The tomahawk is a traditional Native American axe. Indigenous people used it for everything, from chopping wood to fighting battles.
Before Europeans arrived, natives made tomahawks by binding sharpened rocks to handles with strong rawhide. Decorative varieties had ornate carvings in the wood to make it more beautiful.
After Europeans landed in the New World, the basic tomahawk design changed. Instead of using stone, Europeans used metal blades.
Soon, most tomahawks were made of iron, making them stronger and more practical.
In recent years, the tomahawk has become a must-have tattoo because of its symbolism and importance in Native American culture.
Today, there are literally hundreds of designs from which to choose, all with different meanings.
Crossed Tomahawk Axes Tattoo
While most tomahawk tattoos depict a single axe, you can also get a version featuring two crossed axes. This imagery conjures a feeling of solidarity and power and it is less aggressive than traditional depictions.
Furthermore, it can quite naturally double as a coat of arms, providing a mark of identity for the person wearing it.
Many tattoos of this format also come with a high level of detailing on the wooden handle, the blades, the rawhide and embellishments, such as feathers.
Reforged Handle Tomahawk Tattoo
This tattoo breaks ranks with traditional tomahawk designs by depicting a reforged handle.
The idea here is to convey the idea that the wearer is battle-hardened and ready to bounce back from whatever attacks come his or her way.
The fact that the axe was once destroyed but now rebuilt symbolizes personal characteristics like fortitude, courage and grit.
Many tattoos of this type feature metal blades wedded to traditional wooden or bone handles. However, they may also depict stone as well.
Broken Handle Tomahawk Tattoo
Some tattoos depict the handle of the axe completely broken in two, usually with extra visual graphics showing the violence of the break.
These tattoos represent lost battles or major defeats. So, for instance, a person might get one of these tattoos to remind them of a damaging or devastating event in their life.
People also choose this type of tattoo to represent their approach to other people. It symbolizes the ability to breach defences and defeat others in battle.
Hand Wielding Tomahawk Tattoo
Tattooists can also depict a disembodied hand wielding the Native American axe. The idea here is to show the axe in action, but also represent the fact that you can also use a weapon for peace.
Even today, people still use the term “burying the hatchet” to mean bringing hostilities to an end. Having the hand physically present in the tattoo helps to make this meaning more apparent.
Snake Venom Tomahawk Tattoo
Getting axe tattoos with a snake wrapped around the handle is another common option.
The snake serves as a reminder that the axe is deadly and brings up images of good and evil. It also helps to bring the tattoo to life, creating a greater visual impact for anyone looking at it.
Skull Tomahawk Tattoo
Tattoo artists will sometimes depict Native American axes with skulls embedded along the main shaft of the handle, or at either the top or bottom.
The symbolism here is clear: the axe is a deadly weapon. Many artists will also include splashes of blood emanating from the skulls to further highlight the grizzly business of war.
Sometimes, you will see tattoos with the axe depicted in the foreground and then broken bones scattered in the background, appearing to fly off in all directions.
The intention here is the same: to depict the axe as a deadly weapon of war.
The people most likely to wear this kind of tattoo are those who see themselves as having a warrior spirit. These are individuals who relish the opportunity to do battle and display their courage.
Bear Tomahawk Tattoo
Native Americans also used tomahawks for hunting. In reality, it is unlikely that they would have sought out bears for their meat.
However, tattoos depicting this provide a different slant on the usefulness of the axe. They symbolize the wearer’s dominance over nature and their lust for blood.
Many tattoos in this category feature axes drenched in blood, with red-dripping wounds depicting the blade’s lethality.
Monochrome Tomahawk Tattoo
Tomahawk tattoos are usually extremely colorful. However, some people choose to get monochrome or grayscale versions.
These are mainly a homage to the beauty and utility of the axe itself. Unlike other tattoos in this list, they are not particularly symbolic and not trying to convey a deeper meaning.
Instead, they simply celebrate the axe as a tool and how it improved the quality of life for Native Americans and early European settlers inhabiting North American in the past.
Tribal Tomahawk Tattoo
These tattoos come in a variety of different styles and attempt to encapsulate Native American culture in a single design.
Many times, they feature intricate detailing on the blade and handle, with tribal artistic patterns blended in.
Strong Tomahawk Tattoo
Strong tattoos usually combine the image of the axe with a message that supports the wearer. For instance, the tattoo might say “stay strong” or “fearless.”
Combining the image of the axes with writing helps to make the symbolism clearer to anyone looking at it.
Eagle Tomahawk Tattoo
The eagle version of this tattoo combines several North American motifs into a single image.
Many times, you’ll see a pair of crossed axes with an eagle rising out of the center. The goal here is, again, to create a kind of coat of arms.
Dripping Blood Tomahawk Tattoo
Lastly, some people opt for tomahawk dripping blood tattoos. These usually feature large amounts of blood both on the axe blade itself, and dripping down beneath it.
The symbolism here could be war, sacrifice, self-defence, murder and disaster. Many bloody versions also feature snapped or smashed handles to depict the chaos and violence of battle.