The tomahawk and hatchet are small, multipurpose axes that can be used with one hand. While most would agree that tomahawks have more uses, hatchets are excellent tools for the jobs they’re made for.

Both axes have their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s worth doing your research before deciding which is best for you. We’ve created this comparison guide of the tomahawk and hatchet to help you get quick answers. 

What’s the difference between a hatchet and a tomahawk?   

Hatchets are short, one-handed axes that are commonly used for chopping and backyard work. The lighter tomahawk has a longer handle with a head and bit that’s more tapered. Although historically used as a weapon, it is now mostly used for chopping and throwing.   

Similarities

  • Both are small versions of a full-size axe with a similar shape.
  • There were originally made from stone and are now mostly made with wood and metal.
  • They’re both sharp, making them great for chopping wood or throwing.  
  • Both have straight handles and are made light.

Differences

  • Tomahawks have holes in the head to reduce their weight. They’re also handy for camp tasks like prying and opening bottles.
  • Most hatchets are heavier and have shorter handles.

Comparing the head of a hatchet and tomahawk

Tomahawk heads are sleek, lightweight, and can often be detached from the handle. The head usually has holes to help reduce the tool’s weight – these double as a bottle opener.

The tomahawk has a bit that’s tapered and meant to be very sharp. You’ll notice a more pronounced beard on the tomahawk’s blade which often results in a longer blade than a hatchet. 

At the other end of the tapered head, there could be another blade, a hammer, spike, or some other handy tool. Some tomahawks have nothing except a butt at the other end. 

A hatchet is smaller than a tomahawk and is a mini version of a full-size axe. They have a tapered head, but not as drastic as a tomahawk.

The blade is meant to be sharp for efficient wood chopping. Many brands have a hammer opposite the blade, super-useful for setting up tents when camping and general backyard work. 

Whether you choose a tomahawk or hatchet, they’re both likely to be constructed with steel. They’re also both robust tools that should serve you for many years if well maintained.

Related reading:
Splitting axe vs. maul – what’s the difference?
Hatchet vs. axe – which is best for you?
Poleaxe vs halberd – how do they compare?

A hatchet lying on a bench
Hatchets have a short and straight handle.

What are hatchets and tomahawks used for?

A tomahawk was traditionally used for hunting, bushcraft, and as a weapon. In modern times, they’re more commonly used for throwing, chopping wood, cutting down saplings, and limbing trees. 

Its long, straight haft provides leverage for chopping, but it’s not a perfect tool for cutting through wood. Tapered, flat cheeks make the tomahawk more likely to get stuck in wood than a hatchet.

A hatchet’s size makes it best suited to smaller projects rather than lopping down trees and chopping large wood rounds. They’re best used to cut back foliage and small trees, limbing trees, camping jobs, hammering, and splitting firewood. To learn more, check out the hatchets uses here.

Is a hatchet or tomahawk best?

Hatchets and tomahawks are both great tools, well worth your money. If you appreciate modern aesthetics, then a tomahawk is a clear winner. It’s sleek, streamlined, and often has extra features built-in like a bottle opener. Axe throwers will also appreciate the aerodynamics of a tomahawk, which has always been meant for throwing.

Old schoolers who appreciate classic tools will love a hatchet. Some of the top brands like the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet are stylish, durable, and well worth the extra money. 

Of course, a basic hatchet is also worth a place in your tool shed. If you just want an easy-to-handle, basic tool for trimming branches and chopping occasional firewood then a hatchet will do the job. The design of their bit makes them better suited to chopping wood without getting stuck. 

Chopping a stump with a tomahawk
Tomahawks are light with a modern look.

Summary table

FeatureHatchetTomahawk
Axe headHeavy, single blade, and isn’t detachable.Light, detachable head that may have an additional blade or spike
HandleStout, heavy 12-18” haftStraight, lightweight handle roughly 20”
BladeRoughly 4-5” thick blade that’s taperedRoughly 4” thinner blade that is very tapered.
UsesChopping, hammering, backyard jobs, campingChopping wood, tree limbing, hunting, throwing

Summing up

Whether you choose a hatchet or a tomahawk, it’s unlikely to be a big deal. They’re similar compact axes that will both work great if you’re out in the bush or need to chop up some wood. 

A lot of the decision will come down to personal preference. Features like aesthetics and how the tool feels in your hand are important considerations and only you can work that out.

Axe throwers and anyone that loves a modern-looking tool should probably veer towards a tomahawk. If you prefer a classic-looking axe that’s sturdy, reliable, and great for chopping, you’d do well to choose a hatchet.

Weight is also worth taking into consideration. A tomahawk is the lightest option, so if you’re hunting or hiking long distances then you’ll appreciate a lighter load.

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