter Bushclass II

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    Is the sheath that comes with these worth a darn? they claim its like the original even the oxblood color lol
     
  5. Draven

    Draven Guide

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    The sheath is usable, but not super high quality - it's typical modern plasticy leather - waterproof, but my glove softener is useless on it unfortunately! It does look like the original from what I've seen, but I doubt the original used the plastic coated leather. Hope that helps!
     
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  6. Moorsely

    Moorsely Tracker

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    Okay that's actually pretty cool. How much of an improvement is that over the original?
     
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  7. Draven

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    The hammer handle is a great improvement over the original - the one it came with just didn't feel right to me. From looking at this picture:

    [​IMG]

    it looks to me like the originals either had slightly smaller heads (I don't think that's the case) or they had slightly longer handles. I superimposed my hawk over that image and scaled the head sizes to match, and if that is correct (ie the heads are the correct size) then my current hammer handle is slightly thick and shorter than the hammer-handled ones to the right of Lagana in that photo (those are the ones that inspired me to use a hammer handle). I actually picked up a claw hammer handle at ace today (the hawk currently has an engineer handle) that looks like it would be an almost perfect match - more slender up top with some meat at the bottom. If I get sufficiently bored I might change it out, but I'm pretty happy with it right now!

    Sorry for the rant, I'm being a touch obsessive about this hawk for some reason. Either way, from the pic above it looks like a fair bit of experimenting was done with handle size and type.

    Pete
     
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  8. SEB1981

    SEB1981 Scout

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    Just a thought. Try a clear coat over the paint. Should give it just a hair more gloss but it will probably help with the scratching and protect the wood from elements.
     
  9. Draven

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    Thanks for the suggestion - I feel kinda dumb for not thinking of that :D I wound up putting some paste wax on it in attempt to protect everything and the paint rubbed right off :confused: Guess it was the solvents in the wax! Oh well - Lowes had a can of rustoleum satin enamel in an almost-olive drab for under $4 so I just picked that up and sprayed it again. It wound up a little brighter than I wanted, so I dusted it with black satin enamel and left it at that. We'll see how it is tomorrow!
     
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  10. SEB1981

    SEB1981 Scout

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    It's worked for me in the past. You did a nice job on it though. I have a bit of an axe fetish myself but the lack of funds seems to keep it on the back burner. This thread just adds another axe craving to the already growing pile. Thanks for posting.
     
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  11. Prairiewolf

    Prairiewolf Supporter Supporter

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    I have had good luck spraying 3 or 4 coats of satin polyurethane over the OD paint and it seems to protect it from scratches. Nice job on that handle - I have one of these and have been afraid to really use it because of that drumstick handle that it comes with.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2014
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  12. Draven

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    Thanks for the kind words :D

    Give it a whirl, turned out to be a fun job and a fun finished product :D I'm not sure why Cold Steel did such a thin handle, given their general desire to be the toughest of the overbuilt!
     
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  13. Raggedy Man

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    Looks good. Has that WW2 trench work look, where they just modified stuff with what they had. Hammers get pretty rough treatment so that handle should be good to go, not to mention probably cheaper if you break anymore. Your hafting usually turns out good and is always neat to see. Thanks for sharing.

    Estwing makes an all metal tac-hawk (HERE) which is nice.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2014
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  14. teb_atoz

    teb_atoz Banned Member Banned

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    FYI all throwing hawks will have a wood handle not synthetic. Ask my son he likes playing handles, you try to split the other guys hawk handle.
     
  15. Draven

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    Thanks for the kind words! That was part of my motivation for using a hammer handle - the contours of hammer handles are tried and tested for durability and ergonomics whereas the slender, straight-sided handle opted for by Cold Steel is not, as far as I'm aware! The cost/ease of finding a replacement is also big for me, and I assume that the above would have been a consideration with the hammer-handled variants of the original, as well.

    Sounds like a fun game, but I think I'd break my handle before anyone else did - I've never been a hawk thrower, but I was always able to throw a knife handle-first :D

    Funnily enough, I've never actually broken a hammer handle - when I was a mechanic, the hammers got a hell of a time, and my cross peen hammer has been accidentally left in the sun (Chihuahuan desert sun) and just got a bit loose. Just yesterday I had to tighten up the head of my rigging axe and the 2lb ball peen by tapping the wedges in further with a punch, and the cross peen was just seated deeper on the same handle. In short, I think this hawk will hold up just fine - maybe I'll do some testing to see if it really is soldier proof!

    Thanks all,
    Pete

    PS: Forgot to add, I had seen the Estwings tactical tomahawk, but to be honest I'm not convinced on the all-metal/full tang camp. I feel that when abused, a wooden handle would break before the head sustained permanent damage, whereas I feel that a fiberglass or metal handle might, in some cases, be strong enough that the head breaks before the handle does. That being said, in a fighting hawk, I can understand that a broken hawk head on the end of an intact handle might be more useful than an intact head with no handle!
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2014
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  16. RDog

    RDog Scout

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    I had a "Vietnam tomahawk" I don't know who made it, can't even remember when or where I picked it up...or when it disappeared. It was a fun little hawk, it was easy to stick and the handle held up fine. It did feel a bit thin, but never broke and i played with it for years.

    The part about it that always struck me as funny was how it would be used as a weapon in a "military event" I don't mean what it could do, but more how it would be deployed...I was a grunt, so I know a little about carrying a rifle, and war gear...and I know how "easy" it was to remove this hawk from its sheath...(not so smooth, and fast). If your rifle went dry or jammed and you needed a weapon right now, trying to pull out that hawk seems crazy when you have a fine bludgeoning device in your hand already.

    In fact this concept has always made me wonder about hawks used in the old days, the only way i see them easy to pull out is if they were just tucked into the belt like most of the movies show (with the edge exposed) so where the hawks mostly not sharp? (sharp as most edge junkies today would have) We all know you wouldn't need hair shaving sharp to work as a weapon...but it was just a thought/question that that little hawk introduced to my head.

    Anyone who ever spent time with a hammer hanging off their hip knows it can be pulled and used very fast, but the sheath the vietnam hawk came with would prevent that excessively. I always thought that a spiked hammer would have been a better weapon, faster to deploy although more effort would be made to silence the hanger, but nothing a little duct tape couldn't do... I don't remember the source but I read that the spike was the preferred striking point vs. the blade anyway.

    Anyone have thoughts on this?

    Anyway Draven, thanks for posting,and bringing back some thoughts... I'm sure that hawk will be fun, my was.
     
  17. Draven

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    Interesting thoughts Rdog!
    I agree regarding the sheath - it does not lend itself to rapid deployment. I also agree that the best simplicity/practicality compromise is probably just a simple loop, but I've had a few other thoughts as well:

    1) A mask that covers the full head, but where the axe is inserted from the bottom and has a retention strap. This would be MUCH easier to deploy quickly and one-handed than the existing sheath.

    2) A similarly shaped mask, but the front section in two pieces so that the handle can be removed without passing it through a hole. I made one like this for a similar tomahawk, and while it's not real fast, it does allow you to grab the handle to remove the hawk and not let go.

    3) Kydex. Kydex was used for aircraft interiors in the 60s, though I'm not sure if it was used for knife/axe/gun stuff that far back. I made a kydex sheath for another hawk, with the idea that you just pull the bit-end down and the hawk out. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good compromise, retention wise. Either it was loose enough that I could whip the thing and the hawk would fly out, or tight enough that it took a very sharp, sudden movement which don't seem good with a sharp hawk. I actually cut the flap on my cargo pockets in one test :D I know some have had better luck with kydex axe masks, but I haven't.

    These 3 options have the advantage that they keep the edge covered. I don't think it could possibly be safe for joes to have the hawk head exposed - I can see too many dudes dropping into the prone and getting a spike to the gut, leg, groin, etc!

    I think option 1 is probably my favorite. Such that I made one yesterday and I'm waiting on the leather drying :D Option 2 has the added advantage, though, that if the snap fails the hawk is at least held in by gravity. I need to get some pull the dots.

    I think the best advantage of a hawk over a war hammer (etc) is just the utilitarian aspect as well - the spike can be used as a pick, the blade can be used to chop for whatever reason. I'm not sure if it was an ideal tool for Vietnam, never having been there, but a useful tool nonetheless. Round here the ground sucks, I couldn't dig a hole in my back yard big enough to plant a tulip without a pick!
     
  18. VtBlackDog

    VtBlackDog Guide Bushclass I

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    I don't have a link, but Ray Mears did a segment on Rogers Rangers that shows some hawk love, on youtube....
     
  19. Draven

    Draven Guide

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    If you mean the episode of Extreme Survival (IIRC?) I've seen that one - a good episode for sure :D

    [​IMG]
    Here's a pic of the sheath I made for it - pulls out bit-first, pretty secure but I think I'll get a pull the dot fastener for it. The lower one is a SOG fasthawk I bought for fun - haven't really done much of anything with it, I was just curious how a small, light hawk would feel. It's very fast, but extremely light - even smaller than the Vietnam Tomahawk, AND has a couple holes cut in the bit!
     
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  20. Odie

    Odie Scout

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    Thread revival.

    @Draven any mods or changes since the hammer handle?
     
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  21. Jaeger

    Jaeger Supporter Supporter

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    Thank you for doing so! I've had one of these for a while. I like the new handle and I love the sheath!
     
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  22. Odie

    Odie Scout

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    I've wondered if the eye can be filed a bit to be angular, so that it can be placed on a handle with a friction fit...

    I bought one of these last year before they were all out of stock after being discontinued. It's the one thing I dislike about it in comparison to the other Cold Steel hawks.
     
  23. Draven

    Draven Guide

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    Not that I can think! I might have changed the handle with a longer one, but that's about it. It's not my favorite hawk, but a fun one for sure.

    Thanks!

    No reason why you couldn't do it, but it would be a seriously skinny handle. There ain't enough meat to make it as big as the others I don't think.
     
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  24. RJM52

    RJM52 Scout

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    I didn't see this the first time around....great thread...

    May I ask...what were you doing when the original handle broke...?

    I have always been fascinated by the Lagana hawk...I remember seeing the original adds in magazines back in the 60s... I bought one of the original CS hawks and later the synthetic ones from the ATC before CS bought it... I look at them as only weapons and have never used either of them... Also have the all metal Estwing that is carried in the truck for an emergency extraction tool and use the SOG Hawks for throwing...

    I do wonder why Lagana chose to put the handle on with a wedge like a hammer rather instead of through the eye like a hawk... I've seen a lot of broken wood handled hammers but never a hawk...

    Also have always wondered where he came up with the head shape...a flat edge instead of curved...

    Bob
     
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  25. Draven

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    The original handle didn't break, I just didn't like it lol it was too skinny for my liking. I agree that the friction fit hawk handles are better generally, but keep in mind it was for soldiers to carry. Don't want it coming loose and want it to be lightweight. The eye would have to be substantially larger. I'm not sure about the straight edge - ease of manufacture?
     
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  26. Odie

    Odie Scout

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    I had read that the optimum length ratio for a tomahawk is approximately 1 inch of handle for each ounce of the head.
     
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  27. RJM52

    RJM52 Scout

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    Ok...I guess I just missed the part about just wanting a different haft...

    As to the design...Peter had a LOT of experience with hawks so I doubt it was for ease of manufacture... I have seen several interviews with him and no one that I have seen ever asked about the design. I remember he said that he tried a lot of different grinds on the spike end to get the desired penetration but more importantly the ease of extraction...but nothing about cutting edge...

    I have not done a lot of hawk throwing and have never thrown the CS but have thrown the very similar SOG TT and it is very easy to make stick.

    Bob
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2018
  28. RJM52

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  29. RJM52

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  30. mjh

    mjh Supporter Supporter

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    Here's a tomahawk sheath style that affords quicker deployment. 3-14 008.JPG

    Not sure how effective such a sheath would be in modern warfare but there are drawing/sketches of them from historical records.
     

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