Pre-Columbian Stone Tomahawk/Axe


 We have been asked to do a few pages (so all can see) on how to make some pre-Columbian items. The tomahawk was chosen for the first lesson because of the many request on how to make one. People have told me that they went to a Pow-wow and bought a tomahawk which turned out to be nothing more than a rock 'strapped' to a stick with some paint on it. We don't think you will have to worry about that with this lesson. The Hawk you will have, when done, will be museum quality and something that will last down through the years. Please enjoy the description of making a pre-Columbian style tomahawk.

In making a tomahawk you first need to pick a stone. Some river rocks closely resemble the head of tomahawks. In some cases you will not have to shape the stone at all. When using a nice stone a grove is put a in it so it (Fig. One and Two) will hold to the wood better. The harder the stone the longer it will take to shape it. Some very hard stones require it to be constantly wet so the heat will not destroy it. Quartzite stone was chosen for this tomahawk. It did require quite a lot of shaping and sanding to get it looking smooth. 

In (Fig. One and Two) you will notice the stone comes to a point at both ends, and it is polished. The rough work of shaping the stone is accomplished with a grinder and a fiber wheel. (Fig. Eight) Since this stone is very hard  a lot of water is used to keep the heat from destroying the stone. The rock is constantly dipped into a container full of cool water. It does get a little messy, but remember one should always wear eye protectors this helps with the splashing water as well as if a broken piece of stone or fiber wheel flies off. Some type of soft head gear is also needed to ensure that if a small piece of stone breaks and flies off, it will not hit you in the forehead and cut you. It may be good to wear a thick wool 'hat. This is the voice of experience speaking. The process of cutting stone creates quite a lot of stone dust. You should wear a carbon respirator mask to avoid dust getting into your lungs. In (Fig. Eight) you can see the dust all over the cutting tool and stand. To achieve the polishing the use a good type of sand paper is utilized. Start with a course grit down to a fine. Quartzite is hard so is best to start with 60 grit, then to 100 grit, then 220 and finish up with 800 grit. The stone is then buffed with a cotton cloth wheel on a grinder with jewelers rouge. Now we have a stone to begin with. The next thing you need is a good handle. 

The wood used here for the handle is of a small sassafras tree. The bark is taken off with a broken piece of glass from the bottom of a wine bottle. The glass scrapes good and gives the wood a natural look of being done by a knife by hand. Make sure you use gloves to avoid cutting yourself with the broken glass. It also does the wood so good that it should not need any sanding. It is best to take the bark off when it is wet'. Don't let it dry onto the wood unless you intend it staying this way. Some bark, once dried, would take a jack hammer for it to come off. One example of this is smooth bark hickory. Just about any type of wood can be used. Just make sure it is straight and is about the thickness you see in the pictures. Try to use an inch thick on some and and inch and a half on others. The size of the stone is most important and is taken into consideration when choosing the diameter of the handle.
Now that we have the stone and the wooden handle we need to cut the handle as shown in the picture. (Figures One and Two) This notch is for the placement of the stone . If you will look at the finished hawk you will see that the split wood goes over the stone and some of the wood sticks above the top of the stone to give it a 'top notch' effect and it helps in keeping the stone from moving. (Figures Four And Six) Make sure the notch is cut to allow for this and to allow for enough wood to go around the stone. Remember the stone is not thin and flat. In cutting the notch use a panel saw blade on the grinder. (Fig. Eight) When this is done it is extremely dangerous and care must be taken so the wood is cut and not yourself. If you cut too fast the speed of the grinder can snatch the wood out of your hand and then the handle becomes a projectile. The handle while being snatched by the blade can pull your hand into the moving blade and can remove a finger very fast!!! Get a piece of junk wood and practice with it so you don't mess the handle (or you) up. We discourage this and encourage the use of a good hacksaw. After you cut the handle  like shown then turn it and taper the side parts down so they fit the notch. The width of the notch in the stone is smaller than the woods diameter (usually).
Now we place the end of the handle in a pan of water and boil it until it is real soft for molding around the stone without splitting. (Figure Three) You can see that the handle is propped to lean into the pan. While this is boiling you can get the materials you will need for the next step. You will need some epoxy, a good amount of sinew, some scissors, a good pair of pliers and a number 8 penny finishing nail. Take the sinew and cut a 10 inch piece off. Take the rest and roll it so it can be pulled easily to keep adding sinew to the tomahawk. Check the handle by taking the pliers and check if it will bend easily. When it bends easily, bend the 2 sides of the notch out away from the handle. make sure it does not crack. Now bend them in so you have a curve in them. This allows the stone to 'sit' down in the notch near the solid wood so the sides will go around the stone and not split the wood down the handle. You may have to place the handle back in the boiling water to soften it up, as it gets cold fast. Next, place the stone in the notch and bend the 2 sides around the stone with the pliers to form the wood around the stone.  Make sure the wood sides of the handle fit in the notch of the stone. If they need to be cut thinner then cut them with a good sharp knife so they fit in the notch in the stone good and don’t split. Once this forming of the two sides of the notch in the handle is done you are ready to add the epoxy and hold it all with a good tight wrap of sinew. Try and get someone to help hold the roll of sinew and assist in feeding it to you as it is wrapped.

The next step is very critical to a good looking and sturdy hawk. It is a messy step so one must take care to avoid getting the epoxy everywhere. We have found that alcohol cleans off the epoxy before it dries. So you will need a small rag and some alcohol. Take a piece of flat cardboard and squeeze the epoxy onto it. Make sure it is enough to complete the job without having to add more while in the middle of the process. Now take the nail and stir the epoxy so that it is mixed real good. The epoxy used is a syringe looking thing with 2 tubes of liquid on it so as you squeeze, both tubes place thick liquids onto the cardboard in equal quantity. One tube holds the hardener and one holds the actual epoxy. Try to buy the kind of epoxy that sets up in less than 10 minutes. Take the nail and place some of the mixed epoxy in the notch of the handle so it has a good amount on both sides. Place the stone in the notch and use the pliers to squeeze the wood ends together at the top of the notch where it goes over the top of the stone. This secures the two sides of the notch holding the rock. Take the 10 (ten) inch piece of sinew and wrap it around the wood on top of the stone directly under the pliers. With help from the assistant, start wrapping the sinew around the stone in a figure eight pattern. Make sure there is plenty of epoxy in between the wood and the stone head so it forms solid under the sinew. When almost finished wrapping take some epoxy on the nail and spread it directly on the sinew to hold it solid. While all of this is going on, try to keep the epoxy off the handle and the stone where it can be seen. If some does drip there then use the alcohol and rag to clean it off. The assistant can be handy when you need this done while you are wrapping. Make sure all of this is done rapidly so the epoxy does not set up while you are still wrapping. Cut the sinew and smooth the end out with a tiny bit of epoxy to hold it down. Let this set for a while. This allows you time to clean up. Look at Figures Four and Five, these show the stone and sinew just after it has been done. You can see how to wrap the sinew in the close-up (Fig Four)  this gives the hawk a good look and is authentic. If you had used hoof glue and real sinew it would be authentically done in all detail. Deer hoof glue is a primitive type of fiberglass and is extremely hard and water proof.

The last step gives the hawk some details so it does not look so plain. If you look at the picture of the grinder you will notice there is NO guard on the right side. (Fig. Eight) It was cut off. This allows the worker total access to the cutting or grinding wheel. Figure Eight (8) shows the fiber cutting wheel used for almost everything on the grinder. It can be purchased at most hardware stores. Make sure it says: Masonry and NOT for Metal. This is a little secret that has proven to work well. Take the tomahawk, and using the masonry fiber wheel to make notches on the shaft of the hawk so they go all the way around and are not cut deep. You can see the effects of these 'cuts' in Figures Six and Seven. Any pattern will do and is totally up to you. We like to have several circles where my hand goes so it does not slip. Then you can drill a hole in the very bottom of the shaft and put a buckskin 'tie' in it to hold the hawk. Another little thing done is to take scrap pieces of short lace and tie them just under the head of the hawk. (Fig. Six and Seven) This creates a kind of fringe hanging off the top of the handle. Now you have a pre-Columbian style tomahawk that really can hurt if used on someone and is museum quality.   


                                              Figure One

The handle and this stone are a good size for each other. You would not want a smaller stone or a larger one. This is a good balance.


                                                    Figure Two 

The notch on this handle was cut a little deeper. Notice the notch in the stone.


                                                   Figure Three 


                                             Figure Four


                                                Figure Five 

The handle was stained  before this picture was taken. Shoe polish cream is used when staining the wood on a hawk.


                                               Figure Six 


                                             Figure Seven



                                                 Figure Eight

Remeber, with any motor tool it does not take much at 56,000RPM to cut a finger off. Even this fiber blade will cut deep quickly. On my hand after hours of cutting there has been a couple of scratches, so be careful!! But this, with water, does real well cutting stones. Just work slowly..



                                                 Figure Nine

Green Quartzite Tomahawk. Extremely hard stone.


                                       Figure Ten

Black slate hawk. This is a smaller one. The stone turned out real nice with the polishing. This is what I call a Ladies Hawk. Since the handle is smaller in diameter it fits a smaller hand real well.



                                   Figure Eleven

At nineteen inches with a while marble head this would leave a good dent. To get scrap marble you can visit your local grave monument place. Most don't cut stone there, they order it. But, you can bet there is someone close that does. If you ask nicely most people will help you find a good source. When I found the place that cut the stone for our area the man was glad to give it away, because small pieces can't be used for anything. Good luck.


                   Pre-Columbian Stone Celts for Hafting

Most of these stone celts done are of grey marble. These are of different sizes and shapes similar to the originals. #1 is 17 inches. Many celts were never hafted. They were just held in the hand.




These celts are of greenstone and extremely hard, probably a 9 on the mohs hardness scale.  The light grren lines were not found until the polishing step was done.  Hard stone to sculpture.




An example of a pre-Columbian monolithic axe. Not many of these were made and showed no marks as though they were used. They were probably just ceremonial pieces. This one is grey marble with white quartzite inclusions. This is also designed showing two warriors talking about their conquest over an enemy. With the curved top and the single piece stone the axes were made to resemble a woodpecker which was a war bird of the pre-Columbian people. As its head is red depicting blood of the warrior. 


                                                  17" tall


The white quartzite inclusion is easily seen on this pre-Columbian monolithic axe.

                                      16 1/2" tall