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Heavy duty machete steel choices

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by Silverbullet951, Jun 22, 2012.

  1. Silverbullet951


    May 16, 2009

    I've wanted to make a heavy duty machete or large camp chopper for a long time. I really like the Ontario 18" blade but have found the heat treating to be hit or miss with some blades taking extensive damage on hardwoods in the form of huge dents and tears. Anyway, I'd like to grind out my own high performance chopper using a steel that is better suited to impact than 1095 or other 10xx steels. The blade thickness will hopefully be 1/8" with a blade length and profile similar to the Ontario that Bark River modified. I am considering a differential heat treat with the edge at around 57RC and the rest about 50. The goal is to have the toughest blade possible while having a fairly hard edge, though I realize it shouldn't be as hard as most knives due to it's chopping purpose. I am also open to the idea of a thorough hardened blade if it can be made tough enough to not snap.

    My ideas so far are L6, 5160, or maybe a high alloy one like S7. However, I can't seem to find any good source for these in 1/8" stock. Not sure if I want to heat treat it myself or not yet. What would be the toughest and easiest steel to make this thing out of that will perform better than commercial blades? Has anyone made a high performance machete or similar blade?

  2. thegeek574


    Sep 3, 2010
    I have found a place that has S7 in 1/8th. send me an e-mail to get the link
  3. Rapt_up


    May 4, 2012
    S7 is really tough but quite soft by blade steel standards, plus it has no edge retention to speak of...
    Go with CPM 3v...
    3V has great edge retention and toughness at 58Rc and is only about 25% lower in toughness than S7 at 57Rc. 3v is about 3 times as tough as D2, and approx twice as tough as A2 around the 59-60Rc point.
  4. mete

    mete Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 10, 2003
    CPM 3V is an excellent choice .Make sure you have a good design .One of the best for heavy duty chopping is a kukri especially the size of the military version , 24 ozs. You need a shorter thicker blade like the kukri rather than the long thin machete type.
  5. hammerfall


    Oct 2, 2010
    i am thinking s7 will fit your demands. get the higher purity esr version one. its tough and have enough hardness. even though it does not have very good edge retention, its quiet easy to sharpen. if i cannot stop a knife stay sharp forever, then why not make it easy to sharpen. you will find it extramly useful in a frontier style of using. sometime when you in need of a knife and find it not so sharp. you only need 2 minutes to make it sharpen again. but in the terrian where hardly find any rock, you have to carry a small piece of sharpening stong yourself.
  6. Silverbullet951


    May 16, 2009
    Thanks all!

    It sounds like either 3V or S7 could work. I'm assuming either will need to be thorough hardened by a professional heattreater. At what maximum hardness would you recommend for 1/8" material for both steels? I want this thing to be pretty much unbreakable by chopping and other normal work. I'm not sure what RC the Ontarios' and other machetes are, maybe 45-50? So even the S7's lower hardness of 56-57 could be a huge improvement over a normal 10XX series blade.
  7. javand

    javand KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 17, 2010
    In case nobody made this obvious before, machetes aren't designed for heavy wood chopping. They're intended for light vegetation. In places where these tools are used daily, you're more likely to see one being used to cut grass than wood.

    I haven't used 3v or s7 for any blades, so I may be wrong, but I can't see any steel being reliable for chopping hardwoods in machete thicknesses. Also, a full tang machete chopping hardwood will put a serious hurt on your hand, and is likely to lodge heavilly in the work.

    A khukri with a thicker, 1/4-3/8 spine, as mentioned, would be much more suitable to your task. If you're breaking a machete, even a lower quality one, its because you're using it innappropriately inho.

    Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I grew up in Latin America, back when everyone still used a machete every day, so it's a close concern to my heart. Yes, you can *carefully* chop wood with one, as I'm sure you could carefully skin a rabbit with a sharp enough axe, but its not the appropriate tool for the job.

    Good luck on the project, and I hope you don't take the criticism personally. :)
  8. t_davis925


    Feb 3, 2012
    This is the impression I was under. It seems like people often confuse a machete with what you could call a chopper, or even a camp sword. I've yet to make a machete, but I have one lined up for the near future and plan on giving it a fairly thin, whippy blade, to keep it light and fast in hand. Maybe 1/8" 1095, or 1075 or 5160 if I can find thin enough stock.
  9. Silverbullet951


    May 16, 2009
    Oh I agree with what you are saying, and camp sword is probably a much more accurate use of the term. Basically a cross between a latin machete and Junglas type blade. Or most likely it will be very similar to a slightly longer version of one of my favorite large blade designs, the Modelo Argentino 1909. But at 100 years old and with an unknown steel, I'd prefer to make my own version. Note that it uses 1/4" stock with a full flat grind but I'm hesitant to try a grind like that.

  10. javand

    javand KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 17, 2010
    Consider a 3/16 blade with a sabre/scandi or convex sabre as a compromise then. If you need help, get your piece made, ht'd, and send it to me for the bevel grind.

    I really don't see a full height flat grind as the grind for a piece like you're describing personally. Convex sabre really shines in the cutting comps. Most traditional khukris are sabre or convex sabre also, with good reason.
  11. mete

    mete Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 10, 2003
    Javand , at 24 ozs my kukri is not designed for grass , it's far too heavy .Try it and see !
    I used to have a book about the Burma campaign .One chapter was devoted to discussion of the various jungle knives and what they were used for. A typical army unit carried a wide assortment of knives and an ax. Each had it's own use. The 24 oz kukri was considered too heavy for most uses but a favorite when they came to stands of big bamboo.Remember that these troops were using the knives all day long in the thick jungles of Burma.
    Shorter , heavier blades for heavy cutting . Longer lighter blades for cutting light stuff like grass.
    Unfortunately the book was lent out and never returned .Can't even remember the title . It may have been a NTRA book.
  12. javand

    javand KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 17, 2010
    Hey Mete, I wasn't trying to imply that khuks weren't for heavy chopping, I was saying machetes aren't.

    I've actually got a fairly nice HI collection. I carry one of the lightest Bura BAS's I've ever seen on trail, and have broken about half a dozen nice pieces. Believe me, I'm a huge fan of the khukri, and very familiar with their limitations (or rather, lack of).
  13. Rapt_up


    May 4, 2012
    I and my father have used milsupr Ontario Machete's for light wood trimming of GREEN wood, hard or soft for decades. He'd done it his whole life and i've done it for mine. say up to 2-3" diam.

    Machete is not meant for serious wood cutting/gathering so much as what was described above. Even for crosscutting dried hard wood I woudl use a saw before an axe. In other words a folding camp saw and a reasonable camp knife are a better campfire wood collection plan. Now if you want to cut small trees/branches to make a leanto or something then a machete/camp sword makes much better sense. And having seen some of the stuff 3V does, I'd love to have one in that.
  14. mete

    mete Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 10, 2003
    Javand , sorry , I misread your post, easy [for me ] as you mixed kukri and machete in your post !! There are a huge number of jungle knives in the world .One Philipino friend has a collection of 12 miniature jungle knives from there . He was qiuck to point out that the 12 were just a small percentage of the tital types ! Maybe one from each island ??
  15. sunshadow


    Oct 2, 2006
    I just used an Ontario 18 inch machete all day today fashioning a framework for a 5 sided selling shelter out of 1-4 inch trees for a festival I will be blacksmithing /selling at next weekend. 2 inch diameter ash trees can be felled in 2-3 diagonal cuts(45 degree angle to the ground) 4 inch trees take a bit more work but are still faster to fell with the machete than to deal with a chainsaw most of the time so my chainsaw never came out of the car, I shaped most of the tenons with the machete except for one I did with a half-hatchet because I needed a little more precise fit and a stop shoulder, the mortises I did with a homemade chisel pair, the only thing I used a saw for was long slots on the tops of two posts. This structure is 5 upright posts, 5 perimeter beams, 5 diagonals, and 15 braces, all cut onsite from the forest with the machete. I have been doing this kind of work with this design of machete since I was about 10. In the hands of someone who knows how to use it a good machete can be an extremely productive tool dealing with trees up to 3 inches and is still useful for 4 + inch diameter trees although at 41/2 inches a well designed axe is much more efficient

  16. chad2


    Sep 2, 2011
    I would use 5160 its amazing stuff and i would go a little thicker for strength and weight for chopping try 3/16 or 1/4
  17. medcommander


    Apr 21, 2010
    Personally I'm in the middle of modifying an 22in Ontario Machete at the moment. When I bought it they accidently gave me an 18in sheath. My plan is to grind down the unsharpened part of the blade to the same width of the handle. Reprofile the blade a bit and slap on a pair of micarta handles and a two handed machete is born. :)

    I personally don't know why a machete couldn't be used for wood. Thicker doesn't always mean better, and the 1/8 inch thick blade allows the machete to penetrate deeper while keeping enough structural integrity to keep it from bending/breaking or sticking as thinner machetes are more apt to do. That said a machete is probably not the best tool for felling trees or building a log cabin, and will probably preform best with limbs 4inches and less.

  18. ron_m80

    ron_m80 KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 1, 2009
    I ahve done that, it's a good project.
  19. TLR


    Oct 5, 1998
    I agree. Green wood has been fine in my experience. Dried is a whole other story. They are also not the right design to baton thick wood with.

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