Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Made in the USA" Review: Ontario RD Hawk II

Last summer, Ontario Knives sent Dave and I a couple of RD Hawk II's to try out. Even though the RD is primarily a tactical/breaching tool, they asked us to find out if it might have any legitimate use as a woods or wilderness survival tool.

I was up front in telling Ontario that the tactical-oriented RD might not do so well out in the bush, but Ontario insisted that they were ok with that. They said they wanted to find out how it might function if it were the only tool someone had in a wilderness survival situation. Since this looked like an interesting project, and knowing Ontario's heritage and overall quality, I decided to give it a shot.

RD Hawk Features/Specs

Designed to be a tactical and breaching weapon for soldiers, the RD Hawk II is certainly not a typical looking hatchet or tomahawk.

While one end does have a traditional hatchet bit, the other side, which on most hatchets would be the place for a poll, has instead a sharp spike, used to penetrate the body armor of an enemy combatant. I was curious to see if there was a wilderness use for this spike, as you'll see in the field testing below.

The RD Hawk is constructed from a solid piece of 1/4" 1075 steel, which has a baked on powder coating finish. The steel is a little on the softer side in order to emphasize toughness over absolute edge-holding, coming in at 53-55RC, roughly the same as most Council Tool axes. Overall length is 12.4", with a cutting edge surface of 3.6".

The handle scales are made from Canvas Micarta. The RD Hawk weighs in at 28 ounces without the sheath, 32 ounces with the sheath.


The RD Hawk comes with a very nice cordura-nylon sheath, which I found to be both functional and durable. It allows secure belt carry as well as easy withdrawal and replacement.

Comparison Shots

The RD Hawk next to a Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet:


As mentioned at the beginning of this review, our task was to find out if the RD Hawk had any viable uses in a wilderness situation. We decided to try it in the following four categories; 1) Chopping 2) Splitting 3) Fine Carving and 4) Uses for the spike.


Due to the steep grind angle and thickness of the edge, which is made to be stronger for breaching purposes, the RD Hawk turned out to be a poor chopper considering its weight. The Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, though weighing 7 ounces less (pictured on the left in the photo below), chopped much more efficiently than the heavier RD Hawk (right).

(click to enlarge)

The canvas micarta handle on the RD Hawk was reasonably comfortable during chopping, and felt similar to the handles on Ontario's Randall Adventure Training (RAT) series of knives.


I was able to split 3-4" pine logs with the RD Hawk relatively easy.


Fine Carving Tasks

I was able to rough out a tent stake without too much trouble, but the thickness and grind angle of the edge made other fine tasks more difficult than they were worth. The steel section that runs between the handle and the hatchet head is also very uncomfortable to choke up on, adding to the grim prospect of using the RD to make feather sticks, etc.

Uses for the Spike

Surprisingly, the spike turned out to be more useful than I thought it would. It can used as an ice pick in the winter, as an awl to punch holes in leather or wood, or as a log puller, as shown below:


Due to the steep grind and thickness of the edge, the RD Hawk performed poorly in both chopping and fine carving tasks. The steel handle just below the head is uncomfortable to choke up on, which hinders its ability to make feathersticks or do other fine work.

On the plus side, the RD was able to split wood effectively as well as rough out crude tent stakes. The spike was actually a surprise, in that it could be used as an ice pick, awl and log puller. 

I was curious to see how the RD would perform if I spent some time re-profiling the edge with a belt sander into a thinner convexed edge. After about an hour, I got the edge to look like this:

The difference in chopping ability was immediate and dramatic. During some off-camera chopping tests, the RD actually out-chopped the Gransfors Wildlife Hatchet, throwing large chips in the process.

If you have access to a belt sander and have some skill in profiling axes, this might be an option if you'd like your RD Hawk to perform better in a wilderness environment.

So what's the verdict? Though I can't recommend the RD Hawk as a bushcraft tool, it would function reasonably enough in a survival situation to build a shelter, split kindling or make tent stakes. The spike also comes in handy as an awl or to drag firewood as a log puller, and during winter, can be used as an ice pick. It also features Ontario's typical high quality durable construction, and is made in the good ol' USA.

For more information, visit Ontario Knives at

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ (without spaces)

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