A machete is a tool designed for cutting. It has a long blade set into a handle. Machetes have historically been used for cutting down cornfields or crops of sugarcane. Today a machete still has many useful applications; among other things they are great for cutting small tree branches, splitting kindling for fires, or sharpening the points of stakes.
What You'll Learn Today
- What Does a Machete Look Like?
- How to Use a Machete?
- What is a Machete Used For?
- How to Sharpen a Machete With a File?
- How to Sharpen a Machete Without Tools?
- How to Clean a Machete?
What Does a Machete Look Like?
There are a large variety of machetes with different shapes, sizes, and names. Over time they have evolved and adapted to different uses, but the general idea behind them remains the same. There is a fairly narrow blade, often curved, that fits onto a short handle.
In length, they can range from a foot to almost three feet, the metal blade taking on a variety of shapes depending on the type.
A few of my favorite styles of machete include:
The Billhook Machete
This can also be referred to as a Reaping Hook or Bagging Hook. The blade of a billhook machete is approximately nine inches long. It has a beveled cutting edge that continues around the inside of the curved, or hooked end.
Whilst this link suggests the name ‘Brush Axe’ being another alternative, it is the machete I have owned for many years.
I use it often for really getting to the root of a briar problem, splitting kindling or small logs, and stripping thinner branches from trees. It’s an excellent and versatile tool.
This is a much longer machete than the billhook. The Colima machete can be up to three feet in length. It is sharpened on both sides of the blade and resembles a Roman Gladius short sword, such as was used by Gladiators in ancient times.
Because the blade is sharpened on both sides, it gives an easy sweeping cutting style, perfect for clearing large areas of vegetation.
This one is used a lot in places like South East Asia. It is the machete of choice for farmers when hand harvesting crops such as soybeans, rice, and others that grow in narrow rows.
The bolo machete has a bulge towards the point, which adds additional weight and power to the fore-blade, providing more chopping strength.
As the name suggests, a cane machete is used in sugarcane harvesting. It can have a hook on the top of the blade for pulling out the cut canes, separating them from others that have yet to be chopped. It has a flat blunt end tapering down to the hilt.
No, it’s not the machete favored by Major Tom in “Space Odyssey,” but rather a machete shaped in a similar fashion to the Bowie knife, made famous by frontiersman Jim Bowie. The bowie machete is a favorite for hunters, survivalists, and campers.
How to Use a Machete?
The feeling of using a machete can be quite primal when you first pick it up. A great deal of respect must be given to this incredibly efficient, yet dangerous, tool.
You may have seen movies set in dense forests or jungles, where a path is cleared with a machete. From this, you will appreciate that swinging and slicing with such a tool can do an enormous amount of damage.
- Firstly, like other bladed implements, your machete must be sharp. It is often safer to have a sharp blade rather than a blunt one, as more effort is required to make a cut, which can lead to an accident.
- As machetes are mostly used with a broad swinging action, it can be easy to hit objects or people out of your sightline accidentally. Ensure that there is not anything or anyone in your immediate reach, plus a little.
Constant vigilance for safety must be maintained for obstacles, people, and pets whilst you are using the machete.
- The correct way of holding a machete is important for safety and also cutting efficiency. Your forefinger and thumb grip tightly around the handle, yet the rest of your fingers need to have a little play in them, as the machete needs a little give in the hand.
- The way in which you swing the machete will depend on what you are cutting through. As will the height, speed, and force you use.
- Lift the machete in a downward swing motion. Allow your elbow to lead, and when your machete reaches its target, a slight flick of the wrist can help. The thinner material will need an upwards flick of the wrist, whereas denser woodier growth needs a downwards one.
- When striking your target, come at it from an angle of approximately 45 degrees. Slicing straight across may cause your machete to get stuck.
- For small branches that are too thick for a single swipe, you’ll need to notch the target and then chop either side removing small pieces each time.
- If you need to rest, then rest. Mistakes and accidents happen when you are tired.
What is a Machete Used For?
A machete has many uses at home in the backyard, camping, hiking, or around the farm. It can be used for clearing a path through dense undergrowth to cracking open a coconut.
In some countries, they are used as a weapon, often being the only form of defense against a better-equipped foe. However, we’re focussing on the less violent aspects here.
Some machete uses:
- Garden or Yard Work. Coppicing or trimming trees and bushes.
- Kindling for the Fire. I find that my machete is incredibly useful at cutting kindling for the fire. With the smaller branches that I’ve cut into sensible lengths, I gently strike the top of the small log, which then wedges the machete in the top. Next, I take both ends of the machete and lift the log, bringing it down hard on the chopping surface, allowing gravity and the sharp weight of the blade to do the hard work.
- On the Farm. Sugarcane would have been harvested on a plantation using a machete. Other grain crops can be cut with a machete as well as clearing away weeds or cutting back overgrown foliage.
- Camping, Hunting, and Outdoor Food Prep. From cutting up kindling and wood for your fire to gutting and filleting a fish, having a machete with you on a camping trip can be fun and useful. You’ll be able to skin and butcher any game you might catch and also chop and prepare the veg. Just watch your fingers!
- Making Cool Stuff. A machete can do a lot of the hard work before switching to a whittling knife when creating something beautiful from wood.
Here’s a list of the many things a machete can do:
- Compost chopping
- Crop cover removal
- Cutting fodder for animals
- Dead plant residue removal
- Habitat diversification
- Meat butchering/cutting
- Vegetation scalping
- Vine removal
- Carving wood
- Clearing trails
- Collecting edible and medicinal herbs
- Cutting fishing lines
- Cutting poles
- Digging for roots
- Digging holes
- Gutting fish
- Maintaining your campsite
- Making animal traps
- Making snares
- Making snow shelters
- Making spears
- Opening bottles
- Stripping bark off trees
Landscaping and Maintenance
- Clearing areas of brush
- Coppicing trees for firewood and charcoal
- Creating brush piles for attracting wildlife
- Overhanging brush removal
- Removing unwanted saplings and vegetation
- Thinning out woodlots
Machetes are used across the globe to make and do all manner of things. In this video, you can see a selection of different machetes and what they are used for:
How to Sharpen a Machete With a File?
Keeping your machete sharp is really important and can be maintained quite easily at home. There are various tools to help you keep a razor-sharp edge to your blade.
- If you can, secure the machete in a vice or a workbench.
- Follow the angle of the bevel and push the file away from you across the metal towards the tip of the blade. Don’t drag it towards you, as this will end up catching on the blade.
- Repeat on the other side if the machete has a double-sided blade.
It is useful to carry a file for this purpose with you when you’re out and about, particularly if you’re likely to be giving your machete a heavy day’s work.
Other Ways to Sharpen a Machete With Tools
There are other ways in which you can safely sharpen your machete. Whilst you don’t need to shave your face with it, you definitely need it to have a keen edge.
This is a traditional and easy-to-use method for sharpening your machete to a fine, smooth edge. If you have a whetstone on a spindle, it can help speed up the process and make sharpening much easier.
Otherwise, simply rub your wet whetstone across your machete blade, working from the hilt along towards the tip. Keep the stone well lubricated with water.
This is very useful for bringing an older machete back to life. An electric powered grinder should only be used if you are familiar with handling one.
Things to keep in mind are the possibility of sparks flying, so give yourself plenty of space. The machete will heat up as you work, so dipping it into a bucket of water may be required periodically.
Yes, you can even sharpen a machete using a belt sander. Here’s how:
- Start with a medium grit belt which, whilst not too slack, does have a little give in it.
- Hold the machete’s handle in one hand and the tip of the blade in the other. This will give you control over the blade and ensure stability and evenness of sharpening.
- At maximum speed, and with the direction of the belt going away from you, move the blade gently across the belt without applying too much pressure.
- Turn the blade around periodically to keep it evenly sharpened on both sides.
- Regularly check for the formation of burrs on the metal. This will indicate if you are sharpening at the correct angle.
- As soon as you feel the blade becoming hot, stop and allow the blade to cool. You don’t want to overheat or damage the blade.
- In order to remove any burrs that form, you need to hone your blade. This is done by replacing the medium grit sanding belt with a leather strop. A couple of passes on each side of the blade will see you with a burr-free and perfectly sharp blade.
- To test your blade for nicks and imperfections, take a sheet of paper and run it over the blade. If it snags anywhere, then this is where there are tiny imperfections.
How to Sharpen a Machete Without Tools?
Sometimes you may need to sharpen your machete but don’t have access to any tools. You can still create a sharp blade with any stone or even cement!
- To begin, clear any rust by scraping it away with a stone.
- Like with the method for using a file, follow the angle of the blade from the hilt to the end, rubbing diagonally down the blade and always away from you to the edge.
- With a double sided blade alternate the sides regularly and try to keep the blade and stone wet. Keeping the process lubricated will make for a more successful sharpening.
- You should notice that a ‘feathering’ appears on the edge of the blade, this can be removed by slicing the blade through some wood.
- Finish off by ‘whetting’ the blade on your leather shoe soles. Draw the blade, flat side down, across the leather.
How to Clean a Machete?
As with any tool, keeping it clean and well maintained will extend its life and ensure it doesn’t let you down when you need it most.
Maintaining the Blade
- A Stainless Steel Blade. Whilst stainless steel is far more rust resistant than other blades, it will need more regular sharpening. You should still oil the blade, but this isn’t as necessary as with other blades.
- A Carbon Steel Blade. These may be the strongest of blades, but they are prone to rust. Protect your blade from moisture, oil it regularly and always sharpen the blade after it has had some heavy use.
- A High Carbon Stainless Steel Blade. This is a great combination with a composite of stainless steel and carbon steel. This type of blade will require sensible but little care.
Keep it sharpened after heavy use, store it in a dry environment and give it a periodic oiling of the blade to maintain a great tool.
Maintaining the Handle
A great machete will have a handle that is ergonomic, comfortable and durable. It can be made from various materials including Polypropylene, moulded plastic, hardwood, rubber, rosewood and Micarta (which are a composite material).
- A plastic or micarta handle will require very little by way of care.
- A textured or rubber handle may wear after a while as it is quite lightweight and not incredibly durable. The upside is that it can feel very comfortable in your hand.
- Wooden handles are always going to be sensitive to moisture. Regular care with a little raw flaxseed oil, furniture polish, or lemon oil will enhance their lifespan.
Machetes are really great bladed multi-tools. They have a wide variety of applications and can be incredibly useful to have.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you discover more about the different types of machete available today and will help you make a good choice before purchasing one.
Your decision should be made based on the main uses you anticipate your machete having. Luckily, Most can be used for multiple applications, negating the need to buy multiple types.