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The Beginner's Guide to the Machete

Discussion in 'Non-Firearm Weapons' started by JShirley, Jul 27, 2013.

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  1. Dirty Bob

    Dirty Bob Member

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    A short how-to on setting bevels and perhaps optimizing a bevel angle for the type of use you anticipate would be awesome. I routinely find the tips of machetes are hardly even beveled. I assume it's for safety. I try to file in a bevel in that part of the blade before I put it into use.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge, Sam!

    Dirty Bob
     
  2. Dave Markowitz

    Dave Markowitz Member

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    Very nice article, Sam.

    Here's another way to make the wooden scales more comfortable, a paracord wrap:

    choppers.jpg

    The machete on the right was made in the PRC and bought at Harbor Freight. It came as sharp as a butterknife but after some time on the belt sander came out with a useful edge. The sheath was some very thin material, so I wrapped several layers of duct tape around it to provide some structure. Not bad for $5.
     
  3. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    That is a good guess but the reason is more pedestrian.

    Grinding tips is hard work.

    Grinding the edge is a simple side to side, elbows in, motion.
    [​IMG]



    A swept tip requires a bit of maneuver.
    Something like a Panga is nearly Yoga.

    [​IMG]
    Nearly vertical finish.
     

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  4. Deltaboy1984

    Deltaboy1984 Member

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    Great set up SAM. I still use a set of mill bastard files and man made or Ark Stones.
     
  5. mole

    mole Member

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    I was looking at ordering an Imacasa or two to go with my tramontina. The tram is an 18" and was looking at getting a panga and a 24" so I don't have to bend over so much. I notice that many of them are some sort of 440 stainless steel. What do you think about that? Seems like the carbons would be much better.

    John
     
  6. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    The belt-grinder is mounted on a low wooden table and the whole business only weighs about 70-80lbs so on nice days I can snatch it up and set it down outside.
    The vacuum system for it is powered by a shop-vac so it just trundles along behind.




    We will get into this a bit more when the next article hits but I slack belt convex the edges with a coarse x-weight belt, grind with grits 80-120-320 and knock off the bur by stropping with 400 grit sandpaper.

    That sounds more complicated that it actually is ;)

    I set my grind pretty high. You can get away with being a little higher on an Imacasa or Gavilan than a Cold Steel/Lasher IME.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Well used Martindale:
    [​IMG]


    Much higher than this and you will start to get edge ripples on hardwood or if you get clumsy.
    Also, the higher, thinner grinds make any edge damage incurred far worse.

    I maintain the edge during use with a coarse/fine DMT di-fold and a short double-cut mill "handy" file for bigger boo-boos and give it a good 400 grit stropping at the end of the day.
    If cutting a lot of wet grasses a final edge from the file can be useful since it is "toothy" and catches grass that would otherwise slide away

    [​IMG]
    If I start getting too much of a bevel from filing that won't strop out with undue effort. I give it a couple quick passes on the belt-grinder.

    All that said, and just spitballing a number, I figure you can get maybe 90% of the shazaaaam! out of a machete with nothing more than a big honkin' file.

    It ain't rocket surgery after all. :D
     

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    Last edited: Jul 31, 2013
  7. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    The Imacasas are 420HC and work very well. Properly heat treated 420HC is tough stuff. While it won't hold an edge like a modern supersteel or even hang with simple carbon steels in some respects, it does just fine for a cheap stamped agricultural implement.


    Panga: Look for a panga specific thread in the near future. They have special tricks. ;)



    While in the absolute sense the carbon steel blades will out-perform the stainless (talking Imacasas here) the stainless is very, very good.

    Corrosion can kill a machetes under heavy use. Since they are constantly either damp from water or acidic plant juices a machete can just straight up rust away if not constantly futzed with.

    Often times manufacturers will clearcoat carbon steel machetes to stave off the rust. It doesn't work for very long. You can see the clearcoat peeling on the short panga in my above post.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2013
  8. Deltaboy1984

    Deltaboy1984 Member

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    Looking forward to your next installment.
     
  9. zhyla

    zhyla Member

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    So I've got this cheap cane machete that I've never been happy with. I don't have it handy but I'd say it's 3/16" carbon steel with a fairly normal primary grind (maybe 30 degrees included angle) but a really gigantic secondary bevel that has an axe-like 80 or 90 degrees included. Is this normal for a cane machete? It seems borderline useless.
     
  10. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    Whoa.
    That would be a monster. Most cane knives are 1-3mm.


    Is it unused?

    What you are looking at is probably not intended to be a working edge. That primary grind is is just intended to give you a head start on filing or grinding it to your desired shape. The secondary bevel was probably just for pre-purchase aesthetics.

    Final edge geometry is usually determined by the user and the tools they have available.

    I'd say. It probably cuts about as well as a pool cue. :D

    Be happy you got such a good start: :evil:

    Look at this:
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Imagine grinding that sharp on a cobblestone before heading to work.
     

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  11. zhyla

    zhyla Member

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    Ok, I was very wrong on the thickness of my cane machete. It measures .08". Right in the middle of your 1 to 3 mm range. It needs some grinding, I've got a lot of giant bird of paradise that needs chopping up for the trash bin.
     
  12. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    Afrikaner zhyla?

    If so, I'd really appreciate a picture of the machete section of your local hardware store.
     
  13. zhyla

    zhyla Member

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    Ha no, socal. Bird of paradise grows like weeds here though if you let it...
     
  14. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    This I did not know.


    Well...if you ever happen to find yourself in a south African hardware store, take a picture.
    :D
     
  15. zhyla

    zhyla Member

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    My giant bird of paradise, as viewed from my 2nd story balcony:

    IMG_6973_zps1c02b5fb.jpg

    And what a difference a reasonable grind makes! Chops thru this stuff like nothing:

    c328ed9d-b128-421e-8f94-b8030e2fde9d_zps0acba39d.jpg

    I always thought this cane machete was worthless. Now it's invaluable -- thanks!
     
  16. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    Success!!


    The cane knife is probably the near the perfect tool for that particular job.
     
  17. bainter1212

    bainter1212 Member

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    I've always wondered....is there an historical relationship between the cutlass and the machete?? Like, a chicken-to-egg relationship??

    Sorry if off topic.
     
  18. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    If you ask most folks in the Caribbean what they call the big chopping knife they have in their hand they are going to say "cutlass".
    Makes sense.

    Etymologically, "cutlass" means something like "big knife". Same latin root as "cutlery."

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyepYkrBKdw#t=1m20s

    More of a semantic kung-fu battle.
     
  19. Deltaboy1984

    Deltaboy1984 Member

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    Got a cold steel bolo machete for 17 bucks and spent a hour reshaping the handle with my 4 way wood rasp and some sand paper. I also spent 45 minutes reprofiling the edge and getting it sharp.

    SAM looking for that update.
     
  20. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    It will hit sometime tomorrow evening.
     
  21. bainter1212

    bainter1212 Member

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    If they are basically the same thing, and you collect them, do you have any cutlasses (or machetes, apparently depending) that were used for fighting?? I understand a cutlass was desirable shipboard because they could be wielded at very close quarters, and typically hand-to-hand fighting in a boarding action would have been basically so close that swinging your arms to strike an opponent would have been difficult.

    Most of us may think of pirates, but actually a cutlass would have been a standard issue boarding weapon on any naval ship of the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.

    I know sugar cane production started in the 17th century in the Caribbean, so I wonder how the machete found it's way onto shipboard......

    After seeing what mine does to the brush in my yard, I certainly would not like to take a blow from one.
     
  22. Sam Cade

    Sam Cade Member

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    I'm less of a collector than a guy who likes to vary his tools. ;)

    I've got a dutch "klewang" cutlass. In essence, it is just a thick, longish, curved machete with distal taper and a knuckle guard. Nothing special really. Basically the same design as the US 1917 cutlass.
    In fact, when the Japanese overran the Dutch holdings in Asia they reissued the untold thousands of captured cutlasses as substitute standards due to jungle wacker shortages.

    Not mine, but you get the idea.
    [​IMG]

    The Japanese usually chopped off the knuckle guards.
    klewang-heiho-full-length-scabbard.jpg



    On the flipside, It isn't uncommon to see machete blades mounted in "swordy" fittings south of the US border.

    Mexican colima pattern machete
    Mexican004.jpg

    Also mexican:
    [​IMG]





    One of the most basic tools for manual agriculture is the large chopping knife so it it stands to reason that the plantation owners purchased them. ;)
     
  23. Dirty Bob

    Dirty Bob Member

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    Cool cutlass and "martial" machetes!

    Makes me think of the Donald Hamilton novel: The Ambushers. Matt Helm goes after a guy that is putting together his own private army south of the border. One piece of kit that he gives to each of his men is a machete with a sword guard...

    For interesting and historical machetes, though, I think my all-time favorite is the one that belonged to Theodore Roosevelt. It's in "birthplace" (in quotes because the building burned down, and the museum is in its twin, next door, IIRC) museum in Manhattan. Great museum to visit, if you like TR.

    Regards,
    Dirty Bob
     
  24. kBob

    kBob Member

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    From age 11 to 16 or so anytime I went into the woods/ swamp (which was most days at some point)I carried a Belgian made machete in a semi hard USGI JayDee scabbard on a khaki GI pistol belt slung over my right shoulder so the machete hung in my left armpit. It got used for clear trails, hacking down trees an bushes that were not where I wanted them and a couple of times to make a pretty good imitation of the Join or Die snake flag. I know all you got to do is walk away from a snake or let him know you are coming in the first place.....you try that in a Florida swamp/ heavy wood when they are already close enough to use a machete on when you see them.

    I used the same blade for yard work and land clearing and occasionally cleaned it up with a file for the edge and steel wool for the sides of the blade which would get sticky with sap.

    Sheath was stolen some years back from a storage unit along with interesting knives. When it was given to me I was told it was issued to a navy flier as part of his survival gear in the Pacific in WWII, by said flier. Always wonder how a Belgian made blade would have gotten there unless it was bought prewar and just still in the supply system. it did fit the sheath and the more common Collins army issue in canvas sheath did not fit the scabbard. I still have the machete, but the scales have suffered the years badly as had the rivets.

    Interestingly I also used a Cane knife for chores and land clearing in the late 1960s which my dad just gave back me last month. It is a rusted hulk with dried up wooden scales. I am considering sanding the blade and painting it and maybe doing something to the scales just to show it to dad. The thing was "old" whatever that means to a mid teen when he first handed it to me in 1968. It had stood in a corner next to the big sliding door at the warehouse/ seed cleaning place he worked at for a few years before I got it the first time. Kind of neat having it back even if it is technically junk.

    Cut up some small trees and branches this week with a WWII Collins and that Plumb hatchet I posted on RC's thread about a plumb he found. Good combination as the light stuff goes quicker and easier with the Collins and the occasional Oak yields to the hatchet.

    -kBob
     
  25. Fergy35

    Fergy35 Member

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    Very good article. Thank you for putting that together. What do you think about the Condor machetes?
     
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