How to Customize a Tomahawk: Plans and Results

I’ve tried two different tomahawks: Cold Steel Rifleman’s Tomahawk and the CRKT Kangee.

After using both tomahawks for a while I decided I wanted to start customizing them to make them my own. 

I chose the Rifleman’s Tomahawk for two reasons. First, I thought I would be using it more than the Kangee because it has a flat back to the head rather than a spike. Also, the handle on the Rifleman had much less finish on the surface which would require much less sanding. 

There are a lot of different ways to customize a tomahawk. You can use a file or other cutting tool to create designs or other functional features on the metal head. Some people change the color of the hawk head by using a chemical process or through heating. 

Then there is the handle which can be carved and shaped a certain way. File work can also be done on it or designs burned into it. Also, a lanyard hole can be drilled into it if it does not have one.

Leather or different types of cordage can also be used to create a handle or placed under the metal head to help protect the wood handle. This provides a bit a padding in case the cutting edge misses its target.

My Plan

Initially, I did not have any intentions of doing much work to the metal head. However, there was a slight problem when I received the Rifleman. 

The head was rusty over much of the surface and the black coating on it was also peeling off. Instead of sending it back and dealing with shipping issues, I figured I could fix that minor problem. 

Next was the handle. I wanted to do three things to it. I wanted to add a lanyard hole with a cordage loop, some material under the head to help protect the wood handle, and lastly, I wanted to add a unique design to the wood. 


The Work 

I have nothing against power tools, and they are great when time is a concern. I am also a bit old school in my ways and sometimes prefer using hand tools, plus time was not an issue for this project. 

However if you do not have time then you are probably going to want a power sander, a grinder, or power drill.

The first order of business was to take care of the problems with the tomahawk head. For this step, I used a combination of sandpaper and metal files to remove the black coating and the rust. 

A power sander or grinder certainly would have been easier and quicker for this task, but it also would have been easier to inadvertently remove too much material or damage the head.

It took me several hours of sanding and scraping before the majority of the coating was removed and the rust was gone. 

As you can see from the picture below there is still a thin layer of black in spots over the surface. I decided to leave it like this because I kind of liked the look of it. Also, my arms were becoming dead tired from all the sanding. 

All the dust and filings were removed with a damp cloth. I then dried the head and spread a thin coat of oil over everything. 

The Handle 

The next step was to leave my mark on the handle. I have had a bit of practice using a wood-burning tool to create a few projects in the past and wanted to incorporate that into this project. 

There was a light finish on the wood handle, so I did have to remove that first by sanding. Luckily, it did not require nearly as much effort as the tomahawk head. 

Once the wood was smoothed down, I took a pencil and lightly roughed out the design I wanted. After outlining, the next step was to use a wood-burning tool and to follow the pencil lines. 

I envisioned a natural look to the handle so on one side I burned some bird feathers and on the opposite side, I burned some winding vines with leaves. I would not call myself an artist by any means, but I think it turned out well. 

Other than giving the handle a unique look, a burned or carved design gives the handle more texture. This helps to maintain a grip in wet conditions or when your hands are sweaty. 

Handle Wrap 

After replacing the metal head and setting it into place on the handle, I wanted to add a wrap around the handle just below the metal head. The wrap will help to hold the head in place as well as provide some protection to the wood handle.

I chose to wrap five inches under the head with 550 paracord. I tucked the cut ends of the cord under the last turn on the top and bottom, cinched the cord, and burned the ends with a butane lighter. 

At some point, I may replace this with a larger piece of leather, but I do like having easy access to a little extra cordage. 

Lanyard Hole 

Creating a lanyard hole at the bottom of the handle was the last part of my project. I did opt out of using a manual drill and instead used a power drill for this step.

I did not want the hole to be too far up the handle nor did I want it to close to the end because it may split the wood.

Once I found where I wanted it, I drilled a hole that was a little bit larger than the diameter of the paracord. I did this so that it would be easy threading the cord through the hole and in case I ever want to use a larger diameter cord in the future.

Adding the lanyard loop is easy as threading the cord into the hole and pulling it through. However, I did not want the length of the loop to be just any size. If the cord is too long it will get in the way and if it is too short it will be uncomfortable to have wrapped around the wrist. 

The length of the cord will be different for everyone but once you figure out your length, bring the two cut ends of the paracord together and tie them off into a knot. 

If you use paracord for a lanyard like this, I do not suggest burning the cut ends and pressing them together. That does not provide a strong enough bond for heavy-duty use.


Wrap Up 

The duration of a project like this will vary with the size of your tomahawk, skill set, and how much work you wish to do to it. I completed all the work on my Rifleman throughout the weekend, stopping here and there to complete other chores as well. I hope you enjoyed a look at my custom tomahawk as much as I enjoyed creating it. Here is the finished Rifleman.

Thanks for reading and feel free to sound off in the comment section below!



Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. Recently, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide and Paracord Projects For Camping which is scheduled to be released March 2, 2021 Read more of Bryan's articles.