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Machete recommendations?  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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I want to buy a machete to use around the land -- chopping out woody plants-out-of-place, cutting down saplings, clearing paths through thorns, and so on. The usual machete stuff.

The problem is, I can't decide what kind of machete to buy. My dad's is a plain South American one, probably cost $20 or so and works well enough. But looking at Amazon I find really good reviews of things like the Ka-Bar kukri machete (here: Kukri machete), which is $45. They also have a number in the $20+ range.

My inclination is to buy something a bit more expensive, with the idea that I'll buy this one and keep it for a good long time. And a good machete is something you can get a lot of use out of.

Does anybody have any experience with various machetes? I don't mind spending for worthwhile tools, but I also want to avoid wasting money.
 
gardener
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My favorite machete is an old military issued blade handed down from my great grandfather... it's thin and stays sharp. I much prefer it to the fancy ones I've seen around lately.
 
steward
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After WWII, there were many dead Jeeps left in the Filipines. The locals used to make machetes from the leaf springs.

I was given one. It was great. It would have lasted me a lifetime if it hadn't "grown legs".

 
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Chip, if you want to cut or chop wood thicker than an two or three inches, go with a saw or ax. If you want to cut vines, go with a jungle machete. I learned to whack Himalayan Blackberries with my $15 18" straight-back Wal-Mart machete. It worked about as well as you would expect a Wal-Mart product to. The blade dulls easily and the handle is a bit loose. So, a month ago I bought a 22" Tramontina machete from www.machetespecialists.com. For $9 I got a longer blade with real, springy, steel. And if you are working with thorny plants the extra four inches between your hand and the thorns makes a huge difference in the number of scratches you get. I've been thrilled with it so far.
 
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chip sanft wrote:I want to buy a machete to use around the land -- chopping out woody plants-out-of-place, cutting down saplings, clearing paths through thorns, and so on. The usual machete stuff.

The problem is, I can't decide what kind of machete to buy. My dad's is a plain South American one, probably cost $20 or so and works well enough. But looking at Amazon I find really good reviews of things like the Ka-Bar kukri machete (here: Kukri machete), which is $45. They also have a number in the $20+ range.

My inclination is to buy something a bit more expensive, with the idea that I'll buy this one and keep it for a good long time. And a good machete is something you can get a lot of use out of.

Does anybody have any experience with various machetes? I don't mind spending for worthwhile tools, but I also want to avoid wasting money.



I am a MASSIVE machete nut, and even have a design of mine slated for 2013 commercial production by a major manufacturer. I would strongly advise against the KA-BAR as it's not really so much a machete as a large chopping knife. Way too short for serious machete work and your hands and forearms will be crying blood if you try taking it to thorny plants.

The big things I need to know to match you to a proper model are:

1. What are you going to be cutting? Be as specific as possible, and try to rank those targets in regards to relative frequency (i.e. mostly branches with some woody plants, or mostly woody plants with some branches?)

2. Where will you be using it? How do you intend to carry it? Is a sheath necessary? Is it going on/in a pack or on your side?

3. What is the most you're willing to spend on it? Some nicer machetes can go for just over $100 though most high end ones are around $40-60

@Jeremy--I'm actually buddies with the guy who runs Machete Specialist! Cam's a great guy, and he's a great source. He's also the only source for Imacasa and Hansa machetes, both of which are absolutely fantastic brands--I'm especially fond of Imacasa. I'm not sure what the moderators' stance on this is (please remove this if it crosses any boundaries!), but I'm also a retailer and have a number of machetes (including Tramontinas) that I do the additional work on so they're ready to go out of the box. I flush the scales to the tang, finish the partial grind of the edge and bring it all the way to the tip as well as thinning and convexing it, square the spine, and reshape the points (they come rounded over from the factory). Still cheap, too. A lot of folks just don't have the time or ability to do that work themselves so I like to take care of it for them.
 
gardener
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Whatever you do, don't buy the new Gerber machetes. They cut great for about five minutes, but the metal sucks. Mine was dented to pieces chopping brush, and a friend's actually broke in half the first day. Garbage.

My favorite machete for heft and feel is the "cane" machete. That has a squared-off top. Looks almost like an extended meat cleaver. The balance is great for chopping brush and decapitating.

 
David Good
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My style of cane machete:

http://www.machetespecialists.com/cobeta14inbl.html

 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Vidad--funny you should mention the Condor Beaver Tail! My design will be replacing it in their 2013 lineup. If you like it, buy spares! :p Cane machetes are great though. The way they concentrate mass directly behind the cutting edge makes them very efficient.

For brambles and thorny plants, though, I suggest between an 18" to 24" blade. The further from harm your fingers are the better. I've used my Condor Viking on brambles with great effect. The partial back edge makes a great hook for light targets like woody stemmed plants and grasses while the weight-forward design ploughs through heavy targets with ease.



 
David Good
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@Benjamin

REPLACING it? Oh boy. I feel like my mom just died.

That aside, hope your design is good for whacking roosters - I'd love to see it. I got my own cane machete from my brother over a decade ago. (Actually, he forgot it in a corner of my parents yard where it sat for some years until I fixed it up again.)

Finding good machetes is definitely tough, since a lot of the stuff is cut-rate metal. I am impressed that you're so involved with this most noble of tools.

Seriously... the machete is way more danged manly than just about any other tool.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Vidad MaGoodn wrote:@Benjamin

REPLACING it? Oh boy. I feel like my mom just died.

That aside, hope your design is good for whacking roosters - I'd love to see it. I got my own cane machete from my brother over a decade ago. (Actually, he forgot it in a corner of my parents yard where it sat for some years until I fixed it up again.)

Finding good machetes is definitely tough, since a lot of the stuff is cut-rate metal. I am impressed that you're so involved with this most noble of tools.

Seriously... the machete is way more danged manly than just about any other tool.



Your wish is my command! Here are photos of my personal prototype. The handle on the production version will be the same as on your Beaver Tail so it ought to feel pretty familiar!





It's called the Baryonyx (meaning "heavy claw") and it's designed as a do-all machete for the North American environment. There's a lot going on with the design, some of it obvious and some of it not so obvious. For instance, the V junction between the cutting surfaces can be used as an extension of the arm for pushing brush out of the way. The blade it 16" long and it's a whopping 4.6" wide at its widest point. It clears like a machete and chops like an axe.
 
chip sanft
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Thanks everybody for your suggestions, thoughts, and experiences. I hope they keep coming.

Benjamin, you asked three questions:
The big things I need to know to match you to a proper model are:

1. What are you going to be cutting? So far woody plants, including thorny plants, have been the main target, with smaller saplings and branches behind that, grass etc. behind that. But I'd really like to aim for flexibility, as I don't know what's going to happen next year. One reason I thought the Ka-Bar kukri might be good is its length (17" blade length): too long and the machete could get unwieldy, but too short and -- as you point out -- you're too close to the thorns. Even a longer one isn't proof against some of the nastier stuff, as I have learned.

2. Where will you be using it? Out on our land, which includes cleared areas, woods, brush, and wetlands.
How do you intend to carry it? I'd like to carry it on my belt, so a sheath of some sort would be good (cheap is better than expensive here especially).

3. What is the most you're willing to spend on it? I'd like to not spend more than $50 or so.

Thanks for being willing to share your expertise!
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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chip sanft wrote:Thanks everybody for your suggestions, thoughts, and experiences. I hope they keep coming.

Benjamin, you asked three questions:
The big things I need to know to match you to a proper model are:

1. What are you going to be cutting? So far woody plants, including thorny plants and trees, have been the main target, with smaller saplings and branches behind that, grass etc. behind that. But I'd really like to aim for flexibility, as I don't know what's going to happen next year. One reason I thought the Ka-Bar kukri might be good is its length (17" blade length): too long and the machete could get unwieldy, but too short and -- as you point out -- you're too close to the thorns. Even a longer one isn't proof against some of the nastier stuff, as I have learned.

2. Where will you be using it? Out on our land, which includes cleared areas, woods, brush, and wetlands.
How do you intend to carry it? I'd like to carry it on my belt, so a sheath of some sort would be good (cheap is better than expensive here especially).

3. What is the most you're willing to spend on it? I'd like to not spend more than $50 or so.

Thanks for being willing to share your expertise!



The blade length on the KA-BAR kukri is only 11.5"--the OVERALL length is 17"!

Based on your requirements I'm thinking the 18" Condor EcoSurvivor might be a good choice. With lighter targets, tip velocity is the name of the game so a lighter blade is usually preferred. The classic Latin or "Bush" pattern is the most common because of its versatility so there's that aspect covered, and the EcoSurvivor strikes a great balance between handling lush and woody targets. It's light enough that it can be comfortably belt carried, and the price is right, at about $30. The injection-molded polypropylene handle is nearly indestructible and incredibly ergonomic, supporting a variety of grips comfortably, and the orange color makes it easy to spot if you set it down. The sheath is ultra-heavy-duty nylon canvas rather than Condor's usual leather, so that helps keep the price low. It comes with a polished convex edge right from the factory, so no sharpening is required out of the box.

If you were facing slightly heavier targets more frequently I'd say to go with a Condor Viking or Swamp Master, but with the targets weighted more towards light stuff then lighter is better.
 
chip sanft
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Benjamin Bouchard wrote:
The blade length on the KA-BAR kukri is only 11.5"--the OVERALL length is 17"!


Ah, right you are, my faulty memory at work there.

Anyway, thanks for the suggestion of the Eco-Survivor! Found it through Amazon at $22 delivered.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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No problem! My pleasure.
 
David Good
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Gorgeous. Sign me up.
 
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Have any of you tried the cold steel machetes? are they any good?

Ray
 
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Personally I like the long handled brush axe or sometimes called a brush hook. They are sort of a hooked machete, some are sharp both edges and the long handle saves my back and gives greater power. The needs more room argument is mostly irrelevant as you swing from an area already cleared and can shorten your grasp. Looks sort of like a medieval bill hook.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Ray Cover wrote:Have any of you tried the cold steel machetes? are they any good?

Ray



I have indeed! Cold Steel's machetes are made for them by Lasher Tools of South Africa. Their handles generally are most comfortable for those with large hands (mine are very small) and the steel runs a little on the softer side than Imacasa/Condor and Tramontina, but they're very serviceable tools. The "edge" they come with is just an ultra-coarse hollow grind to speed up the filing process for you. I sell some "special grade" ones where I regrind, convex, and polish the edges, square the spines, and reshape the tips. They cost more but if you don't have the time, skill, or equipment to do the work yourself I think it's worth it. If you CAN do it yourself, though, go with what's cheapest!

Max Kennedy wrote:Personally I like the long handled brush axe or sometimes called a brush hook. They are sort of a hooked machete, some are sharp both edges and the long handle saves my back and gives greater power. The needs more room argument is mostly irrelevant as you swing from an area already cleared and can shorten your grasp. Looks sort of like a medieval bill hook.



I love brush axes for dedicated razing of large patches of brambles and shrubs, but find them to be otherwise fairly limited tools. Great at what they're designed for but not much else. I have a nice vintage one but only get occasional use out of it. I get most of my light brush clearing done with the bush blade on my scythe. If I did a lot of trail crew work, though, a brush axe would be invaluable! I hear the ones Council Tool makes are very nice, though I've only played with their double-edged one rather than their traditional model (which is the style I generally prefer.)
 
Ray Cover
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Thanks for the info Benjamin. I have two Cold steel machettes I bought at the Blade Show in Atlanta a few years back but I have never used them. I may get that Tromontina five pack your buddy has on clearance and re-handle the wood ones with micarta handles. If they are harder steel and hold an edge better that interest me quite a bit both as a tool and a defensive weapon.

Ray
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Ray Cover wrote:Thanks for the info Benjamin. I have two Cold steel machettes I bought at the Blade Show in Atlanta a few years back but I have never used them. I may get that Tromontina five pack your buddy has on clearance and re-handle the wood ones with micarta handles. If they are harder steel and hold an edge better that interest me quite a bit both as a tool and a defensive weapon.

Ray



I'll caution you with the idea of rehandling the Tramontinas--they use a mortised tang which may be difficult to fit a handle for in micarta. Doesn't mean you can't do it--it just means it's more difficult than doing scales for a machete with a full-profile tang. I do highly recommend the 5-pack though. It's a great deal on some great machetes. Ironically I'm wearing my Machete Specialist t-shirt right now. :p
 
Isaac Hill
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I just wanna say that this is one of the reasons I love these forums. Thank you Benjamin for sharing your expertise!
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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No problem! I never had thought back in middle school and high school that all of my study of sharp stuff would really go anywhere productive. Now I run a business, am starting to foray into professional design, and am able to genuinely help people with the tips and tricks I've discovered over the many years in the industry. I'm just glad to help good people find good tools! I'm just as bad of a nerd when it comes to shovels, scythes, and hay knives.
 
gardener
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I rate the woodmans pal myself, but the scabbards that you guys have been posting gets me exited, I have around 9 machete's most of them have disappeared into my closet to hide my purchases from my wife. But with everyone brandishing there collections i might have to get to sharpening them and whipping the camera out, I need a sweet background like a pile of mulch or maybe a footpath through blackberry. I love machetes and that link to machetespeacialist almost ruined my afternoon at work, I couldn't stop dreaming of all the uses and ways to cut things.
 
Ray Cover
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Mortised handles are a piece of cake. Made this one from scratch (got my own knifemakers shop ans engraivng studio).

 
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wow..gets thicker than a discussion about golf clubs...

I have a small brush hook made by Fiskars that I think highly of...and a large ditch bank blade for when I want to get truly medieval...I like them both...since I got the little fiskars, I never pick my machete up for anything.
 
Saybian Morgan
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Ray Cover has anyone ever dared use one of your knives for work? I don't think I could ever do it their so beautiful. I would just leave them up over the fireplace with spotlights on them, Gimme knife art over the mona lisa any day.

Machete talk goes way deeper than golf clubs, those things are useLESS were talking the ultimate in useFULL
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Beautiful work, Ray! A man of your skill would have no problem dealing with a mortised tang! It would be a challenge for most folks, but it seems you aren't most folks!

And yeah I could talk technical details about machetes all day. For such an inexpensive tool the dynamics they exhibit are tremendously complex. A lot goes into determining the proper application and form of different patterns.
 
steward
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I live in the land of machetes, and have a 10 inch scar to prove I shouldn't be the one using one (freak accident if the truth be told). The length of the machete depends on how tall you are, and how close to the ground you want to cut. For example, I have a brush machete which is 28", the biggest they make here. If hold it in my hand and with my arm straight down, it almost touches the ground. This means I don't have to bend over much while clearing brush.

Regarding larger size trees. I can cut a tree down that is 6 inches, unless it is very hard wood, faster with this machete that you would with an ax, and I know how to use an ax. Bigger than that I am going to a chainsaw anyway. Though I have seen Ticos take down a softwood tree that was 10 inches in a couple of minutes.

No point getting too fancy with the machete, the ones we buy (and we buy usually about 10 at a time - it is the preferred tool here) are flexible enough, and will hold an edge for about 30 minutes of hard work in brush. If you are really working, you are ready for the small break with a file to put an edge on. A field worker who uses a machete for 10 hours a day will use up a machete in about eight weeks. This is of a type that down here costs about 16 dollars if I recall. The brand that is very common here is Coronada machete.

Too hard of a machete is dangerous, since it might shatter or the edge break. You want just hard enough. The edge should be more like a knife and less like an ax, in other words, more tapered.

When using a machete, it is a good idea to cut a stick with a hook on it, that way when you are working, if something isn't staying still, use the stick to hold it when you swing. This is very good for fines and brambles. Absolutely required when working with a grass machete clearing around trees. One of our workers by the way can clear a one meter circle around a seedling in under a minute, and this is scraped to the dirt.

Using a machete - it is about speed. The motion is more of a flick than a chop like an ax. There is a trick to it for sure, and don't cut straight into the sapling, cut at a diagonal, like a downward chopping motion. Most woody plants resist a perpendicular cut, but are easy to remove if you slice it diagonally.

This is a picture of some of our workers from days gone past with machetes used for cleaning fields. Too thin for what you want.



 
Benjamin Bouchard
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^Great post, Fred!

I find that in addition to the rolling snap of the wrist that a "handshake" grip rather than a "hammer" grip is very useful when follow-through is allowable (e.g. there aren't any rocks directly behind your target, etc.) as it allows you to extend the length of the arc over which you're imparting energy to the cut. This allows you to chop deeper (in wood) and/or clear a wider swath (in vegetation) per swing. Distal taper is typically important in machetes over 18" in length, but untapered machetes may still handle well if the flexibility caused by such length has been taken into account in the profile of model.

I would actually say that the machetes that Fred posted pictures of are likely not too thin, but rather too narrow. One of the things I love about machetes is that they concentrate their mass directly behind the cutting edge rather than to the sides. This is extremely efficient because edged tools, unlike saws, do not remove material from the cut, but rather act as a highly refined wedge to pass through material. This means the cutting medium must be displaced to either side of the blade as it passes through. The thicker your blade, the more energy is lost from your cut due to it going into pushing material out of the way rather than contributing directly to the depth of the cut. if you were to take, for instance (using simple unrealistic numbers) if you had one blade that was 2" wide and 1" thick, it would cut better than one that was 1" wide and 2" thick. So a thin blade can actually out-cut a thick one so long as it is sufficiently broad. There are many other factors to consider, but I find this to be one of the more important ones.

Also, when I say I prefer a "hard" machete I mean one with a Rockwell hardness in the mid-to-low 50's. Many machetes are mid-to-high 40's which is a bit soft for my preference since it does not provide as good of edge stability, making it less suitable for taking a narrow edge angle like I tend to use (usually about a 30 degree included angle, or 15 degrees per side)
 
Mother Tree
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When my son turned 13, we bought him a machete and told him we wanted the eucalyptus cutting down. This was the result!



We can only get cheap, nasty machetes around here, so he got through two of them cutting that little lot down.

We also found hemispherical oranges dangling at around head height under the orange trees. Must have taken him ages to practice his swing to do that...
 
Fred Morgan
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You are right Benjamin, I meant too narrow, not too thin.

By the way, someone who has worked with a machete all their life is a wonder to see. Today I was setting up a horseshoe court, the worker who was helping me mowed between both pits, using a machete. You probably wouldn't be much faster with a mower. I have seen people mow a small lawn with a machete, and leave it pretty smooth.

But, the most impressive was I was with some guest and we decided to have a coconut so I asked a worker to get one for us and prep it. In about 2 minutes he returned with a coconut, peeled, with the milk still in it, no shell. We had to ask him to do another just to watch him do it. Imagine holding a coconut in your hand and whacking it repeatedly with a machete, while you rotate it, removing all the shell, and only leaving the nut, intact. I would surely have been missing some figures to even try.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Fred Morgan wrote:You are right Benjamin, I meant too narrow, not too thin.

By the way, someone who has worked with a machete all their life is a wonder to see. Today I was setting up a horseshoe court, the worker who was helping me mowed between both pits, using a machete. You probably wouldn't be much faster with a mower. I have seen people mow a small lawn with a machete, and leave it pretty smooth.

But, the most impressive was I was with some guest and we decided to have a coconut so I asked a worker to get one for us and prep it. In about 2 minutes he returned with a coconut, peeled, with the milk still in it, no shell. We had to ask him to do another just to watch him do it. Imagine holding a coconut in your hand and whacking it repeatedly with a machete, while you rotate it, removing all the shell, and only leaving the nut, intact. I would surely have been missing some figures to even try.



I've seen videos of that! The thought of attempting it myself scares the crap out of me!
 
John Polk
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I used to watch a street vendor in Acapulco do that. His only business was selling drinking coconuts.
He probably did that for 10-12 hours per day. Periodically, a boy would show up with another cart of cocos for him. Family business.

 
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This message is for Benjamin Bouchard. I am new to this sight I hope my question finds you. I red a post you sent out about describing what you would be using a machete for and you would be able to help narrow down my search. A little about me I was raised in Fairbanks Alaska, 11years in the Army National Guard 2 tours to Iraq. I am looking to build a small live in area for a month at a time or through the winter if needed. l am looking for an all around tool for chopping wood or making kindle for a fire, fighting and defending myself with if only to conserve ammunition. I have been told carry an ax or both, I understand the concept except for two issues, 1 weight control: I will need to conserve energy and go long distances hiking the less I have to weigh me and my pack down the better. 2 fighting: an ax is good for all the reasons as a machete but as for me an ax is good for throwing all thow I know in the right hands it is a deadly weapon I am much better with a machete. I will have it sheathed in a hard case on my pack between my ruck and frame. Two things i have yet to try perhaps you have done this. Putting a button snap on the handle for easy release and it holds the machete in place or filling the sheath with liquid hardaning to add better fitting and protection from the weather. One final note I have no need for a saw back machete since I already own a ring saw. Thank you and I appreciate any advice you may give.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Defense against what?

Don't harden leather. It actually makes it easier to cut.

Perhaps consider a Condor Crocodilian machete. It has a socket handle so you can mount it as a spear.
 
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Location: Welland, Ontario, Canada
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I have owned a lot of different machetes, and I use them very often. My biggest problem was the handles breaking. That is very dissappointing when you finally get it sharpened to actually cut well and then you have to start over again with a new one.
My advise is to find one made with 440 stainless steel and the very best most rugged handle.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Barry Fitzgerald wrote:I have owned a lot of different machetes, and I use them very often. My biggest problem was the handles breaking. That is very dissappointing when you finally get it sharpened to actually cut well and then you have to start over again with a new one.
My advise is to find one made with 440 stainless steel and the very best most rugged handle.



No no no! Not 440! I don't generally suggest stainless machetes in general because few companies choose the right variety of stainless nor perform the right heat treatment on them. Amongst the only stainless machetes I trust are Condor's and they use 420HC which is a better choice for balancing edge retention vs. impact resistance in an impact tool. For handles breaking, check out models with injection molded polypropylene handles. Nigh indestructible.
 
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Say Heah Guys, I like sets, like my new summer knives, well I'm sure they'll be great in the winter too from what I've researched is the Ka-Bar Potbelly and the Parangatang great steel although a bit heavier but very robust and I don't use it for work as much as I'll use them in the bush, your right about a short blade, I used a Stromeng KS 9 it's OK but a little too shirt, my Woodsman Pal works Ok but it's not as versital in the bush, not for me atleast,my favorite is the Swamp Rat Rodent Rucki but it's pricy but a great long knife, I love it, but I like to give it a break, I also want to try the O.K.C. Bushcraft Machete but first I'm going to get the Ka-Bar Potbelly and the Parangatang since it will work well into the next season (fall +),yeah steel is important and the blades last longer the Parangatang is ofcource 1095 CroVan and the O.K.C. Bushcraft Machete is 5160, in the colder weather I'll go back to a knife, saw, and hatchete, usually my knife I like a robust knife, like my Bravo 1, 1.5, 2, or my Swamp Rat Rodent 9, 7, Ratmandu, or my Becker's BK-9, 7, BK-2 and BK-4, or my O.K.C. GEN2 SP'S SP-47,49,51,53 (which is a Sharp Prybar) and others, up north knives I like my Busse's, Oh I also like my O.K.C. military issue 18" Machete in the 1095, I always like taking my Woodsman Pal because it was made by a fella next door State of Pa. and the wood's are similar, yeah its pretty good I guess, but my Rodent Rucki really Rocks !
 
Paul Hnatiuk
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Say Heah Guys, I was hesitating whether to get the O.K.C. Bushcraft Machete or the Ka-Bar J A B Parangatang, I have knives by both companies in both steel, 5160 and 1095 CroVan, for what I do in the bush I got the Parangatang as my Summer Long Knife to get through the Brambles, one reason was the 5160 chipped in extremely cold and I like a chopper even in colder weather, Yeah the Parangatang is a great chopper but I think it's very versital and I use it in all seasons, I actually like it better than my Condor 1075 Steel which rolled on me on hard wood I was using the Golok and it doesn't baton as well either. Yeah I disagree with the fella that said Don't get a Ka-Bar, the 1095 CroVan is the same as the CarbonV of old (zknives.com) and that was a great blade steel, the Parangatang isn't a light weight but a great all purpose tool.
 
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Location: 100 acres in Abitibi, Quebec, Canada zone 2a
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If you live near MN or Fresno, look into getting a Hmong knife for everyday carry in the woods. Think and can cut through any tree as long as you got the time
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Hmong knife/ last ditch kit
 
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