Machetes come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, which adapt the tool for a variety of chopping and cutting tasks. In particular, machetes are so well adapted for tropical environments that they are considered a necessary tool for basic survival. Being that machetes are used worldwide, I thought I would try out a modern design in the woodlands of North America while hunting in the mountains.
I first had to select a machete. I was able to quickly find a host of different machetes for sale ranging from the very basic to the exotic at a local outdoors store. At the most basic, there were plain steel blades with wood handles. At the other extreme, there were machetes targeting what appeared to be the zombie apocalypse crowd, which sported a rubber neon green handle and radical blade angles. I chose a model that seemed to follow the traditional machete design with an 18” blade, but incorporated modern technologies like a black powder coated steel blade, saw teeth along the top edge, a ballistic nylon sheath, and an ergonomic Kraton handle. The brand I purchased was a SOGFARI 18” Machete. SOG’s website lists this machete for $33.00, which seemed reasonable for what the tool appeared to offer.
The tool felt comfortable in my hand and came with a nice edge so I had high expectations for it going into the wilderness. Once afield, I first ran it through some tests on tasks considered standard for any machete. I used it to cut back dense undergrowth along a river bank to open a path and then to attack high grass obstructing a 100 yard rifle range used to check zeros on our hunting rifles. I found that for the task of clearing brush it performed as one would expect. I was able to get into tight areas and still swing with enough force to completely cleave most brush up to about an inch in diameter. It handled thicker green brush with a few axe like chops. However, when paired against dead, woody brush, the machete seemed to almost bounce or stick, but not chop cleanly. Its performance on high grass was at best par. It was too short to cut the grass without being perpetually bent over and it tended to push the grass (even with a factory sharp edge) rather than cut it. A handheld weed-whacker would be a far superior tool for this task. On a positive note, I did find the handle to provide a comfortable and secure grip when swinging the tool. Nonetheless, I would always recommend wearing gloves when using a machete. The SOGFARI’s performance overall on standard machete tasks such as cutting through green brush, vines, and foliage appears to be par. I certainly wasn’t overwhelmed, but it managed the basic cutting chores.
After the initial machete specific field trials, I decided to test the machete against the forests of North America. Although the machete is essential in the tropics, I was curious to see if that usefulness was as applicable for general tasks confronted by most Americans. As one might have expected, it was of limited use. I was able to cut kindling for a fire, but found it of next to no use trying to chop any dry, dead wood thicker than a couple inches. The blade was simply too thin and light even at 18 inches.
A machete made from thicker steel with a heavier belly may have proved more useful, but would still be far inferior to a good axe for these type chores. I also used it to try and cut some roots and dig out a small fire pit. The rocks in the ground were brutal on the blade even though it performed okay against green roots. For prying tasks it was near useless and too weak. The softer steel bent far too easily. I found that there were at best very few realistic tasks for the saw along the spine of the blade and its cutting performance was subpar. If anything, the saw proved to be a liability because it was all but destroyed if you attempted to hammer the machete’s blade through a log to split the wood and the teeth tended to snag on any piece of fabric within a foot of it. However, I did find that it was suitable for rapid construction of a lean-two shelter in a pine forest. I was able to cut green pine boughs rapidly from larger limbs to use as bedding and thatching for a roof with relative ease. Overall though, the machete was not suited for woodsmen tasks in the North. When weight matters, it was not a tool worth carrying.
The final battery of tests I performed was on actual animal flesh and bone. I wanted to see if it was viable to gut, skin, and butcher large game with a sharp machete. Consequently, it was also a good test of the machete’s potential as a close combat weapon. After making a few attempts to field dress a deer with the machete, I gave up and just used my hunting knife. Although I had low expectations for this and would say it is “possible,” a machete is just too big, dull, and unwieldy to make fine cuts through hide while not nicking the intestines or the stomach and causing a huge mess and potentially ruining good meat. For skinning, I attempted to use the belly of the machete and found that it would be viable in a pinch, but again, definitely not the preferred tool. The machete is simply too long and unwieldy to follow the angles of the meat. In fact, using the machete was only slightly more helpful than simply pulling the hide off by hand. My deep bellied hunting knife performed far better on this task. Next, I used it to quarter the deer. The blade did slice through the large muscle reasonably well, but failed to cut through the bones. When I attempted to chop through the leg, the steel in the blade proved sub-standard. The chop actually bent a quarter size divot into the blade perfectly around the deer’s femur as if the blade was made of clay. The manufacturer claims to have used high quality 3Cr13 steel in the blade, but the facts on the ground suggest weak, recycled, bumper steel. The final test for butchering was to attempt to remove the head from the deer carcass. The machete was able to sever the head nearly completely in one strong chop. In this regard, it would definitely prove to be a vicious weapon against any attacker, but could only be used to slash and chop. The machete offers little to no stabbing qualities.
Overall, unless one is intending to use the machete as a defensive weapon or for cutting some small, green vegetation in tight quarters, I would not include it in my kit. The SOGFARI looked good in its packaging, but proved to be subpar in nearly every task I would conceivably use it for in the woodlands of North America. I also found it subpar in respect to other machetes I have used in the past. To date, the best machetes that I have used were of good quality carbon steel with a thicker spine and deep belly, which shifts the weight and balance of the blade toward the end. For North America, the SOGFARI is just above useless and the steel is junk. I was disappointed in SOG after testing this tool and lost plenty of respect for what used to be a company that produced very high end edged implements. In response to those who would argue that I didn’t use a machete for what it’s intended, I would agree. I did not test it in a tropical jungle. Instead, I tested what has proved to be a very useful tropical tool in an environment I am likely to operate in against tasks I routinely need to accomplish. In this regard, the traditional tools of woodsman such as an axe and deep bellied hunting knife proved far superior to the range of tasks “I” needed to accomplish. The “essential” tool of the jungle is neither designed for, nor adequate for the heavier chopping tasks one routinely faces in northern woodlands.
Manufacturer’s website: http://www.sogknives.com/sogfari-machete-18-black-powder-coated-straight-and-saw-back.html
By Guiles Hendrik
November 2, 2013
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