ATC : Roger's Rangers Tomahawk


The review consists of :

Specifications

There are three things of obvious importance to the quality of a Tomahawk. The first is the head, the second is the handle and the third is how they are joined. A complete description of the materials and manufacture for the head by Bobby Branton :

The Hawks for the Roger Rangers series start out with a 7-9 inch flat bar of mild steel. The eye is formed by wrapping the flat bar around a tapered mandrel. A piece of 5160 is sandwiched between the folded layers of mild steel up to the eye and is forge welded so that the three pieces become one. The blade is then rough forged to shape using a 50lb power hammer. The eye is reheated and another tapered mandrel is inserted to smooth the inside of the eye and to make sure that the handle is in alignment with the head. The hawk is reheated and the final forging is done using a hand held hammer then heat treated. After heat treating the bevels are ground and sharpened. Once the finish is applied the handle is pressed in using a 20 ton hydraulic press.

The handles are hickory, a strong and durable wood. In regards to the attachment, Andy Prisco (Manager American Tomahawk Company), described it as follows :

1 degree drift: this method is marked by the "eye" of the Hawk, Hammer, or Hatchet being tapered 1 degree thinner on the bottom of the eye than the top. A taper matched handle is dropped in from the top of the Hawk and pressed into place. In Hawk Throwing, there is no better handle/head marriage than this, as the force of the handle on impact is free to vibrate with less resistance through the head, translating into less breakage. When the handle is not pressed into place, we typically see handles shooting out of the top of the Hawk head on impact....when pressed into place, they seldom move. The Hawk handle also obviously tightens during a hammer type stroke.

Now the geometry of the head should insure good cutting ability while maintaining a high level of durability because tomahawks can take extreme edge impacts when thrown. The edge bevel is convex with an apex grind of about 22 degrees per side about 0.1" back from the edge and tapers more acute in the shoulder to provide relief and increase the cutting ability and ease of sharpening. The shape of the handle of also needs to allow a smooth release for throwing but at the same time you want a decent level of security and comfort for chopping and general cutting. This tomahawk looks good in all these respects.

Sharpness

Many current axes tend to come with horrible initial edges, the Norse Tomahawk from Cold Steel was in such condition initially, the edge bevels didn't even meet, let alone have any sharpness. The Rogers Rangers tomahawk however if very sharp initially aside from a one centimeter section of edge that it lightly rolled which likely happened when it was inspected by customs. The roll steeled out easily showing the ductility of the steel as well as the toughness from resisting chipping in the first place. Aside from that minor imperfection the tomahawk shaved though a little roughly. A few passes on a strop loaded with 0.5 micron chromium/aluminum oxide and it was shaving smoothly. The sharpness was measured to be 155 (30) grams on light thread and 3.3 (2) cm on 1/4" poly under a 1000 gram load. This is actually sharper than a lot of production knives.

Carving

As a light check on wood carving the Tomahawk was used to make 2" points on some wood about 2" thick and 4" wide.

PAB
Number of slices to point a small stake
Model Edge angle Bevel width (in) Rank Rank
Sub-Sniper 15 0.135 100  
15 0.135 53 +/- 6 100
Wildlife 12-14 0.482 50 +/- 8 90 +/- 6
CS 'Hawk 14-16 0.135 26 +/- 2 45 +/- 2
ATC 'Hawk 21-23 0.135 19 +/- 2 36 +/- 3

Note all of these blades with the exception of the Wildlife and Rogers Rangers tomahawk had been personally reground to improve their cutting ability. The PAB for example was initially ground at about 22 degrees per side. Note how it shows how the performance is strongly effected by the edge angle as well as leverage issues. The edge on the Rogers Rangers tomahawk could be reduced to increase its carving ability but this woudl compromise its durability for throwing. Note as well that if the Tomahawk is used to chop the point instead of carve it, which is a more logical thing to do, it easily is far more efficient than carving it with the small knife.

Chopping

With some light work on scrap it was obvious that the the penetration of the ATC tomahawk was behind the Wildlife but the power behind the chops was much greater due to the greater handle length and weight. Thus the overall abilities of the two tools was fairly close in regards to the number of hits required however the tomahawk was requiring more energy to use. Getting a bit specific the performance of the two and a couple of other chopping tools was recorded for some rounds cut to length :

Wood chopping on small scrap : shoulder driven swings
Model Mass Ranking
g
Wildlife hatchet 600 100
ATC Tomahawk 800 80 (5)
Norse Tomahawk 640 82 (5)
PAB 500 82 (5)

In short all are very close and none have difficulty chewing through 2x4 sized wood. Of course scrap chopping doesn't tell the whole story and can often be a bit misleading as it can break and fracture readily under heavy impacts and fresh wood doesn't behave this way. Some time was spent felling, bucking and limbing out some fresh wood. In general the ATC tomahawk is behind the hatchet for this type of work as the Wildlife edge is thinner. For straight bucking the tomahawk was at 69 (5) % of the hatchet, which actually puts it over many large knives used, especially on large woods.

As noted, there is always the issues of durability. During the limbing, felling and bucking, on occasion the tomahawk was used for various types of work that would not be done with the Wildlife; chopping dead and frozen small branches and roots. The spike was also used as a small pick to break the dirt away from roots to clear a path to chop. The Wildlife could not be used for this type of work as it simply doesn't have the durability, it would much damage by fracture and significantly decrease the lifetime of the tool.

One final point about chopping is that the handle on the ATC tomahawk isn't round, it has a teardrop shape. The back of the handle which fits into the handle is well rounded and tapers to a more pointed profile which the fingers wrap around. This taper both locks in the edge presentation of the Tomahawk and prevents the handle from rolling/twisting in the hand when chopping.

Point penetration and splitting ability

While doing some splitting work with a few knives there was discussion by Andy Prisco on an internet forum about the tip peneration ability. Now on a stab with a knife, the wrist takes a lot of shock, however with the tomahawk it is basically just another chop. Starting out light on one inch boards, the TAC-11 could easily be driven straight through and would split them nicely. However on two by fours, it leveled at 1.2 (1)" of penetration. The Busse Battle Mistress which is 65% heavier than TAC-11 would induce a large crack in the two by four but still didn't splitting it completely.

Not only did the Rogers Rangers Tomahawk split the 2x4 easily and throw the bits over 15 feet away, it would split two of them stacked on top of one another. It would also split both of them and another piece of board underneath the stack. It would almost split three 2x4's. It would have probably done this when new as the tip of the spike has shorted by well over one quarter of an inch from breaking up concrete blocks and the like. It could have in fact also used more power on the swing with a step forward impact, however even without this it was easily in a class far above the knives.

Durability

Many hours were spent throwing the tomahawk from large distances with a lot of force and this would have destroyed the Wildlife hatchet completely. Louis Buccellato has even done up to 100 foot throws with ATC hawks with no harm. It has also done a lot of heavy cutting including roots, sods and even banging the edge and spike through concrete blocks and off of nails. The edge will get indented during the rougher stuff, especially hardened metal like nails, but it can easily be restored without much work. Because the edge doesn't fracture you can be confident that you won't see any gross failures through the head. On the right is a shot of the point on the Tomahawk after it was used to break up a concrete blocks, just some impaction. The handle did break during one of many throwing sessions, but that is to be expected sooner or later simply because of the sheer force of the impacts. This can also be repaired, put some epoxy in the crack, tape the handle together, give it some time to set, and off you go. This was used for years later and is still going strong.

Throwing

The ATC Rogers Rangers tomahawk hits very hard even when thrown rather lightly. For example on targets that the Cold Steel Norse tomahawk bounces off of even when thrown rather hard, the ATC tomahawk tears them apart. This allows more concentration on on method rather than power and thus the ATC tomahawk tends to be a much better throwing tomahawk. It is also physically much less demanding as the weight of the ATC tomahawk does the work.

Now handles do tend to come off throwing tomahawks due to the constant impacts. With a tapered head and handle and a quality fit like on this tomahawk it will stay on for quite a while, however it is still likely that it will need to be put back on from time to time. For a light loosening gripping the handle with the tomahawk head inverted and slamming the top of the handle into a hard piece of wood, the inertia of the head will tend to tighten it. However if the head is knocked off, take a hammer and tap on the underside of the head, working around the head to get a tight fit and increasing the force gradually.

Sharpening

Tomahawks tend to get a bit dinged up when throws miss the target. As the steel in this one is very tough it will tend to deform rather than tip. First off a hammer is used to lightly tap any deformed metal back into place, then a file is used to reset the edge following the existing curvature. Once the edges meet cleanly, take a small hone (1"x4") and refine the edge. For pure throwing tomahawks it isn't overly productive to move past the filed edge so just cut off the burr with a coarse stone. For chopping and general wood work it is best to move up to a high polish. In regards to general angles, for heavy throwing about 25-35 degrees per side if a miss throw can hit dirt/rock. For most bone chopping about 15-20 degrees is all that is necessary, wood chopping is about 10-15 depending on how hard the wood. Chopping hardened metal needs about 20-25 degrees at a minimum, 25-30 for heavy force.

Summary and modifications

The Rogers Rangers tomahawk from ATC has a well forged bit, the edge is inline with the center of the head and the surface is even. The spike is inline with the primary edge and is ground to a fine point. The primary edge comes with a high polish. The edges on the spike are a bit rough for cutting but perfectly adequate for splitting and digging. The handle is hickory and fits tight to the well shaped eye. The handle is tear dropped in profile, lightly curved in back to give support and is narrow in front to prevent the head from twisting in forceful cuts and as well as providing a positive indexing. The handle can get a little slippery when the grip is compromised with sweat or oil as all wooden grips. Even under extreme use the the edge would indent not fracture. The steel can be worked with a file which is good for fixing the occasional rock contact. The handle broke during long range throws (100+ feet) but some epoxy and it was back together good as new.

On the negative, the sheath is rather primitive, and fits loosely over the head. The edges also comes out past the slit, the end is not sewn together and there is nothing to cover the spike. The steel in the head while wonderfully tough is a little soft. This may have simply been a case of deciding to make sure the heads would not break. The bit is also a bit on the thick side probably necessary because of the low RC to make sure that the edge doesn't take excessive damage on on hard impacts. In general, the handle / head attachment is solid, but like all friction fit tomahawks will come loose with throwing.

It woudl be nice to see a slightly harder steel with a thinner bit profile. A better head/handle attachment would be nice as well as a more secure handle. A higher grade of sheath would be nice as well. Note the Next Generation tomahawk from ATC, has exactly these modifications. It really deserves the label "Next Generation" as it takes the tomahawk to the next level. The steel has been upgraded to O1, the hardness pushed up to the mid fifties and the edge profile slimmed down. In addition the head/handle attachment is much more secure, guaranteed not to loosen for one year. The handle has been checkered for security made out of a very strong synthetic and of course there are far more sheath options of much higher quality.

Comments and references

You can comment on this review by dropping me an email : cliffstamp[REMOVE]@cutleryscience.com.

More information on the Tomahawk and other products can be found on the The American Tomahawk Company webpage


Last updated : 01 : 10 : 2006
Originally written: 04 : 02 : 2002
Up