Saw Back Machete?

Discussion in 'Wilderness & Survival Skills' started by kage, Jun 15, 2010.

  1. kage


    Oct 25, 2006
    I definitely understand the limitations that a saw back places on a machete, but in certain situations and in certain locations it can provide some major advantages. I've spent extensive time in South and Central America, Central Africa, The Philippines, Marianas Islands, SE Asia and other places and have used machetes throughout each of those regions.

    I think that there are times, such as Thailand and Myanmar during the dry season, that a saw would be advantageous. There's less light vegetation to chop through and you end up dealing with a lot of wrist thick trees for shelter building. A saw would be nice for these times and they're quieter than hacking away at hardwood with a machete, especially if you're in areas like The Golden Triangle, where you want to go unnoticed by the drug lords. Also if you're transitioning from highlands into rain or cloudforest or vice versa, sometimes a saw is more useful and sometimes a machete is. When I'm traveling by foot I try to go as light as possible and having the tools combined would save weight and space, valuable things when you're traveling with a heavy pack full of medical supplies for the Hilltribe People, and not a whole lot of personal gear.

    Having one custom made or modified might be a very good idea, that way I could have a flat area towards the tip for batonning. Maybe a thicker 'chete like an Ontario could have 8 or 10" of saw teeth filed into it. Anybody have other good suggestions for those who might be able to do something like this, and maybe heat treat the saw again, if that's necessary?

    Pict, I always enjoy your videos. You're truly a master of the jungle! I'm waiting on a Marbles 14" bolo machete that I'm going to try your mod on and I'll put 4-6" of scandi on it for finer work. I still think this is the most brilliant mod I've ever seen for a machete and one I plan on doing to every machete once I get good at doing it.

    Thanks for everyone's suggestions and keep 'em coming if you have any more!
  2. baldtaco-II


    Feb 28, 2006
    What I would be considering at this point isn't so much the merits of a saw more how much of a useful saw could ever be dubbed onto a machete. Admittedly when it comes to saw I've always preferred a bow not just for performance but for maintenance too, so I am biased there in addition to my feelings on saw backed blades. But I can't help but feel the sawing action of a saw backed machete would be necessarily not great. Even scrubbing the spine of a golok back and forth across a bit of wood in ideal conditions doesn't feel right because there isn't a good natural position for the weak hand. Then there's thickness. Obviously you'd be at an advantage with a machete over a golok there but it is still a lot thicker than even my folding saw that is 1mm on the spine and still less than two on the cutting side. I just can't imagine any pattern of teeth on the spine of a machete, along with the poor weak hand hold, that could ever come close to what my little 12” bow or folding saws cut like. I've a horrible feeling you might just end up with some ripping teeth on a contraption that isn't very easy to control. I suspect that goes a long way to explaining the paucity of commercial good quality ones. I might be way off the mark here but I'd be considering getting a lend of a folding saw if you don't want a bow, seeing how they work for you, and then coming back to this machete idea for a wonder what portion of that performance you think you'd want to settle for.

    Just finkin' out loud.
  3. BChou-E29


    Dec 4, 2009
    Maybe so, but we all gotta make sacrifices...
  4. BChou-E29


    Dec 4, 2009
    Great video :thumbup: BTW
  5. jeff_c


    Jun 9, 2009
    I agree, I have the 18 inch saw back Ontario. I like it, but almost immediately regretted getting the sawback.
  6. clayton c

    clayton c

    Dec 8, 2002
    I find the saw back is very handy and quite useful. It is used for dragging downed brush off the path. The teeth grab small branches so you can pull them out of your way for the next swing.
  7. j williams

    j williams

    Nov 14, 2005
    I was at Gander Mtn the other day looking at the Gerber ones. Almost bought one to play with...They looked nice. Chetes are so cheap that I say if youre curious, buy one and give er a try. I dont own one with a sawback yet.
  8. shangchi108


    Aug 28, 2007
    I agree, there are times when having a tool on the other side of a machete can be useful:

  9. pict


    Jan 7, 2003
    I can't reference that model in particular but the Tramontina Cane Machetes are about the noisiest thing you can use in a forest - Pling, Plang, Bling, Cling - They drive me nuts! In the right stuff they cut really well though, just bring ear plugs. Mac
  10. vector001


    Aug 4, 2007
    you guys aren't including the concept of modification in your discussion.

    grinders are our friends.

    there are a lot of long curved limb-type saws out there that could be modified into effective machetes BTW.

    a sawback machete is a pretty general description too - as has been noted, some machetes, like the Gerbers, have excellent saws, while others, like the Otarios, are just unfaceted teeth (which actually can be advantageous).

    for those who poo-poo sawbacks because "no one who lives by them has a sawback machete" - - all i got to say to that is i have lived on two (foreign) continents with a machete as my primary tool, and both times they had a sawback (the last one was an issue Ontario that Dave Canterbury owns now).

    sawbacks aren't always for sawing - and unfaceted sawbacks like the Ontario Line of machetes will be better for snow shelter making and fatty game butchering than "good" saw blades, such as the Gerbers possess IMHO. - both will do though.

    as nice as a machete is, you need swing room - there is nothing like using the saw blade to dig tunnels and alcoves quietly with just some gentle pulling moves, through thick bush for shelter and hides IME - especially in stickery dry climates, where most folks think a machete is useless to carry.

    my Army SF buddy and i made a bed of ferns and a meal of fiddleheads in record time with sawback machetes, while everyone else was trying to get their tents up.

    are there other alternatives? you bet, and in my mind there is nothing wrong with them...; brother pict just came out with a great video showing the advantages of scraping with an improved machete spine to get dry tinder, but he could've also done that by simply collecting dry sawdust with a sawback, and then striking the log on a hard surface to get kindling.

    it's just another way of doing things, with another tool.

    and the saw method might be faster.

    ....facing the realities of an adventurous background, for me, sawbacks were nice to have. - as an aisde, i was very pleased that the sawbacks on the back of the Steel Eagle Series by TOPS actually saws, and is very easy to maintain in the field.

    sawback machetes remind me a lot of proper long tomahawks, in the way folks limit their expectations of what they can do, and how they are used.

    sawbacks can be optimum with hawks as a pair, especially when you grind away some of the teeth to suit your needs;

    again - there are plenty of other options for the folks who really use their gear to extremes, but this way is mine....


  11. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    The way I look at is that if you want a machete, buy a machete. I you want a saw, buy a saw. And there's no reason you can't carry both, but they work better when you DON'T combine them as one item. Honestly how hard is it to just carry a machete and a light saw like one of the sliding Fiskars/Gerbers? You could even clip it to your machete sheath. ;)
  12. baldtaco-II


    Feb 28, 2006
    That accords with me very well. I have a folding saw that lives in the maintenance pocket on the front of my golok bag. I nestles right along side some sharpening stuff, spare saw blade, rag, oil cloth and bits of string.


    Each to their own and all that but when something very estranged from designs that have evolved over a very long time comes along my bullshit detector starts working overtime. That is never more true than with edged tools. I wonder at the seller and who is the market they are aimed at and why. More often than not I'm left with the flavor of a shite-hawk foisting stuff onto...rather than a vendor making tools available to... Accordingly, and following the maxim “mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius", something like a saw backed kukri would fail for me but a nice rubber handled one could be building from standing on the shoulders of giants.

    With something like the machete we are considering here I'd be strongly considering why they don't tend to have saw backs in the areas they evolved. True, I'm always wary of the advise to look at what the locals use and go with that. Aside from what works and what doesn't there's also the availability angle. I think the pic below illustrates that nicely, and look at all the crap knives knocked up in Asia. Availability must be borne in mind when considering what people functioning at the third world level have.


    That said, when there is a pattern it can't go ignored. I have yet to see a proper agricultural implement here that looks like a saw backed machete, even vaguely, and we have all sorts from thatchers to those that coppice for a living, and have had for a long time. The guy you can just see on the left in the pic below is a professional woodworker and hurdle maker at a show. Note the thin ground billhook sunk into that log.



    If I had a saw backed Gerber machete in my bag, or even a saw backed billhook, I'd have been too darn embarrassed to display it.

    Although YMMV I don't think that has anything to do with being exclusive to England either.
  13. GrinderMcgee


    Jun 23, 2008
    To offer my opinion on the OP.

    How about a folding Buck or Gerber saw and a machete? Saw backs are junkola.
  14. pict


    Jan 7, 2003
    That home made knife photo gave me the willies. I had one just like it held about an inch from my eye in a stick-up attempt. The kid didn't get anything out of me but I have no doubt his "knife" would have been effective. Mac
  15. baldtaco-II


    Feb 28, 2006
    Let's hope he gave himself Tetanus with it then :)
  16. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    YAY BILLHOOK!!! Oh--sorry--got a little carried away there! :eek: But we need more billhooks. :D

  17. kage


    Oct 25, 2006
    Vec, I'm not a TOPS fan but those Steel Eagles look very effective. Unfortunately they're out of my price range for experimentation and I'm looking for something thinner than 1/4". I agree with you that there is a time and place for a saw back machete. Now converting a saw into a machete is not something that I thought of and may have some serious merit. Thanks for the idea!

    Maybe I'll buy a Gerber or Sogfari (the 18" model has space towards the tip for batonning) machete and play with it a bit, but it looks like there may not be any really good saw back machetes out there, so I guess I'll still carry a machete and Fiskars sliding saw combo.

    Thanks for everyone's contributions to this!
  18. TheGame


    Sep 24, 2008
    I, too, am in the crowd of getting a machete and a saw. The only sawbacks I have used have not been very effective at all. They would work, but would require more energy than a regular saw, and did not go nearly as fast.
  19. vector001


    Aug 4, 2007
    go for it on the saw/machete project, brother - it should turn out great.

    i'll try to do one too. - maybe get a group lesson together here.

    i am not a fan of the 1/4" TOPS stuff either (or any 1/4" stuff, for that matter) - i just thought it was noteworthy that they ACTUALLY WORKED WELL. good on TOPS, as usual. it was a very pleasant surprise, to see that i had erred by being perhaps too cautious beforehand in my gear-selection parameters....

    it should also be noted that the one TOPS Steel Eagle that i currently own, is the Steel Eagle 105, which i consider to be a good small-footprint aviation survival tool, and it has thinner 3/16" stock. it really mows through three-inch limbs despite its diminutive appearance, so that's a good item to pack with my ECOs IME, for a miniaturized kit.

    as an aside, i have some designs going in to TOPS shortly (Saint Erica is having a baby today or tomorrow evidently, so that is stalled temporarily) that will ask for thinner stock and different alloys where appropriate, and i think we will see some great things coming out next year from them, among other good things that i like already.


    as to the mention of bill hooks - i agree that they are very good, as are sickles, but the only reason i can see why sawbacks were not common on the backs of those and machetes alike is because the Third Worlders that made use of them the latest in our history couldn't afford to build them that way.

    i'd be happy with any of them.

    decently-functioning Promontory Pegs are pretty fast to make in bulk with a saw, and almost impossible to make well with anything else besides a lithic knife.

    [good-natured ribbing of english friends]

    i make promontory pegs on almost all of my lone outings, but i don't make hurdles too often in the woods - at least not ones as slick as in brother 'baldy's pictures.

    i would like to see a bill hook with a sawback, just for kicks, and perhaps to wind up some englishmen into fits...:D:thumbup: - i'll say it was made in France, so they won't use it. despite secret lusting desires to have one....:cool:

    upon reflection; Promontory Pegs have a very small point on them, so maybe they are illegal in England and are therfore considered not needed. :confused: Orwell was from England, i believe, wasn't he....

    i guess that means spiny little Hedgehogs are now verbotten to hold in England.

    - they could be used as weapons.

    [/good-natured ribbing of english friends]

    as brother baldy wisely pointed out -
    wisely stated IMHO.

    the Swiss kick ass in my book, so that is the lens i see though, when i see a shank compared to an SAK, as representative of their pundits' virtues.

    field expedience is just as often a derivative of laziness and sloth as it is pragmatism.

    one look at Chile proves that.

    (yes i have been there.)

    for complete disclosure, there is a dear headhunter brother in the Northern Philipines who has a sawback machete i gave him - so i may have upset the balance of the Universe and am now caught here, trying to obfuscate and reason my way out of my sawbacked guilt for ruining the aborigines.... :eek:

    as horrible as a shank would be to be stabbed with, etc. - i doubt anyone short of a forensic analyst could tell the difference between wounds from it, and an SAK. - add that fact to many others, including the fact that shanks open good Merlots poorly, and i rest my case.

    shanks you for your consideration.



    as i also mentioned previously, there is more than one way to get something done - i experimented with proper long hawks adapted with hacksaw blades, for example. - they were great, but i still love the thin-stocked blades with a sawback - hawks with saws seem a little gimmicky to me and i tend to gravitate to my good friend baldy's caution of such things, but i am undecided.

    - sawbacks are just one more tool to have along, and with no added weight or additional sacrifice, i don't see why not.

  20. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    The problem with adding a sawback to a billhook is that it would make it impossible to have a straight back edge to the piece, which is paramount in maximizing the tool's versatility. The straight back edge functions much like a hatchet, and works well in situations when the hook would provide inadequate clearance for a cut to be made. ;)

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