Tomahawk steel vs. knife steel

Feb 15, 2001
Howdy, folks.

Jest thinkin' . . . considering the bevy of "exotic" steels being used in knives in the last few years, does anybody know of any steels off the beaten path that are suitable to tomahawks? The question comes out of wondering if a company like ATC might eventually get us thinking about "What steel is best for a tomahawk?" as opposed to "What knife steel is best for a tomahawk?" I think that's a pretty exciting idea.

On the "ideal tomahawk" thread someone mentioned S5/S7 shock-resistant steel, which I'd never heard of but sounded pretty cool. Anybody else have any idears? (I was thinking about D2, but again, knife steel. Just thought its balance of toughness at high hardness might be an advantage.)
S5 and S7 are the steels used to make cold chisels. It can be differentially harded to have a hard cutting edge and a softer striking surface.
Sounds to me like it might be a good hawk steel but I could be missing something like availability or cost??

Bremerton, Washington
Well, y'know, cold chisels aren't so hard to find, and I don't think anybody ever went broke buying one. And there's the old-timey trick of using steel for the edge/blade and another metal (like iron) for the rest.

Also wonder what the ideal spike material would be. Stellite? Some sort of carbide tip?
ATC tomahawks are laminated steel. I think the edge is 5160 and the body is mild steel.
Arn't some spikes carbide tipped?

Bremerton, Washington
Your suggestion of steel seems very plausible. But I will heed to the master for official response.

BTW: Did you guys see the, never before seen, picture of the modern uhm .......thing(can't say).......we are working on in the More Caracci Projects Thread?

Your steel suggestion may come in very handy there.

Leave me alone Andy. I am having fun and I haven't said a thing.


[This message has been edited by GPB (edited 04-23-2001).]
Carbides are very hard and would resist deformation very well, but they will fracture rather easily - and if they do you will have a hell of a time trying to reshape it. They are generally used when the cutting can be done with great precision so there is little fear of fracture.

If you use a decently hard shock resistant steel it will be near impossible to break and if deformed (hits a rock) could quite easily be cut back into a sharp point with a file or even a rock.

For the best Hawk steel I would want very high shock resistance. While these steels do not in general have a high abrasion resistance it is not like you are going to need to cut up meters of Sisal rope.

If you were using your 'Hawk as your primary hunting blade and had to butcher and skin large animals without sharpening you might want to consider another steel to get a high hardness and wear resistance, but its not like you would be throwing around the same blade.

That kind of consideration leads to one application for the removable head 'Hawk Andy posted awhile ago. You could have one dedicated to throwing and one dedicated for cutting.

5160 is an excellent steel for high impact work as it is very tough, CPM-3V might be a consideration if you want better edge holding or a higher hardness to allow a thinner edge, as it has a very high toughness as well. Some experimentation would be in order though as banging a 'Hawk around is kind of stressful. Tough for a knife is not the same thing as tough for a 'Hawk.

Take one of your tougher custom knives and slap it multiple time on one of the sides against a vice with a lot of force. Sounds pretty extreme and yeah it is. However a 'Hawk could easily see this kind of impact if you throw it at something and it glances off the target, not to mention combat impacts, which are probably not of major importance to most though.

If Eagle is doing the sheaths then you could easily add a couple of small side pockets to hold a small hone for sharpening and a small file for nick removal.

muzzleup- ATC Hawks are laminated? I thought the Rangers' bits were 5160 and forge-welded to the eye. A San Mei hawk-That's even MORE kewl!

Cliff- About the carbide: I figured that was the way it would work. Very hard things tend to be brittle, unpleasant fact of nature.
I like your ideas about suiting the steel to the application. There's not much that well-worked 5160 can't do, but it's been my experience that it just doesn't hold a cutting edge so good. Would there be any utility in welding a higher-carbon edge to 5160 body, or would mild steel do just as well for the body? (Or maybe just getting the bit harder than 50 Rc would do?)
The other thing to consider is design of the edge- If you're using the hawk for both chopping and cutting, I'd want a thin blade with properties weighted to edge-holding, and with a lot of cutting area. It would probably look like an ulu. If I were chopping, I'd want a straight-edge blade that was tough as nails and wouldn't mind some extra weight. For fighting, I'd want light weight, ability to hold a sharp edge and resist moderate impact (doesn't necessarily have to bounce off granite intact), a beard for hooking and as many sharp & pointy areas as I could get
. All of these might require a different metal & tempering.
The ATC's are a piece of 5160 for the core and mild steel formed around the eye and forge welded to the 5160 core so the the edge is 5160 and the sides and back are mild steel or low carbon steel that can still be hardeded for the poll.

Bremerton, Washington

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Would there be any utility in welding a higher-carbon edge to 5160 body, or would mild steel do just as well for the body?</font>

Mild steel is even tougher than 5160, the only reason you would want 5160 for the body is to make it stronger. However it would take an extreme amount of effort to put a bend in the head of a 'Hawk through the mild steel part. I would not be confident that the handle wouldn't simply break of first.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Or maybe just getting the bit harder than 50 Rc would do?</font>

Yes, 5160 at 58 RC would hold a crisper edge much longer than if it was in the low fifties, however the durability is going to be significantly lower as well. Easily still enough for a knife blade - but possibly not so for a heavy impact throwing 'Hawk.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">The other thing to consider is design of the edge</font>

Yes, I completely forgot to mention that. As you noted a cutting blade would have a far different geometry than a chopping /throwing one, the latter two could be split as well.