axe heads it is easy to get carried away. It would be easy if they were marked used for this or used for that.
But they aren't. For every tomahawk collector who does not know what else it could have been used for this opens the
door wide for confirmation bias. Polled tomahawks are hatchets often with a typical tomahawk axe
blade and a solid poll on the other side which extends further than what is used in regular hammer poll hatchets
used as tools & is usually decorated with simple to elaborate filing work. Some polls will extend 2.5-3" long.
Also the polled tomahawk has a poll which angles slightly downward from the straight across axis. In other words,
the poll is not exactly 90 degrees from the handle but is angled slightly downward toward it. Sometimes the blade is
angled downward slightly too. Usually the poll begins ~1/4" or more below the highest point of the eye.
Now there are also instances where regular everyday handyman hatchets were adapted for use as a tomahawk but these are few
and far between.
hatchets (used on early plaster walls & ceilings with wood lath strips) are often mistaken for polled tomahawks but lathing
hatchets will not have the poll extended as far & are usually square in cross section whereas the polled tomahawk
has a octangular or round cross section. Some have argued that only the lathing hatchets will have a notch in the blade
for pulling nails & if it doesn't have that notch it is a tomahawk. But the fact is lathing hatchets were made
with AND without the nail pulling notch in the blade so the notch criteria does not eliminate it as being a lathing hatchet.
Lathing hatchets were made flat on top with the blade, eye and poll at the same highest level, so hammering could
be done at the corner of the wall & ceiling to provide needed clearance. (See pg 17 Fakes, Mistakes &
Reproductions; Peck Stow & Wilcox catalog 1923; Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co 1922 catalog).
other polled axes commonly found during colonial times can easily be confused & intermixed with polled tomahawks.
Just like polled tomahawks, polled axes were also carried on the belt. They may have been used as a weapon or
not. Usually the polled axe will have somewhat extended polls also although they average a bit shorter.
Polled 'tomahawks' were either designed or used as weapons. Polled axes/hatchets are really any tools that
have a blade & a hammer poll-- those which may have been used as a hunter's belt axe might also fit in the tomahawk
category and again that depends on who you ask. Belt axes and small tomahawks are terms used interchangably sometimes
but not really accurately.
Ordinary polled frontier hatchets used as
tools are not usually decorated with filings, notches or other purely decorative features and overall patterns although
some do. Just because it is a polled axe that was hand forged more than 150-250 years ago does not make it a tomahawk.
The term tomahawk is added when the axe was used as a weapon. Polled axes/hatchets had far
more uses than as a weapon. Collectors can convince themselves that they all could have been used as a weapon but who are they really
of the population back then were farmers in colonial times. Only a relatively small percentage were
trappers, traders and mountain men & fewer still used polled hatchets as a weapons. Take from that what you
wish, but in my mind the odds are stacked against most polled hatchets of the period being used as weapons.
They are all an interesting part of history either way & there is no need to turn them into anything other
than what they are.
The following are not definitive but rather characteristics in support of a tomahawk ID based on proven
examples. With so little absolutes it is rare to find one that fits perfectly. Remember that most polled hatchets
were hammering nails, not people. They don't sell for 100 bucks on ebay, but the misidentified ones do. Like any
category of tomahawk, identifying starts with studying those polled tomahawks which have a proven irrefutable provenance.
Compare all others to that--nothing else.
The 3 general criteria for determining whether a polled hatchet is a polled tomahawk needs to
include at least one the following. Everything else must be considered a tool. Conjecture doesn't prove a
1) Verifiable documentation
of Indian/explorer/trader usage as a weapon.
2) The shape and construction method is identical
to known proven examples
3) The axe has authentic Indian decoration on a haft
original to it.
Some Attributes of polled tomahawks:
often elongated polls 2.5-3" or more although not all; often flaring
decorative filings, decorations
-resembles shape of pipe tomahawks only with hammer poll
blades often shaped like pipe tomahawk blades with similar angles
thin eye walls
poll angled downward slightly & widens toward end is a common pattern
weight close to 1 lb. range
of known tool patterns
~ one style has the blade flaring bilaterally
with short thick polls
* The absence of
nail pulling notches does not necessarily indicate a polled hatchet was used as a weapon. Many polled hatchets
made & used as tools never had nail pulling notches as evidenced by old hatchet manufacturer catalogs. Since
it can weaken the blade cheek it was not always preferred, particularly on iron hatchets with small steel blade inserts.
Also there are some rare tomahawks where nail pulling notches were added after their use as a weapon had ended.
Farmers that plowed up these heads might occasionally put them to use again as a tool and add a notch. (See page 5 --
top of page).