Machete: the Magnificent Machete

If you’ve ever gone on a jungle trek, or been in dense undergrowth for many acres, you’ve probably learned about a machete.  If there is another tool out there that can take you through dense, tangled, never-ending underbrush better than a machete, I’d have a hard time believing it.  There isn’t anything, anywhere that can compare to the magnificent machete.

Roughly described, a machete is a very long, heavy knife.  It’s made in varying sizes and designs.  A very popular blade size is one that is usually 18” in length, 2 and a quarter inches in width and just a few millimeters thick.  They’re not too short and have good weight on them.    

In third world countries, the machete is often as valuable as a sharp knife.  It’s actually used as a knife, a cleaver, a splitter, even a butcher’s knife to mention a few.  You’d be hard pressed to find a household without one.  It is truly fantastic when it isn’t being abused as a weapon.      

Just in case you’re not sure, the swing when using a machete is very simple.  Bring your arm up to just beside or behind your ear.  Your elbow should be sticking outwards and to the side at shoulder level.  Your forearm should be on the same line as where you want the machete to land.  This can serve as a guide until you get the hang of it.  Bring your arm down forcefully and do a snap as you chop.  The point of contact on your machete should be midway along the blade length.  Please, firmly warn any person following you to stay at least 10 feet behind you.  (Just imagine!)  The tip should never be used as part of a chop.  It’s usually only used for piercing, poking, jabbing or as an extension of your hand.

When clearing a path through jungles, there are recommended swings for specific types of targets.

–  Succulent or frail vegetation can be smacked away by cutting sideways or by swiping upwards.  Most of the time, you can just duck or pivot and save your energy for the tough stuff.

–  If you’re cutting tall grass, reeds or anything similar in structure, cut downward at a 45 degree angle.  Do this just above waist level where you won’t need to stoop.  If the vegetation is towering, you might decide to just cleave your way through using your arms. 

–  If you’re cutting tough rubbery vines, try to avoid swinging away at them.  Use your free hand to gather as much as possible and then chop at an angle a foot in front of your hand holding the vines.  This way, you won’t have to hack three times to sever one vine.  Some jobs just aren’t easy.

–  If a long branch is hanging down into your path, chop at it from the topside of the branch.  Again, use a 45 degree angle from the branch surface.

–  When you come up on very slim tree trunks or really sturdy bushes, you’ll need to make a judgment call.  You’ll need to decide on whether you should exert the energy to remove it or whether you should just go around it, under it or over it.  When in doubt, and even if the doubts are frequent, pass them by.

When you’re in a dense jungle, and you’ve got a long way to go, your champion is a machete.  It cuts just about anything.  And if you haven’t gotten clear when approaching dusk, your machete can cut and shape wood, help to make twine for you to quickly build a temporary shelter.  It’ll cut firewood.  It’ll cut fruits, nuts and even enable you to catch wild game, if you’re able.  It can even help you to fish, if you’d like.  The possibilities are many.

If I ever had to coordinate a survival gear package, the machete would be a guaranteed inclusion.  It’s difficult to think of another tool that could do as many things for you in the situations which call for it.  When you’re surrounded by dense undergrowth for miles in every direction, nothing can outperform the magnificent machete.  Just you believe it.

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Len Q. is a master blade sharpener and an adventurer who strives to protect the natural world.  If you would like to learn about

            –  Knife Sharpening:  How to Sharpen Knives, Maintain and Store Them

            –  Tests for Sharpness, Steeling, Stropping and more

            –  Sharpening Other Blade Edges

               (i.e. Chain Saws, Gardening Tools, Axes)

            –  Maybe you’d like a Free Guide:  Sharpening Lawn Mower Blades

           

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