Ontario Machetes

Cliff Stamp

Oct 5, 1998
A number of people (MPS, Joe T.) have had good things to say about the Ontario machetes. Which specific models are being refered to? It is the simple ON-18 Military Issue:


I would actually prefer the handle on that to the funkier grips on the "higher-end" models.

Don't they have one that has a 23 inch blade also. They also have the blackie collins designs, which are slightly different.
I think this is the machete most commonly cited in the forums. I have two and they are really nice. I also have a couple of the 12 inch Ontario beavertail machetes and a 12 inch Blackie Collins D-handle model. The smaller ones are nice and have their place but I think the 18" is the optimum size for a machete that is going to be used for brush clearing and other tasks that you normally consider machete work. A buddy brought me back a machete from South America several years with a blade of about 25-26 inches. Even though it is fairly light and well balanced I find the extra length makes it unwieldly. I guess you can get used to it but the 18" just feels right.

who dares, wins


I have one of the standard 18" machetes (the military issue one, top model in your pic), and a 12" beavertail machete. I use the 12" more, which is mostly a statement about how much heavy chopping I do versus how much weight I'm willing to lug around.

I use and appreciate the standard 18" model that I put a lanyard on. I have friends that use and like the "D" handled 18" models. I am going to try a sawback 18" in the near future, and I have used the 12" military handled version in the past and like it for certain things but need the extra reach and extra power of the 18" more often than not and it helps keep my hands out of the thorns and poison ivy too.
I've got a Brigade Quartermasters catalog which has those 18" machetes and it says that the plastic scabbard (needs to be purchased separately) has a built-in carbide blade sharpener. Does anyone have any experiences with that scabbard? It'd be great if the built-in sharpener makes a good edge. I would also like to know, if it tends to wear the blade down quicker than "regular sharpening".

The plastic scabards that we sell at the surplus store where I work have a sharpener that folds away from the blade.

I have not used it much but I guess that you just fold it into postion when ever the edge needs help and move it in and out, in and out, in and out, Momma's gotta a squeze box...(sorry couldn't resist)

To secure peace is to prepare for war.
The Ontario Machetes come in 12" (camper), 18" (USGI) and 22" (jungle) blade lengths. My fav's are without a doubt the Traditional cutlass 12" Camper, 12" Beavertail and 18" _Plain_ spined USGI. If I had to pick one for all around use it would be the 18" plain spined USGI, but I think most folks interested in a large knife would be better served by the 12" Machetes than most more publicized med, to large "choppers".

The 22" is long enough to be unweildy and hard to carry and is also too flexible to really be good at chopping hardwood. The 12" are joys to carry and use, and get taken places that most times might otherwise indicate a far inferior smaller belt knife. I've tested these things against such disparate items as USMC Kabars and CS Kukri's and various camp hatchets and the ability of the 12" Ontario Camper's machete to chop even hardwood is FAR greater than what most folks might assume. They're not likely to best something like a HI kukri, but they really will beat most cheaper kukri shapes, including CS's plain, lowend one. (Don't know about their better ones.)

In my experience the Blackie Collins "D" handle that's supposed to be an improvement is such a disaster that it totally ruins the concept. That soft plastic knuckle guard, in NO way makes up for the fact that the handles are soft enough that vibrations will loosen the rivets in short order. Nor does it make up for the handle being poorly shaped and highly condusive to simply forming blisters. Get the hard plastic USGI handle and file it to fit the tang. (Most of the ones I've seen/used have slightly oversized handle slabs that need to be better contoured. Done up right, by filing the harder USGI handle and perhaps adding a bit of grip tape, the standard soldier handle is really a pretty decent thing to use for hours and hours, days at a time, clearing brush or mending fence lines.

The "saw" teeth on the back of the spine really aren't good at sawing and simply hang up the drawing of the machete. (If you want to know the truth they weren't originally put their to saw trees in half, but rather to make square lashing notches in poles for projected mil spec survival use.) They've got little function on the tool for regular use. I'd highly advise getting the plain backed ones. (Unless you just like the idea of building a raft out of coconut palms enough not to mind the fact that mostly the teeth are in the way and totally preclude splitting firewood by bashing on the spine.)

The mil spec plastic sheathes are perhaps the best readily available commercial sheathes, despite the "built-in sharpener" being more of a joke than a function. The standard cloth sheathes are absolute junk and are, IMO, unsafe for field carry, since they offer no puncture protection. Making a homemade Kydex sheath for the machete of choice is easy, and is necessary if you fancy a plastic sheath for any config. other than the standard 18" USGI Cutlass shape. (Actually, there may be some USGI plastic sheathes for the 22" but they are lots harder to come by.)

Ontario does the machete so right that it's just a shame that most folks get their first impression of the limitations of a machete from cheap Asian imports that really aren't even all that much less expensive and are vastly different animals when it comes time to actually use them. The amount of cutting that the <$20 Ontario line offers is just amazing.

Machete Mike
My vote for the very most knife for the money goes to the Ontario Machettes without any doubt (standard 12" and 18").

You get good 1095 carbon steel, real comfortable handles, good balance and machettes that have been tested and proven all around the world.

What more could you ask for? How about a better sheath. The hard plastic ones with the sharpeners have no retention system and require a military belt with the holes to carry it. I made a retainer using black small diameter bungee cord.

I think maybe it was Brigade Quatermasters that offer/offered a "jump sheath" for the 12" version that might be good.

Recently I got a 12" sawback model for only $10 from Discount Knives, and a Courdua sheath for about 6 bucks. What a deal! The sheaths are so so though. They have a belt loop, and a snap that does a poor job of retaining the machette. I'd like a better, but inexpensive sheath.

The machette I recieved actually came with a rivet missing from the handle. Instead of sending it back, I emaied Ontario at:


They responded promply, and mailed me a couple of new rivets. Great service!
They were easy to hammer in .

I have the 18 and the 12" models, and will be getting some more 12" ones just to have around, or in the vehicles.
MPS, can the smaller (12") model be used comfortably for slicing work? Will it take a decent edge?

Is the Blackie Collins "D" handle similar to the handle on their bowies like this :


That handle gives me fits.

Cliff, I've used an Ontario 12" Cutlass Camper's machete on a cutting board, but I've never even really thought about using one to skin a deer or anything. (But then I really like stuff more in the 3-5" range for that type of thing.) "Will it take a good edge?" Well, it is simple carbon steel.
The q might be; Will it maintain a good edge and what angle would best allow one to both slice and chop while not sacrificing performance on either tomatoes or hardwood brush and limbs? (That's a heck of a question, if you think about it.)

I don't think that the machete has much role in replacing a dedicated slicer, but when I hear folks mentioning that they picked the USMC Kabar because it was a knife that also chops, I just wonder if they've ever really tried chopping anything with that overblown Marble's copy. Everything is relative and highly dependent on expectations and uses.

That pic. is not the Blackie Collins "D" handle' at all. That's just the basic handle that Ontario puts on their "Spec Plus" brand line. It's adequate, but not optimized for chopping or continuous use. The Blackie Collins handled machetes are totally different. They don't even deserve the 'adequate' label. If I get any time, I'll see if I can't direct you to a web photo. I'd just assumed that everybody knew what I was talking about, since they are common as dirt, around here, in all the mil surplus and outdoors stores. The offending ones have a "D" shaped molded in handguard like a sort of prop cutlass in a really, really bad pirate movie. They suck and actually have the distinction of totally detracting from an otherwise good piece of steel.

I'm in agreement with just about everything MPS has said in this string. Starting with the horrible D-handled machetes, to the dislike of the sawback versions, to the suggestion that the 12" machetes are enough machete for most people (and easily my fave).

Most importantly, I agree with the kabar remark. I too am a bit surprised about all the people talking about making their kabar/SOG2000/etc. fixed-blade their blade of choice for camping or even survival. This size blade is mediocre at everything. Too small to chop worth a damn, especially compared to a competent chopper like the 12" Ontario machete. And too big and thick-edge to perform well on smaller jobs -- abysmal on food prep, for example. I'm kind of shocked when these type knives keep showing up in the camping/survival threads, and wonder if people have really tried chopping or food prep with them!! Gimme a 12" ontario machete and a Deerhunter any day, they will actually perform in the field. I've been quiet about all this so far, but MPS set me off there.

Ok, I found a picture :


Is this the handle you are so fond of MPS

Regarding the whole slicing thing. I have not handled the ontario machetes so I was wondering what kind of edge they can take. I have heard it mentioned before they they are a fair bit softer along the edge than the larger bowies which are also 1095. This can be both good and bad. For general slicing type work I like this as I can keep the knife up to speed rapidly with a nice aggressive edge. However the same edge tends to flatten / smear out with heavy chopping.

By the way to you find that on chopping that the edge is more / less durable with a coarser finish assuming you actually create a burr (don't just lower the bevel actually create a new edge). I have heard again and again that coarser edges are more durable but this makes no sense to me and I have not yet seen a blade that behaves this way under heavy chopping (slicing is another matter).

Regarding the simul. slicing / chopping, could you vary the edge angle to optomize performance in each area?

Joe, the main problem is that these knives are pushed the hardest so they are very popular. I tend to go either very small and thin or very big and thick myself, no middle ground. Anything in the middle is awkward on the light work and too weak for the heavy. It is a middle man sort of blade for someone who has to live with restrictions on gear carry.


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 16 April 1999).]
Cool your jets, guys.You are comparing apples and oranges.The K-bar and that type of knife are an excellent compromise knife.If you lose or ditch all your gear and only have one knife left on your belt,this type of knife is what I would want on me.
I agree with y'all at least somewhat about no compromise knives for camping and such, especially when you can afford the extra weight, but a 12" machete is a compromise in itself.
One more point.I have friends with smaller hands than myself who really like the 'D' handled machetes for serious brush clearing,not camp use,and they use their machetes pretty hard.I personally don't like the handle for my use, but I don't put it down and try not to put other things down just because I have no use for them.A bad design is a bad design and should be called just that, but you should watch what you say about designs that just don't fit your limited needs or experiences.
M :

you should watch what you say about designs that just don't fit your limited needs or experiences

Of course, you will note that both MPS and Joe are stating under what conditions the knives are behaving poorly. And futhermore they clearly state what their baseline for performance is.

If it bothers you just insert "In my opinion based on the cutting I have done this is what I have found relevant to my own uses. If your uses are different than mine your opinions may vary. Carefully consider how well your needs match up with mine when weighting the information I am providing - " before each post you read.


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 16 April 1999).]
I don't take issue with their distaste for certain designs for their uses. What I do take issue with is their or anyone elses arrogant general remarks about certain designs being a "disaster","horrible",inadequate,"overblown",etc,and giving customers and manufacturers the idea that certain designs are worthless.I and others that work with a knife to make their living and to take care of their property have a use for some of the designs,(tantos,chisel grinds, ATS34,"D"handles,etc),that routinely get trashed by others who don't use their knives like we do, and I don't appreciate it when others try to stear the manufacturers to make just thin, weak tomato slicers because thats all they do with their knives.
m, I'm afraid you're going to continue to see people who express strong opinions. Not just MPS and I, but many people on the forums tend to do so. Speaking for myself only, I tend to moderate my views when someone opens my eyes to something I haven't thought of, or when I see something I had missed before. I really respect the posters who have the guts to post strong views provided they're based on use and experience.

I don't think the posts you cite are arrogant, though in this medium strongly-worded views often tend to look that way. The best way to address such views is to address the substance, rather than vague accusations of arrogance and incorrect assumptions about use (e.g., as thin weak tomato slicers). That said, I'm probably guilty of making my posts a little more provocative than need be, in order to get some responses -- I have learned *tons* from people pointing out things I've missed. Actually, I learned something from you not too long ago, about why one would carry the 18" or longer machete when a smaller machete will do the work you need it to (answer: keep your hands away from thorns, etc.). I actually ran into this same situation (thorns) about a month ago.

Why not tell us what you do with your kabar that we haven't thought of? I totally stand by my previously-offered opinion about it's mediocre performance in just about every area that you would need in camp or even wilderness survival situation. If you don't want to carry as much weight as a machete, why would the kabar be a better solution than a small folding saw and a Deerhunter for you? I'm genuinely interested, seriously. I could easily have not thought of something that you could teach me about, or maybe you could even learn something as we talk further. Just don't make artificial constraints like "you can only carry one knife", since I've never been on a camping trip where the trip leader constrained me to this. Rather, I concentrate on solving the problem the best way I can, whether it's ultra-light-weight or a heavier-weight solution.


[This message has been edited by Joe Talmadge (edited 16 April 1999).]

Is this discussion restricted to machetes by Ontario? Do any of you have experience with machetes by Barteaux or Miami Machete (both reviewed in TK last year) that you would care to compare with Ontario?

I'd been lusting after the Barteaux machetes for a while, but haven't tried one out. However, I did see a not-very-complimentary review of a Barteaux machete here in the past 6 months. The shape is kind of tanto-ish, without the positive-included-angle that you would expect to make a great chopper. But who knows. The steel is L-6, heat treated right the steel at least should perform nicely.

There is always a use for the smaller, hardier survival blades. First, they are tougher due to the extra steel provided. Second, they are more pointed which allows a wide range of uses including makeshift spears for hunting if need be or defense. Try and open an ammo can with a machete. Try to open most any food can with a machete. I love machete's, but if I could only carry one knife, the last thing it would be is a machete.

I'll agree though that the the cost of the machete makes it very usefull since you are most apt to use it if it's cheaper.