A little history of the tomahawks of RW Wilson

RW Wilson - Black Eagle with Heart Cutout Tomohawk
Curly Maple Engraved Tomahawk

RW Wilson began shooting muzzle loader rifles in 1965.  It was suggested by his friends to get the typical tomahawk and knife to go along with it.  What he learned was that there were no knives suitable to his taste.  In 1966, when he finally found one he liked, the price tag of $30 was not acceptable.  In light of his history working at Weirton Steel Mill as a blacksmith’s assistant, he knew that he had the skills to make his own knife at a much lower cost.  So, he set out to accomplish just that.  He put his best craftsmanship into the knife and ended up selling it for $35.  When he made a second to replace the first, it also was purchased.  Before he knew it, he realized he had become a knife-maker.  As he crafted more and more knives, he never sacrificed the craftsmanship, each one being made as though it was for his own use.

It wasn’t long before RW decided it was time for the tomahawk to complete his muzzleloader set that started this all.  In 1968, the first RW Wilson Tomahawk was made.  Following RW’s typical fashion, each tomahawk was crafted with the highest attention to detail.

RW Wilson - Black Eagle with Heart Cutout Tomohawk
Black Eagle with Heart Cutout Tomohawk

The tomahawk took first place as RW Wilson’s passion because of its authentic colonial design.  Each piece brings you back to the “old” days where life was simple, rustic, and pure.  Holding one, you could almost believe you were one of the Native American Indian chiefs who used to bear such a weapon.  In fact, if you were to watch the 1973 Warner Brothers film, “Jeremiah Johnson,” which recaps that time in our nation’s history, you would get to see an actual RW Wilson Tomahawk.  RW was contracted to hand-craft 16 tomahawks for that film.  Only 3 of them were returned to him, one of which still shows a little leftover “blood” from the action. The history doesn’t stop there.  For the 150th anniversary of the Texas Rangers, possibly the highest regarded law enforcement agency in our country, 500 of the first-ever commemorative tomahawks were created.  RW crafted each one, his largest order to date, with the “Texas Ranger Star” in the handle.

In a short time, RW Wilson became a well known name in the knife-making world.  He even became one of the first members of the Knife Maker’s Guild, now a highly coveted achievement by knife makers across the country. After 1973, the demand for RW Wilson Tomahawks became more than he could make at once.  Refusing to sacrifice the quality of his work, or the passion for his craft, he made the decision to stop taking orders.  For close to 30 years, RW Wilson quit making tomahawks.  It wasn’t until about 2010 that he began again and has since made more than 20 tomahawks.  Things have changed, of course, since his first methods of tomahawk making.  In the early years, for example, he used sand-cast heads.  Now, he uses die-cast and hand-forged heads that he makes with the help of a craftsman by the name of Bobby Smothers, a student of his whom also makes tomahawks and knives.

RW Wilson - Small White Eagle Tomohawk
Small White Eagle Tomahawk

If you want to see RW today, you will find him in one of two places.  He spends most of his retirement days in his little basement garage crafting knives and tomahawks.  The workspace is filled with grinders that RW designed and built himself just for his craft.  Again, calling on his experience building machinery for Weirton Steel Corporation, he built the machine that he couldn’t find anywhere else.  To this day, he still claims it’s the best there is.  His students usually agree. “Students?” you may ask.  Yes, students.  RW teaches interested craftsmen in his home at no charge.  He had always been asked how he gets such a good polish, or how he gets this piece to do that, and more.  But he quickly realized that he did a better job at showing than telling, so he began inviting folks over to see it for themselves.  Within about a weekend’s time, he can equip a new student with all the basics and materials they would need to begin making their own knives.  He’ll even cook the meals and entertain his students with some great stories!  RW also offers a catalog of supplies and grinders for the knife-maker.  If you would like to learn more about what RW Wilson offers, visit his website atwww.rwwilsonknives.com or find him on FB here, or just give him a call at 304-723-2771.

This brings us to the second place RW spends time…The Big Shows.  RW travels the country for weeks at a time, setting up his exhibit of custom knives and tomahawks, as well as all of his supplies for fellow craftsmen.  This is where the magic happens.  The knife and gun shows are where RW has met most of his knife-making friends and students.  It is where folks get to see the wonderful pieces of art he creates, and purchase them if they want a piece of history for their own.  Of course, there are many useful knives to choose from, not just display pieces.  It’s all in what you want.  You can even order one custom to your own liking!  But the more details you want, the more money you’ll need to spend because of the amount of craftsmanship that must go into it.  Right now, you could pay anywhere from $50 to $5,000 for just one RW Wilson knife or tomahawk.  But, rest assured, you will love it, or he’ll start over and make a new one until you do.

If you want to find RW at a knife show, you will want to check his FB or website for a list of locations on his schedule.  Once you get to the show, there’s only one way to find him.  You’ll want to look for his famous outfit!  He is well known for his feather-lined top hat, his fringed jacket, and bear claw necklace.  He appears to be right out of the time machine with his throw-back garb, matching his throw-back personality.

Of course, there is much more to know and see from RW Wilson!  From his ivory to his guns, to his knives and tomahawks, to the stuffed wild boar head that stares at you when you walk into his office, when you meet RW Wilson, you will meet a genuine good ‘ole boy, and a hard working artist and craftsman.  His piles of letters from students and friends, his covers and articles in magazines such as “Muzzleloader” and “Gun World,” and the many news articles he’s collected are all testaments to the distinguished and accomplished RW Wilson, AKA “Tomahawk.”

RW is planning on putting his focus on making his knives/tomahawks while continuing to grow his business by selling more knife-making supplies. His catalog and website are constantly being updated and have new items for sale. RW will also continue teaching as long as he has students. He loves sharing his knowledge and hospitality with others.

Connect with RW on FB, email or the way he prefers by telephone at 304-723-2771 or 304-670-5643.  

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