I have written in the past about some of my days reenacting the Mountain Man era.     I also mentioned such things a throwing the tommyhawk and starting fire with flint and steel, I thought that at this time I might explain some of these activities.

         Throwing the hawk.  Firt of all you need a good quality tommyhawk.  Idealy it should have a little heft to the head.  Most generaly they are cast steel when purchased and are sutiably heavy enough to stick.      The handel should be about as long from the top of the head to the butt as the distance from the knuckles of a closed fist to the tip of the elbow.  My best thrower is one I fabracated my self, it is made of two inch black steel pipe with a 1/4 thick blade welded to it.  The pipe was first heated cherry red and squeezed in a vise to somewhat flatten the sides a little..  It has a bit more heft than most, and the handel is Hard  Rock Maple dunnage.  When it hits it stricks with a thunk.  With out a little weight you cannot throw with enough force to really stick good.

     Next and just as important, a target.       You really need to throw at end grain of the wood.  A cross section of a log is best.  The softer woods like Pine are great as is Redwood.  However the best, but not as long lasting is a Palm tree cross section.  Throwing at a standing plank or the side of a dead tree is not only mostly futail, but  dangerious.  Almost always the blade will not penetrate and will bounce of or back.  I know of one instance where a guy I knew threw at a standing board he had proped up alongside of the garage.  His hawk struck with a solid hit and bounced fiveteen feet and cracked his picture window.  I once entered a competition where we were required to shoot three arrows at a foam turkey , throw a spear at a bale of hay and throw our hawks at the side of a dead pine tree.  No one stuck their hawk in the dead wood, all bounced of into the surrounding bush, and had to be searched for. 

     As for the actual throw,  first is distance.  I just went into the back yard and tried to pace of my old pratice run.  I think I used to pace six steps for my throw line.  I then took a aditional step, turned and faced my target.  I would the cock my arm with the hawk over my right sholder, blade facing forward.  I would step forward with my left foot and throw the hawk over my sholder like throwing a baseball at the target.  This should allow the hawk to make a 3/4 turn in the air and strike the target blade first.  Each individual needs to experment to find the right distance for themselves.            

     You need to learn how to judge for yourself the right distance.  some individuals will try to challange you to a competition and develope their little tricks and try to get everyone to throw from their mark.  A shorter person needs to be slightly closer and a taller further away.  Learn your own mark and how to judge with out making the paceing, and you will be better off.  Now realise this once you learn how to throw you need this distance each time.  Half way to the target you can reverse the blade and essencialy throw it back wards and it will stick with the handel sticking up  instead of down.  And increaseing the distance by half and throwing the same way will stick upside down also.  Double the distance and you get two turns and a handle down stick as in the original throw.  However twice the distance takes a lot more power and the control is much harder and the adverage person cannot pull it off well.

      Now of note, I once knew a hard drinking trader, he would try to set up matches with people who did not know him.  He would show up at the match with double bladed axe, he had cut and ground down in the middle at the handel.  It was a vicious weapon heavier than heck.  At the handle it was only about two inches thick but swelled to full width at each blade.  When he threw it it would burry itself in to the log a good two inches deep, he seldom failed to stick it.  So I got hold of a single blade axe and cut it from the bottom to 1 1/2 inch at the top of the handel and ground and smoothed it up.  Ah it was a beauty and would thunk with a resounding thud.  I took it ot rendevose one year and Had a friend who wanted it so bad that I finally let my daughter trade it of to him for a bunch of junk she wanted from him.

     Anyway I’m not a expert so be carefull and experment on your own in saftey, and remember to watch out for any spectators and keep them out of harms way.


     Well if you are going to be a Mountain man you need to be able to make fire.  Now you can possiably get away with sulpher matches, but never a butane lighter.  However the matches will be frowned upon by the purest.  Sure you could use a magnifing glass on a sunnyday, or try the time consuming stick and bow contracption too much work and not always effective.

     This brings us to flint and steel.  Your flint is a peice of chert, the dark grey always seemed to work best for me.  It needs to be chipped or shaped to a sharp edge.  The steel is a peice of simi-hard iron or softened steel.  Usually these are shaped in a oval design so it can be gripped with at least two fingers and usually thicker over the knuckles.      I once made on out of a softened file heated cherry red (I have made all mine out of files like this)  and then quenched in light oil it was about 2 1/2 inches long and only 1 1/2 inch thick .  I then carved a peice of wallnut in the shape of a fish compelete with sales carved on it.  Then I inserted the steel into a slot along the fishes back.  It was a nice looking and very effective little gadget.  It was given to a fellow buckskinner from Australa.  My daughter has one still that will just accomadate two fingers it is really small, she wore it around her neck on a rawhide thong like a necklase.

     So now we have a flint and a steel.  Now we need some tender, small easily flamable substance such as extreemly dry pine needles or light dry grasses,  then small twigs and slightly larger, on up to thumb sized sticks all dry.  I like to use when available 1/4 in hemp rope unraveled and sun dried, it works great.  But to start the fire you almost need a good char cloth.


     I am making this a seperate paragraph because it is so important.  Char cloth is quite simply cloth that has been charrred but not burnt.  I make mine out of 100 percent cotton white ,old thin, tee shirts.  In olden days any 100 percent cotton would have been used the older and more wore thin the better.  To make mine I use a old Prince Albert Tobbaco Can (the flat one with the hinged lid on top, these are not made anymore, and cost upwards of $15 in antique stores when you can find them).  Anyway I punched a small nail hole in the top and bottom.  Cut about five layers old shirt material to fit in side the can, more will fit but you want the pretty lose.  Next you need a small wood fire, I use a small bar-b-q’er and build a small hot fire and let it burn down to red hot coal’s,  no flame.  You need to have wrapped a wire around the side of the can by this tiime to manuver it around the coal’s.  Prop the can upright over the coals and watch closely.  Soon you will see smoke begin to stream out of the top hole.  As soon as the smoke stops quickly remove the can from the fire.   Allow the can to cool before opening the can.  Opened too soon the cloth will burst into flame destroying the process.  You do not have to use a flat can for this I also have a small round can with a press-on lid about 3″ diamerer and the same height with a hole top and bottom, used the same way. 

     This char cloth is extremely delicate and fragiale, so care is needed to preserve it.  What I use is old large shoe polish cans cleaned and Jappaned, (this is placing it in a fire and burning all paint and finish of, and letting it blacken nicely, then it can be buffed to a nice color.  I pad the char cloth with soft material and close it up for a water proof seal, and looks nice in your kit. ( I also use a second can like this for some primitave fishing gear,  Hooks and silk, and cotton line).

     So now to start the fire.       First find a sheltered place out of stiff breezes, and prepare the bed of the fire first , build a small paramid of small twigs, covered by a larger set of twigs, have a opening on one side you can insert the nest into once you get your    Make a small nest of the tender, this is where I like the unraveled twine and I shape mine like a birds nest loosley.  Now many people like to strike the spark onto the char cloth, I like to wrap mine loosley over the flint.  Holding the flint in your left thumb and forefingers ( if you are right handed).  With the edge of the flint angled up strike it vigriously with the steel.  Now what you are trying to do is shave a little peice of steel off the striker with the flint.  When this happens the shaved peice comes of as a red hot spark, the object is for it to strike the char cloth.  Watch this closely when it catches a small glow will show up , quickly blow gently on the spark and hopefully it will flame up.  Quickly transfer the char cloth to the birds nest and keep blowing gently, once the tender flares transfer it to the teepee of sticks and continue to provide oxygen until you have your fire started.  A lot of guys use a small copper tube to direct air to their flames untill a good blaze is going(when using a tube be careful never to inhale or  yu might suck flame to your mouth or lungs, sounds silly but it has happned).  It is best to use a saftey glasses when using the flint and steel as a hot steel spark to the eye is not good. 

      Always use safety precautions when preforming either one of these endevors.  A hawk is a dangerious weapon in the wrong or careless hand.  And fire while a friend, can be a dangerious enemy.

     If you attempt either of these I wish you luck( but must caution you I claim no responsibality for your results) and hope I have been of some help



  1. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    After reading through the article, I just feel that I really need more info. Can you share some resources ?

    • ramblingbob Says:

      Well my sources in the early days (1980’s) was the first of four books, The Book Of Buckskining, set. I havn’t seen them in years and I actually exchanged letters with Hawk Bogton, the author of the articles in the book (see letters from strangers on my blog). Mostly I learned by trial and error in those days and spending time with many of these Mountain Man living fellows. thanks for your interest

  2. Technology News Says:

    Technology News…

    […]A FEW MOUNTAIN MAN SKILLS « The life, times and adventures of Rambling Bob[…]…

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