You probably should know that I’m something of knife-nut. I love knives! If I had the money, I would fill my apartment with knives. Hunting knives, survival knives, pocket knives, bayonets, fishing knives, cooking knives, machetes, you can never have too many knives.
To me, knives are special in a similar way that fire is special: they are the claws of mankind; our earliest efforts to compete directly with the rest of the animal kingdom. They’ve been with us from the very beginning and I, for one, can’t get enough of them.
Today I want to talk about the machete. The two best known spokespeople for the machete are Messrs. Danny Trejo and Jason Voorhees, both of whom have built whole film franchises around that tool’s usefulness in removing unwanted extremities from unwanted people. But the machete has been a popular agricultural and wood-cutting tool for centuries for a reason, and its uses go far beyond being occasions for Tom Savini’s gore effects.
The machete was developed in the Caribbean by farmers to help chop sugarcane: an arduous process requiring intensive labor and investment. A heavy, oversized knife wielded with one hand was just the thing necessary to carve the thick stalks. Due to the destructive power of the device, it was dubbed the “machete,” derived from the Spanish “macho,” meaning sledgehammer, and also referring to virility, manliness, and strength: qualities needed to wield a machete.
Today there are a number of variations on the original machete design, but they all amount to the same concept: a sword, a knife, and a hatchet all fell into the brundlefly machine together, and the resulting tool can be used as any one of those in a pinch.
Personally, I have two machetes: one I keep in my car to take care of any fallen branches (and so I’ll have a practical weapon in case I ever end up stranded) and another I keep at home for camping or wood-cutting needs. The one in my car is distressingly flimsy (bought it cheap) and the one in my house is stubbornly blunt. So when I say that I have found them both to be quite useful despite their flaws, it’s an indication of how worthwhile these tools are. They’re not as devastating as an axe, but their much more portable and versatile. A hatchet does a better job doubling as a hammer, but a machete does a better job as a self-defense weapon (guerillas around the world use them as side arms), and you’re more likely to find something in the wild that will make an adequate hammer than you are something that can adequately fend off a hungry coyote or ill-intentioned individual.
Machetes are easy to carry: just strap them on your belt like any other knife. They’re ridiculously simple and durable, being essentially composed of a single sheet of metal attached to a handle. You can wield them with great skill if you take the trouble to learn, but they’ll still get the job done if all you’ve got is a fairly strong arm.
And there are so many variations! Depending on your specific needs, you can choose from any one of over a dozen different styles. For a sampling:
Latin Machete: The standard, all-purpose machete. The blade is straight and generally evenly weighted or slightly bulged at the end. You can find these anywhere and they’re good for pretty much any job. Other machetes might be better at specific tasks, like chopping wood or clearing brush, but the Latin-style can pretty much do anything, especially if you get one with a saw on the back.
Bolo Machete: Originating from the Philippines, this is a machete with a noticeably bulged tip and a thicker-than-average blade. Great for chopping wood.
Panga Machete: A thick, heavy blade, slightly forward-curved with an upturned point. Popular in Africa and the Caribbean, where it’s used for clearing vegetation.
Barong Machete: A more specifically weaponized machete, the barong also hails from the Philippines, where it evolved from traditional tribal weapons. It has a leaf-shaped blade with a sharp point and was the weapon of choice among Filipino guerilla fighters. The Spanish, Americans, and Japanese all learned to fear this weapon, which in the hands of a skilled fighter could cut through rifle barrels. Even if you don’t plan on leading an uprising, it’s useful for clearing stubborn brush.
Kukri Machete: The weapon of choice in central Asia, the kukri has a distinct forward curve that gives it devastating chopping power. It also features a pointed tip for stabbing attacks and a straight, sharp blade near the base suitable for whittling and carving work. Like the Latin blade, this is a great all-around tool, though you’ll probably find they cost quite a bit more.
Coping Machete: Also known as a rescue machete, this short blade has a blunt, squared-off tip for precision cutting in tight spaces and rescue operations.
Billhook Machete: A traditional European tool, the billhook features a thick, curved blade with a distinctive hook on the end. The blade is sharpened on the inner end of the hook and is used for stripping branches, clearing vines, hedge-construction, and other woodworking and landscaping jobs where cutting along or around a curved surface is useful.
This is just a sampling of the most notable variations. For me, I like versatility in my tools, so I stick with the Latin blade, though the Kukri makes for an excellent alternative if you’re willing to fork over a little more cash.
Remember, machetes are not just for revolutionaries and horror movie characters: they’re for everyone!