Boarding Axes From the Age of Sail  Hache d’abordage, Enterbijl, Entrebil, Änterbila,  Entrebile, Hachas de Abordaje
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Boarding Axes by Nation

The British Boarding Axe is notable for the fact that there was only one pattern for almost the entire age of fighting sail. This was the distinctive tomahawk and although there were many variations it was not superceded until 1859 when the flared blade model replaced it, though by this time the nature of boarding actions was rapidly changing.

Gilkerson identifies the oldest known dateable axe to one excavated at Crown Point, New York - the fort here being a naval base in the mid 1700s which was burned down in 1773. He also speculates that the boarding axe developed from smaller Native American trade axes or tomahawks that were found to be useful on board ship, although some collectors of tomahawks suspect the reverse may be true.

Throughout its long life this axe retained its flattish cross-section and side langets which made manufacture easy especially in poorly equipped workshops around the world, some of which produced very crude examples. The term Tomahawk was adopted into British Royal Navy terminology both at ship level and within administration documents and Ffoulks notes a recorded issue of 300 “Tommihawks”  to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Americans as early as August 1761.

A Shaw c.1820

Length: 28” (71 cm)

Blade - point: 9” (23 cm)

Even with many minor variations the ‘Tomahawk’ retained its distinctive look for well over a hundred years despite manufacture in different countries. It ranged from crude colonial copies to factory made versions.

 The date of the axe above is unknown but it predates that on the right made around 1820 by the A.Shaw company in Britain.

Comparison of the 1859 model and the Tomahawk.

1859  Pattern

The 1859 axe was slightly heavier, had a shorter spike, but retained the flat cross-section and integral side langets. It adopted a flared blade which was better for cutting at variable angles and at deck level. (See Function and Form page.)

It retained the long shaft to give a total length of 24” (61 cm) - longer handled ones are not known.

These axes tend to be dated and well marked with the maker’s name, and for government issue a broad arrow and an N for navy. This axe remained in service until the end of the century but was still produced for private use by Gilpin Tools up until 1930.

The latest date seen is 1899 on a naval issue and according to Ffoulks there were still 163 in naval issue in 1926. The Royal Engineers were issued this pattern in 1872 and declared them obsolete in 1897.

Makers Found on 1859 Model

Gilpin C & M (1861, 1890, 1897,1899)

Yates & Co Cast Steel Warranted

Richard Thomas, Birmingham, (1897)

Makers Found on Tomahawk Model



W Badger


Edwards (c.1812)


Gilpin 1890

Length: 23” (58 cm)

Blade - point: 8” (20 cm)

Sim Comfort Collection

Ex Hannum Collection

Pirates Lair Collection

Reddell c. 1800

Length: 24.5” (62 cm)

Blade - point: 8” (20 cm)

This British boarding axe, is clearly marked SARGANT and was found on the shores of Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario, Canada.  

The shaft has been cut down to hatchet length and it was possibly re-used by a Native American or settler.

William Sargant was a Birmingham sword maker resident on Lionel Street in 1803. In 1815 the firm was incorporated into Woolley and Sargant of Edmund Street, Birmingham.


Tomahawk Boarding Axe

An article on British Boarding Axes is soon to be published in the Arms and Armour Magazine, by this author, to reflect more recent research.

This page will be updated to reflect that. (Last update Aug 2016).

The British boarding axe had a chisel shaped blade, with a straight or very slightly curved cutting edge.

On some axes the lower part of the axe drops away increasing the chisel angle but almost always the top of the blade stays in line with the top of the axe head.

The langets are side mounted and integrally cast and often lobe shaped and curved slightly around the handle.

Handles were  between 24”- 28” (61-71 cm) long and often tapered down sharply at the axe head, swelling in diameter for a short section below the head where the top hand would grip, then gradually tapering to a smaller diameter where the lower hand would take hold and finally terminating in a ball.

 The 1859 model is usually well marked with date, maker, N and broad arrow, while the tomahawk version is often seen with no markings. Makers name and the broad arrow mark are sometimes seen and examples are known with Sargant as the maker.