Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

El Machete Del Gringo Gordo

I have always had a sort of love/hate relationship with Cold steel knives

On the one hand, the company makes really good knives, some of the better production knives out there, and usually at reasonable prices.

On the other hand, the company's owner, Lynn Thompson comes off as a total horse's arse in more ways than can be enumerated here. (If you have ever seen a picture of Thomson you will understand the title of this column).

If I were to choose one thing that stands out about him, it would be that he is a trophy hunter. That is someone who kills animals that have done him no harm, that he does not need or want the meat from, that die just to feed his ego.

Now I have hunted most of my life, but for food, and materials, and I have never had my picture taken with any animal I have killed. I guess I am just old fashioned, but I hold to the idea that you only kill what you need to survive, and that you honor the life you have taken by using everything.


I am pretty good at dressing out game, and when I was in high school I came up with an idea to make some extra cash during hunting season.

I went to a popular staging area for deer hunters and set up a small stand and hung out a sign offering to dress, skin and otherwise prepare a deer for a small consideration.

I got a good deal of business, but much to my shock, most of the hunters just wanted the head of their kill for a trophy. They did not have any interest in the meat for the most part, and none of them wanted the hide.

I ended up coming home with more meat than the family could use, and so had to share it out with everyone I knew. I also ended up with several hides to brain tan for buckskin.

I never did this particular job again even though it was pretty lucrative, it was just too depressing.

I admit, this is a personal quirk of mine, but I have come to view trophy hunters as a lower life form.


So here I am in New England with some work to do out in the forest. Given all the considerations, I come to the conclusion that what I really need is a machete.

The machete is not only a very versatile tool, it is the one essential tool for much of the third world. Throughout much of Africa, Central and South America it is found everywhere because of its inexpensive price and versatility.

On much of the West Coast of the US the Machete is quite common, I suspect because of the strong Latino and Filipino population in the area.

I pretty much grew up using the machete as an all around tool.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that the machete was not commonly found in New

I spent a good part of the day hunting for one. Walmart didn't have one of the crappy blades that can be found in its camping section in much of the western US.

After hours of searching I located an army surplus store by phone that said that they has some machetes. I jumped in the car and drove to the place.

As it turned out the shop had three machetes, one of which was the Cold Steel Bolo. The other two were a cheap Taiwan blade, and one designed for the "tactical" crowd (looks kewl but is not useful).

So I picked up the Bolo, even though at $11.95 it was pricey for a machete (the "tactical" machete was $25.98 though so I guess I got a bargain).

In Africa I am used to paying about three to four dollars for a good machete (crocodile brand from mainland China is the preferred brand in Tanzania)

So here is my review of the Cold Steel Bolo Machete for your consideration.
Weight: 17.3 oz.
Blade Thickness: 5/64"
Blade Length: 16 3/8"
Handle: 5 5/8" long. Polypropylene
Steel: 1055 Carbon Steel w/ Black Baked on Anti Rust Matte Finish
Overall Length: 22"
There were a couple of noticeable problems with the machete.

First was the edge. I am used to a machete having a fairly rudimentary grind on the edge, but the grind on this edge was just plain bad. There were several "dishes" on both sides where whoever did the grinding let the angle change and the grinder dug into the steel.

It took a half hour with a file and whet stones to true up the edge and get it where I wanted it.

The good news in that the temper of the blade is correct for a working machete.

A machete should be tempered to a tough "spring" It should be able to bend and return without taking a "set". This means that "stainless" blades are out.

This also means that while a good machete will not hold an edge for more than a couple of hours of hard work, you can sharpen it with a convenient rock if you have to.

The handle is of some sort of injection molded plastic with a nice rough texture.

Two negatives about the handle are its size and the mold seam.

The handle size works for me, but I have a pretty big hand, someone with a smaller hand might find the grip to be uncomfortable.

The seam, where the two halves of the mold separate was quite rough, and if left that way will give you some really nasty blisters. a couple of minutes with a good sharp knife trimming the seams fixed this problem.

Once I got the blade and handle into the condition I wanted, it was time to take it out and do some work.

The first job I used it for was the removal of several birch and maple saplings from a section of forest.

The machete cut through saplings about as big around as your wrist with two or three blows, which is as it should be for hardwood saplings.

The short blade made working in tight places easier than with a longer blade, and the machete held its edge for quite a while before I felt the need to take a stone to it.

The plastic handle was a bit more comfortable than wood to use over several hours of cutting. (After the seam was trimmed away).

This machete worked as well as any I have used for hard chopping and clearing work.

I selected several likely saplings to take back to the cabin with me, as I wanted to test the machete's usefulness with more delicate work.

It worked just fine for trimming branches and peeling the bark off the wood.

I decided that I would make a fimbo (a maasai walking stick) as a first project.

The machete worked well as both a draw-knife and plane. Much shaping, when you are whittling, is done by holding the blade ninety degrees to the surface you are working on and scraping. If the knife (or machete) is properly sharpening it will take off a long strip of wood just like a block plane. It is much safer to shape a piece this way as you do not run the risk of having the grain of the wood "grab" the edge of your knife and cut too deeply.

The machete functioned quite well. The short blade was an advantage here. The good temper was a blessing since it allowed me to put a very sharp edge on the blade.

All in all the Cold Steel bolo machete is a pretty good tool, and given that the other common machetes such as Ontario brand will cost you twice the price of the equivalent Cold Steel items, it is a pretty good buy.

I do not think that I would choose the Cold steel over some of the better Central and South American brands, which will run you from $4.00 to $5.00 US and start with a better grind on the edge, but the Cold Steel Bolo did its job to my satisfaction.


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