SKILLSeries: What is the best machete?

SKILLSeries is a live video partnership between WAZOO and Georgia Bushcraft to help you learn while introducing you to people who are masters in their fields. We've decided to summarize these information rich videos into articles so you can get the main points on each topic without having to watch the whole video.


Today, we revisit the episode Machete Mayhem with knife designer and jungle explorer, Joe Flowers from Bushcraft Global. He was kind enough to dive into the world of machetes by showing us hundreds from his collection.

WAZOO Survival Gear, Georgia Bushcraft, and Bushcraft Global talk about machetes

The machete is many people's first choice of survival tool due to its ability to cut, slash, pound, dig, hunt, carve, and defend while staying reasonably sharp. They are crucial bushcraft and agricultural tools, and Joe tells us that Christmas tree shears are the most common working machete in North America.

The History of Machetes

Joe Flowers from Bushcraft Global displays a dha machete from ThailandMetal bush hacking tools have existed for thousands of years. Long knives like the Thai dha (seen in the picture to the right) have existed since at least the 13th century, but it was during the age of discovery that the naval cutlass became coveted in the new world. 

People would trade and steal cutlasses, and Joe tells us that “you started getting these machete/ sword hybrids that were useful not just for stabbing someone, but also for working in the bush.”

The modern class of cutting implements known as machetes came about in the 16th century, and Collins was the first company to factory produce these tools during the 19th century.

Anatomy, Temper, and Machete Materials

Machete blades are long, full-tang cutting implements that are preferably made from high-carbon steel. There is a vast range of blade thicknesses and shapes: “the thinner it is, the quicker it moves.” 
Joe Flowers bends a carbon steel machete

A test that is used when buying a machete involves bending the flexible blade as far as it can go and then making sure that the hard, high-carbon steel stays straight and true.

Many machetes have a distal taper, which means that the width of the spine gradually narrows away from the handle towards the point. “This Distal taper helps with balance and helps with the speed when using the machete.”

Finding balance for your needs is a key machete consideration, and Joe suggests micro serrations for hard, knotty wood. “Some machetes are better for chopping, some are better for light work.” A thinner grind is best for thinner material while a thicker grind is for heavy stuff, like wood.

 

Different Machete Designs

Varying styles exist because of the demands from different regions’ vegetation. “Malaysian guys got the best of both worlds,” Joe says, “because they’ve got woody stuff, but also green stuff.”

 

  • The common Latin American style (for example the Ontario machete) is sleek, basic, and highly versatile. But it lacks a distal taper.

  • The Parang comes from the Malay archipelago and has a thick blade. It can substitute for an ax, but is also capable of fine carving. Parangs, like their cousins goloks, are great bushcraft tools. 

  • The curved Kukri is Nepal’s national weapon and is the weapon of choice for Gurkuas. These knives have their own martial art, and heavy-ended Kukris can be a good bushcraft machete.

  • The Philipino Bolo is another machete that is popular in Southeast Asia. This weighted, top heavy machete is used to harvest many types of plants, and it’s a pretty good option for bushcraft.

  • Machetes like cane knives or corn knives are thin, hooked, and perfect for cutting the stalks of plants for harvest. They aren't usually pointed, and may not be the best choice for survival due their lack of versatility.

 

How Do You Use a Machete?

Joe Flowers shows how to use a machete while holding a grabat

To avoid blisters from a tight grip, hold machetes with a loose pinch grip of forefinger and thumb around the top of the handle. The idea is to utilize a flicking motion with the blade while cutting material at a 45 degree angle. 

Joe showed us that a useful hooked stick called a grabet can be easily crafted from a branch to lift, arc, and push vegetation to cut undergrowth and stalks more easily. 

How Machetes are Used as Weapons

Machetes are not only great for agriculture and bushcraft--they are also popular weapons around the world. Joe tells us that wielding the weapon in one hand while keeping a jacket wrapped around your other arm for shielding is common in South American machete fights. 

“Do you like dogs?” Joe asks, “if they’re attacking you, planass them,” a term that means slapping your opponent with the broadside of the blade (as opposed to chopping them). The long, flexible machete is an important survival tool since it’s great for self-defense.

Using a File to Sharpen a Machete

Sharpening a machete with a fileThese agricultural tools are meant to be easy to fix in the field. To sharpen a machete, use a file to push along the blade from spine to edge (Joe prefers Mercer Files).

Aim for 20-25 degree bevel for thin material like grass, and 25-35 for thicker, woodier stuff. The point can be stuck into a log or held between one's feet when in the bush. Even though files work great on high carbon steel, you can fine sharpen them in other ways too.

How to Use Machetes Safely

It’s important to prevent machete accidents by being aware of common injury points and personal surroundings when cutting.

Some machetes come with a lanyard or have a hole to add one, but it's important to consider the risk of injury from losing control of a machete that's attached to you. “I’m in the school of thought of no lanyard,” says Joe. 

Always remember to keep your hands out of the way and fingers in tight when cutting, and shave branches with upward growth facing away from you.  Common points of machete injury

Sabering Open a Bottle of Champagne with a Machete

Don't forget that you can saber open a bottle of champagne with a machete. Joe tells us that two things must be remembered:

  1. Find the bottle’s molding line
  2. Think about the line's junction with the lip

Use the machete’s blunt end to rapidly ride the line towards the lip, which might knock the top of the bottle off and make you look like a badass.

What Kind of Machete Should you Get for Survival?

“Be careful of the big names who make machete shaped stuff; they either use the wrong steel, or don't have the temper right."

Joe Flowers holds a Bushcraft Parang by Condor Tool and KnifeJoe's favorite seems to be the thick bladed, 13 inch BushCraft Parang by Condor, and we can’t really blame him. 

Top machete brands include:

The Machete Specialist is also a great resource for both information and products. 

You can find out more about machetes by checking out Joe Flowers and his company, Bushcraft Global. Also, be sure to check out the full SKILLSeries video featuring a glimpse of Joe’s massive machete collection, and stay tuned for machete technique videos from Joe, WAZOO, and Gerogia Bushcraft.


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