Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Machete Maintenance

My old machete scabbard is falling apart, so I ordered a new, and better, one.

A machete is an essential tool. In hedgerows, nothing works faster to cut away multiflora rose, kudzu, wild grape, errant brambles, honeysuckle, wild cherry and poke berry. In the middle of a dig, a stray root can simply be loped off with a stroke of the machete. When dispatch time comes, a hard hit to the top of the skull with the dull back edge of the machete blade ends things pretty quickly.

A machete is not an axe. This tool is not designed to cut firewood or trees, but to hack through thickets of soft, fast-growing vegetation of the sort we generally find in hedgerows. No easily-transportable manual tool has ever beat a machete for this type of work.

Even an expensive machete is quite cheap, so get a decent one which should run you around $30-$40. You do not want a "cane knife,"which looks like a machete but is too light, nor do you want or a K-Bar knife (too small and light), or any other of the other dizzying substitutes you might come across in a store or online knife shop.

I use an 18" Ontario Machete, made for the U.S. military, and have no complaints. Some people prefer various odd types of machetes, like the kukri, but I prefer a simple straight blade "cutlass" which is easy to pack and useful in more situations than a kukri.

No machete should ever come with a pommel guard -- such a thing is real trouble in the brush. A machete is not a sword or a knife -- it is a machete. They are a perfected design, and you want the version that has stood the test of time.

Machetes are made of soft metal and are designed to be sharpened a lot. When cutting a lot of sugarcane or hard brush, they are sharpened once or twice a day.

Oddly, none of the machetes sold in the U.S. come with a sharp blade, and in fact getting one sharp the very first time takes some effort.

Do not use a grinder or belt sander to get a machete sharp -- there is very little chance you will get it right, and a very high chance you will permanently burn the blade.

What you need to sharpen a machete or shovel is called a "flat bastard" file. Put the machete blade in a vise, and draw the file across the edge of the blade at a 45 degree angle away from the center of the knife. Or do it the other way if you prefer -- put the file in a vice and draw the blade across it.

Putting the first edge on a store-bought machete will take time -- don't be in a hurry. When you have it right, be sure to oil the blade with a little motor oil.

When using a machete, always cut away from yourself. Always. Nothing will ruin your life faster than hacking your leg with a machete -- if you survive it at all.

A machete blade has a tendency to glance off thick vines and branches, which can be dangerous. The trick here is to not to try to cut straight across the vine with a single whack of the blade, but to hit the vine or branch with a scarfing blow, designed to cut along the stem in a kind of flat notch. The second whack will generally cut it through, with the blade in good control the entire time.

I keep my own machete sharp with a $1 D-handle knife sharpener bought at the local Dollar Store. The same sharpener helps keep an edge on my shovels, and can be bought at a kitchen supply store for about $10. Try the Dollar Store first -- why pay more?

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