Looking for Answers? Here is a good place to start!
Here is a list of the most common questions we get asked!
We are firm believers in the old saying ‘There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers’
Don’t be afraid of asking us a question. We like to help! If you’re asking it, chances are some one else will also find the answer helpful. We will be constantly updating this area as these questions arise.
Safety Related Frequently Asked Questions (8)
A good habit to get into is knowing which side of any single edged knife sheath is classed as safe. It’s the opposite side to the edge (the spine side). Never grab any sheath on the same side as the edge! The reason for this is sometimes a sharp edge can cut through a sheath. If your hand is there as you withdraw or stow the knife/machete, you’re in a dangerous situation.
On the topic of hand position, hold your hand away from the mouth of the sheath (don’t choke up on the opening). You are giving your hand a safety buffer from the edge as you draw and stow the machete.
Our PVC sheaths are far more cut resistant than leather and canvas sheaths however, you should never rely on that. Every tool has a failure point when mistreated.
I doubt you will find any product in this day and age that will not have a big label stating,
“Please read all documents before use, by opening this package you are agreeing with all terms and conditions”
These machetes are no different!
We have no control how your package was treated in the post and I have been cut several times over the years from knives breaking through their packaging in transit. This is one of the reasons we developed a very hard sheath, it’s much more cut resistant and we can post your machete stowed in the sheath.
So here are some steps to follow to help make sure your safe!
- Inspect the packaging for any damage or protruding sharp edges.
- If your looking at your address label the correct way up, the handle is to the left. This is a good place to start unwrapping. If you have control of the handle, you also have control of the edge.
- Inspect the sheath (with machete stowed) for damage during transit! Special attention to Safety on this one. Is the edge protruding from the sheath anywhere? Check the tip as well. Work out which is the sharp edge side and which is the spine side. Do not invert the sheath and machete. The oil we put on the machete for rust prevention makes the retention system less effective! You don’t want a sharp machete sliding out of the sheath when you least expect it!
- Carefully unwrap the plastic film (looks like gladwrap) that secures the handle to the sheath, don’t cut it. Discard this wrapping. Don’t invert the machete and sheath while doing this. Now inspect under the wrapping.
- Never invert the sheath with the machete stowed. our sheaths are not designed to be used upside down.
- When removing any single edged knife from a sheath, never hold the sheath on the sharp edge side! Always hold the sheath on the safe side. This is the spine or blunt side. Keep your fingers well back from the sheath opening! Even though our sheaths are extremely cut resistant, it is never safe to assume an edge has not cut its way through! Its good practice to get into this habit. Softer sheaths are prone to this type of failure when abused. When stowing the machete, the same technique applies. It’s important to hold the sheath mid way down its length on the safe side as this keeps your fingers and wrist away from the opening and edge. Look at the sheath and tip, make sure the machete is within the opening before you guide it home all the way to the handle.
- When you draw the machete, do it in a manner that the edge does not drag across the sheath. You will get little nicks here from time to time. Just remember to remove these when you are doing your maintenance. It will prevent stress riser cracks. A small round chainsaw file or fine sandpaper around a screwdriver all work. It will remove paint in this area, but it’s a tough agricultural tool and it would look out of place without some battle scars!
- You will need to clean all the oil (food grade INOX mx3-fg) off the machete and in the sheath. We suggest you take a look at our FAQ on how we work on the blade. We don’t just wrap a cloth around it and rub! That’s dangerous. We lay it flat on a bench with the handle hanging over. One hand on the handle controlling the machete and the other hand works the cloth. We never push a cloth into the edge. We use a balled up cloth and always push in one direction so if our hand slips off, it is moving away from danger. We lift the cloth, reset and repeat until clean. Make sure the handle is free from oil. We use a thin steel ruler (600mm) and cloth to poke through the sheath to clean it. Just lay one layer of tee shirt material over the ruler and run this through. Don’t use your machete as a cleaning rod.
- Once you have cleaned the oil from the machete and inside the sheath it is work ready. When you are done, stow the machete securely back in the sheath and put is somewhere out of harm’s way. Now is a good time to review all your training and safety procedures. We are not kidding on that one. Sharp machetes are great tools but are incredibly dangerous if not handled properly.
If in doubt, please contact us!
Machetes are an ‘old world’ tool from a developed nations perspective.
Since we have moved off the land to the city’s and the introduction of some great petrol driven agricultural tools, machetes were forgotten pretty quickly. It’s a shame as they are one of the most versatile tools out there!
Things are changing. Recently they have been becoming quite popular again in the bushcraft world, particularly Canada, USA and Australia. The problem we have is all the knowledge we had on them is a few generations past. Most of us did not have the chance to watch and work with our elders who were proficient in using and maintaining a machete.
Using and maintaining hand saws, hand planes and hammering nails are an example of tools and skills you can still find a lot of people happy to help get you started with. These are old world skills quickly being replaced by power tools. Unfortunately, machetes are much further back down the line!
So where do we start?
Well we are lucky as the internet has a lot to offer in this department. It’s full of people’s videos, pictures and articles on how they use machetes. Can we assume all the information is correct, safe or appropriate for you?… Not a chance! That’s why it’s called research. You need to sort out what you feel is appropriate. That goes for everything we mention as well. How we use and maintain a machete is different to how the next person will. You get to work out what is correct for yourself.
Two of the more comprehensive places to start looking would be a gentleman named Colhane from Brazil and Ray Mears.
Colhane was a great inspiration for us many years ago when we first started our research. He has a huge amount of uploads on youtube all revolving around machetes. Every environment has its own specific challenges however, we found a lot of his advice is appropriate for us down here in Australia. Click here for a link to his channel.
Ray Mears, well his reputation speaks for its self! If you don’t know of him, he would be the David Attenborough of the bushcraft world. He has a few uploads on the Parang machete worth viewing. He covers some safety advice that we personally follow on the farm.
The other problem we have with Machetes is that being from the old world, there are no safety manuals! If you asked me for advice on safe chainsaw use, I would point you in the direction of Stihl’s chainsaw operating manual and video as well as some TAFE courses. If it was about a motorcycle, the NSW Riders Stay Upright class is comprehensive! The same cannot be said about machetes. When you bought your machete 100 yrs ago, it did not come with an extensive manual or instructions on safe and effective use. You just walked it home!
There are vast amounts of others sources and you will soon find a few of your own favourites. You need to filter all information and work out what is appropriate for you. One person’s method of use might be classed as extremely reckless to another.
You get to set your own boundaries as you are always 100% responsible for how you use any machete!
Quite often I get asked questions like this. It’s a very wise one to ask!
There is no straight forward answer to it other than they can be a very effective and useful tool, if you’re mindful and take a proactive role in safety. That’s a nice common sense answer that will be appropriate for most of us who have some practical hand skills and ability working with sharp tools. On the other hand, if you do not educate yourself on the safe use of any tool, things can get dangerous…fast! I recommend everyone regardless of their skill level to continually research and update safe work practices including machete use!
An extremely sharp machete can be devastatingly dangerous! This is not meant to put you off learning or trying something new. It’s a reminder that safety is a proactive skill not a “she’ll be right” attitude.
If you are new to working with properly hand tuned tools, you would be unaware of how sharp they can be.
I have been working with agricultural machetes and knives for many years now and people are quick to tell me about their accidents working with sharp tools.They all involve a combination of: lack of adequate training or research, in a rush, fatigue, poor maintenance, no planning or safety precautions, poor communication with fellow workers etc…
Would you operate or maintain any tool without training or safety precautions? Of course not! Machetes are in the same category.
I still refresh and review my safety practices around my workshop, farm, driving, chainsaws, tractor etc. To me, safety is an ongoing learning experience that I can constantly improve.
Learning how to safely and effectively use a machete is 100% your responsibility.
Be proactive to your approach and build on your skills and knowledge with smaller tasks first. Always start with gentle test cuts to assess how the machete is performing in that environment.
Being a natural product, what you’re cutting is never consistent. You need to be able to adjust what your doing on the go. This is the reason we recommend a gentle and methodical approach to working with machetes.
Here are some tips to get you started. This is by no means a comprehensive list. It’s just a beginning point to get you thinking. You will need to further your own research.
If you are very new to working with sharp agricultural tools, you may need a bit more guidance! We all were there at some stage. Just take your time and approach all this methodically. If you can find a local that is knowledgeable, make a new friend and ask lots of questions! It’s a wiser approach.
This answer is not meant to put you off. It’s just here to slow some people down so they think!
The first two pointers are condensed stories people have shared with me over the years. A lot of the injuries they relayed mostly involved hand/arm and lower leg lacerations.
If your holding, standing on or supporting an object you’re cutting, you are in the danger zone! the further away your body is from the edge, the safer the situation. Notice I did not say ‘safe’!
Lower leg injuries can be very nasty! Often they are due to excessive speed and force (lack of control) as well as not having a planned safe stopping point. When safe to do so, an approach of gently chipping is far better. A controlled cut is never one almighty swing!
Have a read through these pointers and think about how they relate to you.
- If it’s in your hand then safety is 100% your responsibility. If it’s not in your hand and in storage, Safety is 100% your responsibility.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Are there people or animals around you? Dogs and children can move quietly at times and often find themselves in the wrong place. It’s best they are kept well away.
- Always Look up! Loggers call these ‘widow makers’. Look for objects hung up in trees. Gum trees can drop perfectly healthy looking limbs! Branches can come down when you start pulling and cutting vines.
- Always Look down! Are their trip hazards than can escalate a situation?
- Look at the handle and sheath before you put your hand on it. Don’t feel for the position of the machete, know what state it’s in before you put your hand on it. If the machete is not fully seated in the sheath, the edge will be about where your fingers will land.
- Look down at the sheath while you stow the machete. Know that the tip is withing the sheath before you guide the tool home.
- It’s not a competition on who can cut through it in one go, it’s the exact opposite. Take multiple gentle and controlled cuts rather than big swing. It’s not only dangerous as you have less control, you are putting tremendous strain on your elbow and wrist while increasing your level of fatigue.
- Always start out with gentle cuts and assess how the machete performs in different materials. You always want to be in control. If you cut all the way through with momentum still in the swing unexpectedly, That’s dangerous!
- Plan your cut, plan to miss! Golfers, axe men, cricketers etc all have a planned and controlled swing. Plan to finish your stroke with the machete in a safe position. This position should always include a safety buffer for over swings, missed and deflected cuts. A common position includes to the side and 45 degrees away from your body in the direction you are facing. This is why gentle, controlled multiple cuts are better than one. If safe to do so, planning to finish your cut just at the felling point is also an option. (see our FAQ on Felling Cut).
- Cutting anything is unpredictable. Where will it fall, will it move and deflect the machete in a dangerous position, will the machete twist in the cut changing direction (common with cutting bamboo), will it fall releasing something else more dangerous, is what I’m cutting under tension and liable to move unexpectedly? These are some of the many questions you need to ask yourself constantly while you work.
- Fatigue is a huge safety issue! Know your limits. Take breaks, bring water, wear a hat, use your Personal Protective Equipment, Don’t work alone but always keep a safe distance, bring a first aid kit, research deep laceration first aid.
- Tell someone where you will be working and what time to expect you back. Bring a mobile phone or use CB Radios.
- Inspect and maintain your equipment. Some areas to maintain include : Look at the handle for signs of failure every time you use it. Keep the blade rust free and clean so you can inspect for critical flaws in the steel. Inspect the sheath for signs of stress cracking. Check for loss of retention at the tip when stowed. Look for failure and cut marks around the Retention Strap if installed. Look for failure around all load points on the sheath. Discontinue use until these are rectified.
- NEVER rely on the sheath to retain the machete safely! Gravity, the swing in the belt loop and the friction built in to the tip of the sheath only AID in retaining the machete in a safe position and it does a good job of that. The sheath is primarily designed for constant use along fence lines where you are drawing and stowing the machete all day in a controlled manner. If you are traversing a trip hazard prone area, moving quickly or climbing over or through obstacles it is best to remove the sheathed machete and carry it in a safe manner or put it down in a safe place. If you trip while carrying the sheathed machete, drop it safely to the side and away from you and any other walkers.
- Never invert the sheathed machete even with a Retention Strap! It’s not designed to be safe in that position.
- Never rely on the Retention Strap! They can get caught on obstacles and release. Always check the state of your equipment regularly, especially when traversing through rough terrain and obstacles.
- While sharpening and performing maintenance on your machete, you should be showing the same level of caution as when you are using it.
- Some plants are toxic to us. Some can even sting badly.
- If your in the wilderness, expect to see wild life Snakes, spiders, ticks, midges, mosquitoes etc… Most snake bite stories I have come across generally started out with a shovel, stick or bush knife. Be cautious and enjoy them from a distance. Machetes are not weapons! they are agricultural tools.
This is by no means the end to your own research or a comprehensive guide on safe machete use. These are just some pointers to get you started on your research.
Remember, Safety is always 100% your responsibility! You are 100% responsible for all outcomes due to the way you use or misuse a machete!
Why does Maintenance effect safety?
Maintaining your tools is important for many reasons but the most critical factor is always safety!
A well maintained tool is safer. the top reasons involve: Inspection, Force and Fatigue.
A clean rust free machete is far easier to inspect for flaws than a dirty one! Check your handle for cracks and movement. Check the blade for stress cracks (I have come across many total failures but I have never seen one on a Tramontina!). Inspect the sheath for safe function including any signs of stress fractures and the function of the retention system.
If you machete is blunt, you will require more force and speed to make the cut which decreases your level of control at the detriment of safety.
If you are using more force due to a poorly maintained machete, you will find yourself fatigued much faster. Fatigue and any tool is a dangerous situation!
You would have heard of the saying ‘A sharp tool is a safe tool!’. This is true up to a point. You will have much more control over a sharp and well maintained tool as well as suffer less fatigue. When things go wrong with a very sharp tool, they can get very horrid, fast! Put your thinking caps on and always pay attention to what you are doing.
Remember if it’s your machete, Safety is always 100% your responsibility!
Gloves vs. Bare Hands?
This is personal choice. Some argue gloves prevent you getting a comfortable grip on the machete and sweat builds up in them, others state they absorb the sweat which aids in grip. They do have some pretty fancy cut resistant work gloves now but again, you need to work out what is safe for you. Gloves when cutting something prickly would be a bonus. I would avoid the cheap loose fitting ones. Well fitting riggers gloves are also an option.
Smooth vs. Textured handle?
This is personal preference. Some people argue a smooth handle decreases your grip causing a safety issue. Others state rough textured handles cause blistering and hot spots as well as absorb moisture leading to early handle failure. Generally, sandpaper fixes this either way. If it’s too smooth, rough it up. If it’s too rough sand it smooth. Keep in mind putting a finish on the handle will generally make it feel smoother.
Machete & Sheath Customisation FAQ's (7)
Tailor the Machete to Your Needs!
This is the fun bit! Saving a lot of money refining the machete to your needs is not the only benefit. If you can tailor the tool, you can maintain the tool. If you are capable of tuning the machete, you will likely use it and have learned some good sharpening skills in the process!
I have come across countless very expensive knives over the years that just don’t get used properly because they were so costly and the owner was uncomfortable working on them.
The second point we feel is worth a mention is that rarely we come across a factory craft knife that had a serviceable primary or secondary bevel. This simply means if the bevels are left too thick you can sharpen all you like but you’re not going to get the best out of the knife until you change the bevels. This is not often done as people are uncomfortable adjusting something on an expensive investment.
We follow all safety precautions when working with and maintaining any tool. It’s just common sense to do so! Protective gloves, eye/face protection, ear muffs, protective boots, carbon filter respirators, no loose fitting clothing and a thick leather apron are the norm in our workshop. We read and follow all manufactures safety documents.
Safety is your responsibility in your environment!
There are many different ways of doing this and even more modifications that you can think of. It’s up to you to work out what’s safe and appropriate. A lot of our ideas were generated from researching how other cultures us them.
Safety first on this one! It’s easily done by clamping the blade in a vice (like a chainsaw) but never leave a clamped blade in a vice unattended! It’s incredibly dangerous.
We use our postal slip in this situation to improve the safety margin. We stow the machete in this and then clamp it up. It will help protect anything from coming in contact with the edge. Taping the edge up is only good for a visual reminder that something sharp is under there. If you lean up against the tape, the edge will just push through it.
The factory handle is definitely functional as is, however traditional users will spend a considerable amount of time shaping the timber to suit their needs.
The simplest and safest approach is what we call ‘removing the hot spots’. We file down the timber flat until it just hits the spine on the tang. We then blend in all the harsh edges with files and coarse emery cloth strips. Rounding off the holes that sit proud of the rivets helps.
Some like a rough and textured handle for safety, stopping here is an option. Others prefer a smooth handle with a finish on it, there are a few more steps to achieve this.
We continue lightly sanding to remove the scratches from the previous grit and then finish off with some #000 steel wool.
We often apply a finish to help protect and nourish the timber. Danish oil is an old favourite and is commonly used. I have heard of people using Penetrol and swear by it.
Other more natural alternatives like boiled linseed oil are still commonly used on wood handled tools as they dry slowly over a few weeks. We do not use non drying oils. An oily slick handle is dangerous! A finish that breaks down and gets sticky is also not good. We hear about people using common food oils. They never really dry and will eventually soften the timber.
NB! Sweaty hands can be slippery on a handle. The protective finish can impact on safety.
Common things we focus on and are best avoided are:
• Don’t modify the shape of the butt on the handle. It’s the bit that sits behind your pinkie finger and it helps in preventing the handle from slipping out of your hand. Machetes are not a plunging tool, however the swell in front of your thumb and pointer finger help prevent your hand sliding forward onto the edge.
• Removing any material from the handle technically is weakening it. It’s a balancing act between safety and function. If you choose to have a shaped handle, don’t take off excessive material and weaken its structure too much. Once it’s gone, you cannot put it back.
• Cracking will happen on any wooden handled tool! Heat, force, humidity and use (including misuse) all speed up the inevitable failure of a wooden handle. Everyone’s environment is different and how they use their tools differs even more. It’s impossible to predict when this will occur, your only safeguard is to constantly maintain and inspect your equipment and you are responsible for that. The Tramontina Eucalyptus hardwood handles are very good quality and will last if you take care of them! So far I have only seen one crack and that was from spending a night in the river.
Here is a link to one of our farm machetes and sheaths that we are using as a longevity test case. The factory Tramontina handle in this link is more than 4 years old, used regularly and has been abused!
Other handle modifications that we are often asked about:
• Busse style tube rivets. They look pretty darn nice on a machete and are incredibly reliable, especially when they are made from thick walled stainless steel tube, coupled with a stabilised handle material.
• Custom handle. These are pretty sought after and we often do these on special requests. They suit users who want a more reliable handle than timber or plastic, or they have very small or large hands. Re handling them is a great DIY project for someone with the know how. A fancy new handle can far exceed the cost of the machete but the platform and results are well worth it! If the base product was not worthy of the effort, we would have told you by now!
• Wood stain under the protective finish.
• High visibility painted butt on the handle helps a lot when you put the machete down. I would keep this small as sweaty hands will slip on paint.
Some other handle modifications that I have come across include:
• Busse style tube rivets. They look pretty darn nice on a machete and are incredibly reliable, especially when they are made from thick walled stainless steel tube coupled with a stabilised handle material.
• Custom handle. These are pretty sought after and we often do these on special requests. They suit users who want a more reliable handle than timber or plastic, or they have very small or large hands. Re handling them is a great DIY project for someone with the knowhow. A Custom handle can far exceed the cost of the machete but the platform and results are well worth it! If the base product was not worthy of the effort, we would have told you by now! A custom handle can drastically improve how a machete performs in heavy cuts. Heavier handles reduce the vibration and whip you get while cutting and they act as a counter balance to the Bolo’s wider head helping cut even deeper with every stroke.
• Wood stain under the protective finish.
• High visibility painted butt on the handle helps a lot when you put the machete down. I would keep this small as sweaty hands will slip on paint.
Again, Safety first! Notice there is a common theme happening?
In our workshop we needed a safer way to work on the big flats on the steel blade.We lay the machete down on a stable, clean flat surface with a thin non slip matt between the blade and bench. We hang the handle over the bench so the machete lays flat. This setup minimised how much of the edge is exposed and allows us to keep a firm stable grip on the handle. Sanding blocks are always used to keep our fingers further away from the edge. Clamping a block in front of the edge gives us a little extra protection. We always push in one direction away from the handle to the tip keeping our fingers and hand on the safe side (spine). We stop before the sanding block skips of the tip of the machete. We lift, come back and repeat. This is a slow and thoughtful action. It’s not worth rushing this process.
Now onto the varnish. We feel this coating is not robust and can hinder the maintenance of the machete. however, It does a good job of prevention rust from the factory to you. Here are the steps on how we do this:
We first lightly scratch the sticker with a steel scribe in a hash pattern to break the plastic film and wet it with regular painter’s mineral turps. Any solvent works, even WD40. We leave it for 10 mins and the label will slide off easily. Care should be taken as any solvent or water is going to make things slippery.
Next step is the varnish. We use a cork sanding block (helps keep our fingers away from the edge) and 400grit wet and dry abrasive paper. Water works as a lubricant. We push in one direction from handle to tip, keeping the sanding block flat and the paper tight. We do this slowly and methodically, lifting the sanding block up before it skips off the tip of the machete.
We also avoid getting fluids on the handle. You will always get a little there changing the colour slightly. Often we use methylated spirits as this dries rapidly minimising this issue.
If we are after slightly refined look, 600 and 800 grit paper will give a satin finish. There are brush/abrasive marks in the steel from the factory that will take considerable effort to remove. It’s just not worth going any finer than 600/800 grit as a machete is a hard use tool that rusts anyway. Once you build up a patina on the blade, these brush marks fade away! We sometimes apply a rough cold bluing solution after this step. It rubs off at the friction points and will give the machete a broken in look.
Common machete maintenance is scrubbing the flats with #000 after use to remove rust and sap build up. It is much safer doing this (as well as removing the varnish) on a blunt machete i.e., it is better done after use and before sharpening.
If it’s a new machete that we sharpened, have us remove the varnish for you or wait until you have sufficiently dulled the edge enough to make this a safer operation.
Well you do not need to do this. It’s just another modification that can be done do to setup a machete to suit a task.
Machete’s can be set up as makeshift draw knives. By making the spine a little safer to hold you can get a two handed grip on the blade and handle, much like a draw knife. This suits the bushcraft user a lot more than anything else and is a good match up with our sharpening.
Using a machete in this manner requires a lot of skill. That’s a whole lot of sharp edge you’re pulling towards yourself! We often use this method when making camp furniture however, we take 100% responsibility for our safety! You become 100% responsible of the outcomes when you choose to use a machete in any manner!
Have you got any more information on using machetes as card scrapers?
• Scraping up very fluffy tinder from dry wood and bark with the machetes primary edge works very well however you dull the edge very quickly. Alternatively you can put a card scraper edge on the back. It does exactly the same job only it is much easier to sharpen the card scraper in the field with a flat chainsaw file than it is to sharpen the primary edge. It takes a modified grip to use this in a safer manner and we must give full credit to a gentleman named Colhane that lives in Brazil for this little gem! Click here for a youtube link.
This falls nicely into the ‘try this at your own risk’ category! It’s incredibly useful however also inherently very dangerous.
• Ferro rods need a sharp hard edge to drag across to work properly. You can use the primary edge in a pinch but the card scraper on the spine is just as effective. This feature is also commonly found on the back of commercial bushcraft knives. Ferro rods do damage fine edges so a card scraper is ideal as it’s easier to touch up in the field.
• Traditionally card scrapers were used for smoothing wood without sandpaper. Having this feature out in the bush will be a big advantage for some.
A card scraper and rounding the spine behind the tip can work together in some situations.
As always, safety first! You are effectively creating another edge on the spine. It’s not as dangerous or obvious as the primary edge but it will still create a nasty cut if you’re not careful!
Always account for the sharp primary edge being on the other side of the card scraper!
This is a fun project!
This is the paint system we used when we were in our research and development stage. The results are pretty darn good if you’re patient.
We have since upgraded our system to include automotive paints as they dry harder much faster, but the DIY option is still viable. Although our paint is about as tough as it gets for PVC, all paint scratches and wears. Normal rattle can paint you can get off the shelf is only a little less robust than ours if you let it cure properly.
First off, make sure you read and follow all the paint and chemical manufactures safety instructions! Every paint system is different. Have and use your Personal Protective Equipment!
Here is a quick rundown of the steps:
Preparation is everything when it comes to painting. PVC is still very difficult to paint but the modern systems are getting better. Scuff off all the gloss coating with a red scotchbrite pad and any remove any printing on the PVC. Round off any sharp points and scratches and then clean it twice with a wax and grease remover. Mask off anything you don’t want coloured. Now you can apply a coat of plastic adhesion promoter if it suits your paint system. Follow the paint manufactures instructions for drying time and then you can top coat it in any colour you like!
They will be in a useable state if you follow the time frame they print in their instructions however, full hardness will not happen in 24hrs. Most of the hardness is achieved in first 72hrs. From our extensive paint testing, we are yet to come across an ‘off the shelf option’ that takes less than 30 days to achieve its maximum potential.
If you are over coating one of our painted sheaths to freshen them up you can pretty much follow the same procedure above. Keep in mind the modern spray can paint is very high quality but do not expect the same level of durability you will get from quality automotive paint systems. If you were after a custom colour, a lot of auto paint stores can pressure pack a single can for you and it will likely be good quality paint!
As always, safety first! Follow all paint manufactures instructions! Nitrile gloves, a quality respirator with a carbon filter, face shield, coveralls and work in a well ventilated area or spray booth etc. These are the minimum. Every chemical is different and the manufacture might recommend something more comprehensive!
They are robust and are designed to be use in rough agricultural situations. The paint will scratch and wear and you’re going to scuff up the sheath quite considerably if you’re using it right.
This does not mean you should show no care with your tools and equipment! Here are some pointers to look out for:
• Don’t leave the sheath baking in the extreme summer sun or in a hot car cooking away! This is common sense for all plastics here in Australia and these sheathes are no different. You can inadvertently release the grip the sheath has on the machete when they both cool down in the evening. We can readjust this here in the workshop for you but that’s not going to be helpful when you’re working deep in the bush somewhere. They are just fine on a hot sunny day hung on a belt and if they are stowed within a backpack, they generally stay very cool in there. After all these years using this same system, I’m yet come across one that has been damaged due to heat except for our extreme product testing! Use your better judgment with this one.
• Don’t just rip the machete out and slam it back in without a thought (safety issue!). They are pretty tough and can handle the abuse however, try and draw and drop the machete without running the sharp edge on the cutaway lips around the mouth of the sheath (when it’s stowed, the edge points towards the cutaway). It’s not a problem if you do, actually expect that you’re going to nick this part of the sheath. When you’re back in the workshop cleaning your equipment, its best to remove these nicks as they will eventually run, causing a stress riser crack. A small round file is all that is needed. Just rub it back to remove the nick.
• All our sheaths are open at bottom for drainage and ease of cleaning. We just use a long 600mm steel ruler with one layer of cloth and push that through to clean any debris. An air duster is also helpful. Clean all the oil out of the sheath and off the machete before use for safety reasons.
• Always inspect the sheath and all its components for cracking, damaged and cut parts. Check the machetes tip does not protrude out the bottom. Check for machete retention by first cleaning all the rust, sap and oil off the machete and inside the sheath. The two causes of a sheath losing its retention are abrasion from drawing and dropping a rusty blade (this takes a very long time) and warping from heat abuse.
• Don’t clean the sheath with solvents or abrasives unless that’s the look you’re going for. Just wipe it over with a damp cloth.
General Questions (7)
Actually, we find that you don’t, provided the primary bevel has been properly set. It’s the shape behind the edge (convex grind) and the extra length/weight with a machete that will help compensate for a less than top notch sharpen.
For beginners, learning to sharpen anything can be frustrating. Teachers can make it seem a little mystical as well. This is the reason we like to show beginners sharpening on the farm using machetes. It’s a great ego boost because they can feel the difference in the way it cuts immediately!
The skills you learn with sharpening a machete translate to just about any single edged tool. With practice you just keep getting better. Blunt kitchen knives anyone?
Of course if you are skilled at sharpening, you’re going to get a great edge much faster. The trick then is how do you keep your edge for much longer. This is covered in how do i keep my machete sharper for longer?
The short answer is: if you had only one task that you wanted your machete to perform, you could pick a style of machete that suits that one task. Their are hundreds to choose from!
If you’re like us and have many varying uses for machetes, The Tram Bolo will not disappoint! It just performs many different tasks so well.
Examples of alternative machete choices would be:
Latin or Bush machete
This is the ‘A’ typical style of machete most people know about. It’s long and thin and for the rest of the world this is what they would call a general purpose machete. In Australia it’s going to excel in only two areas. If you’re using it low to the ground to clear great areas of soft material or you are clearing a path so you can haul equipment in to the scrub. The extra length allows you to cut lower without bending so much. Australians tend to use brushcutters / line trimmers in this situation.
It’s downfall is that its not overly great at heavy cutting in our denser material and the extra length adds a tremendous amount of force required to wield it. If you were brought up using these daily you would not complain however, I’m strong and have always worked with my hands. I find these wear me out fast! It’s not so easy to use these long machetes for finer work.
If you are walking in with a backpack, you don’t need to clear nearly as much and generally you’re just chipping vines and branches from knee height and up. The Bolo easily achieves this. The shorter reach allow you much better clearances when untangling masses like Lantana. A long Latin machete would just keep getting hung up.
All Heavy & thick Machetes
These are fantastic in processing our tough materials, but they are just too heavy for extended use. Think sledge hammer vs carpenters hammer! You will get 30mins of them until your forearms give out. They are not really useful for processing anything small as well.
A properly sharpened Bolo can process tough and dry material, it just does not bite as deep as a much heavier machete. You can however use a Bolo far longer than a heavy machete and in the end, you will get the job done with energy in reserve.
Custom handles on machetes are generally made from denser material and actually drastically improve the feel and performance of heavy chopping. The balance of the heavier handle actually decreases handle whip in hard strokes that stop in the cut. Slightly heavier handles act as a counter weight helping drive the blade deeper in each cut.
You do not need a heavy machete, the mecanical advantage in a light Bolo is all in the larger head.
Generally we have found if the blade on a machete is thicker that 2mm, we put it back. The most prized custom machetes in South America are actually tapered from the handle to a very thin tip.
Cane Knife Machetes
We are huge fans of these. They are super thin and very wide. The hook on the back is incredibly useful. We use these only in the garden for mulching and pruning. They are not good choppers in dense material.
We use the Bolo for mulching as well. We just keep the wire edge on when we sharpen. Using a file to touch up the edge while your work sets up the Bolo to perform much like a cane knife in this situation.
A thin branch cut off so you have a short hook at the end does the same job as the hook on the back of the cane knife. It’s actually an advantage in some situations to use a stick. Gancho or Grabat sticks are two of the common names I have come across for these tools. They are very easy to make (a few chops from a branch) in the field.
This is a common misconception.
This idea probably came about due to two reasons. First is the edge geometry and how you sharpen. If you have a very thin bevel (hollow ground) and a ragged wire edge, even with good cutting technique you are going to roll the edge over. If the machete is blunt, it will not bite into the material and bounce off or skate on what you’re cutting. If you have a properly set convex bevel and a stone polished edge, this edge can cut and process seasoned branches.
The second reason is that people are very much used to chopping into green material with machetes. When they have a go at something dry and hard, the machete performs so differently (and poorly in comparison), they assume machetes cannot cut dry material.
A machete is just a very big knife. Granted the steel is heat treated a little bit softer than a small knife, but for craft work you can definitely set your machete up to process dry branches. It only takes two things; A correct edge and a safe technique.
There are obvious limitations though. It will never out perform an axe, bowsaw or chainsaw in our pretty darn hard timbers. The super hard ones (Iron Bark and Tallow etc) I would probably avoid or just go easy to start with to gauge how it’s performing in the cut. We have plenty of softer woods to work with and I would be choosing them first. If it’s for fire wood processing, I would not hesitate in making a small cut in a drink can sized dry branch to help me snap it over a rock.
A custom handle actually can drastically improve how a machete performs in heavy cuts. Heavier handles reduce the vibration and whip you get while cutting and they act as a counter balance to the Bolo’s wider head helping cut even deeper with every stroke.
The thing you need to remember when crafting with a machete is that it’s a big lever compared to a smaller knife. If you’re not careful, you can put a tremendous amount of force on the edge if you twist in the cut. This leads to bends and dents in the edge. These can be removed with a file next time you sharpen.
Expect to put more chips and dents in the edge if you are a beginner. Good technique while you work has a huge impact on how long you need to go between sharpening (edge retention).
Good cutting technique has a huge impact on edge retention (how long your machete stays sharp).
This is something that you just learn instinctively on the job. Most everyone I have shown picks it up pretty quickly once they know the general do’s and don’ts. It’s a tough one to explain. It’s not just ‘how I can cut through something in the least amount of strokes’.
The first step is having the correct primary bevel for what you’re cutting. A thin hollow ground edge just won’t stay sharp for long here in Australia. Even our weeds are tough! a thin convex edge is a great edge that compromises little in it’s slice-ability but retains its edge far longer in heavy material.
During use, it’s a combination of a lot of things, some of which include:
• Correct cutting angle for that branch in that situation
• Just the right amount of force
• Avoiding bouncing off or skating the blade down a branch
• What not to cut
• How to cut so the branch does not pinch the blade
• Avoiding cutting too low and following through into the dirt
I’m sure there is a lot more I could put down, but just being conscious of ‘how you cut effects edge retention’ is the first step.
You can feel it in the handle if you are on the right path. A golfer or cricketer just knows if they have made a good hit by what they feel it in the handle. Machetes are the same except it’s far easier to feel a correct stroke with a machete than it is with any bat and ball sport.
Well, soft is a relative term. They are softer than some thick bushcraft knives but harder than a filleting knife.
A better question would be are they hard enough for to the task? That’s easily a Yes!
The hardness of the steel is determined in the knife factory during the heat treatment process. A common tool steel such as 1095 can be heat treated to be bendable, spring like or glass hard including every state in between.
Hardness is a trade off and has little to do with the quality of the tool steel. Expensive steel can be badly heat treated!
The harder the knife the thicker it needs to be to resist breaking under heavy use. To make a hard steel knife (which is what we commonly can buy now from camping stores) they need to be thick. The more steel, obviously the heavier it’s going to get. When you are swinging a heavy knife for any length time, you soon realise it’s the wrong tool for the job. Heavy knives have their place and suit some.
Machetes are much longer, thinner and are very adaptable to many tasks. The bolo design takes this one step further with a larger head. This is the force multiplier and the reason we use these so extensively. Personally I’m never going back to Bowies. It’s a Tram Bolo all the way!
You mentioned the term ‘felling cut’ several times. Can you explain this in more detail?
We get asked this so often, we copied this page from our FAQs!
‘Felling cut’ is just a nick name we came up with on the farm to help us teach the regular stream of farm volunteers. We borrowed the term from Tree workers. You cannot cut down big trees with a machete but some of the principles are the same.
We feel it’s a safer cut in most situations around our farm as well as being quite energy efficient. It combines a gentle chipping action with a blade that stops buried in the cut on each stroke.
It still can be a brisk process even though we are slowing everything down for safety!
We are not going to mention much more about safety in this answer. It is just a quick run through of how and why we use this one particular style of cut. Their are many more to choose from and all will suit different situations!
So the problem in this scenario is the Castor oil plant. We cut back the weeds like this every year on the river banks. We don’t poison them as it’s in a flood plain and the weeds actually do a great job of stabilizing the banks from erosion. Slowly the Lomandra grass and River Oaks get a foothold and smother out the weeds. We are not huge fans of using chemicals either!
Castor oil plants start out with a very soft hollow core and within a year they get very tough and woody however, they are no match for a bit of technique and a well tuned machete!
That’s a full sized Tramontina Bolo in the side of the trunk for a comparison on the trunk thickness.
First off, we clear the area. You can use the machete for this but we just used a long thin branch cut from one of the Castor oil plants to whip the area down. That is chest high Stinging Nettle all around the base and I was not in a hurry to get my hand too close!
Move back and look to see what’s up there! Nice and clear on the ground as well?
The next step is to clear the crown systematically so when we are finished cutting, we can neatly pile everything to one side. The crown is only one years worth of growth and it’s everything above the thicker, straight trunk .
We do a felling cut in two passes on these. First we come up from underneath or the ‘loaded’ side and aim to cut about half way. We cut on the side of the branch that is leaning first because if we cut here last, the branch will pinch the blade potentially leaving you with a wrestle to get it out. It’s not safe either!
Notice the cut is not perpendicular to the branch! Cutting at an angle always sinks the blade in much deeper in harder materials compared to a perpendicular cut. This conserves energy.
The second cut is on the ‘high side’. This time, we aim to cut almost to the depth of the first cut leaving a strip of material in the middle. This is called a hinge (just like on a door). This hinge somewhat directs where the branch will go and slows down the falling over process. This buys us time, sometimes that’s an advantage!
So why did we choose this method in this situation? It’s safer for us, more controlled and conserves energy. I do not have to stop the blades momentum, it stopped itself in the cut. I did not have to cut all the way through because it snapped at the hinge as it fell. The stroke finished in a safe, predictable position. The branch fell in a predetermined area allowing me to plan ahead for an easy clean up.
It all sounds like too much? Well, this process of removing the crown takes a very short space of time. When you are doing several hundred in a day, you will quickly find the most economical way of doing it. For most of the visitors, this process becomes second nature fairly fast!
Now onto something thicker! The trunks are three years old. This one is about 75mm in diameter. This cut was done in three passes.
First we make two cuts, one down and one up on an angle about half way into the trunk. As this chips out it creates a big wedge of an opening.
The final pass is on the other side, cutting down to leave a hinge and stopping the swing in the cut.
We then remove the machete and stow it safely in a sheath or put is somewhere our of harms way. With both hands free, we push the trunk over and then collect and stack the branches. Rinse and repeat!
This picture was taken just on the edge of our testing ground! Not a bad little spot to spend a quiet days work!
I’m not leaving a fellow ‘Lefty’ high and dry! I have made so many leather, wood and plastic knife sheaths over the years for Lefty’s as we are always forgotten about by the big manufactures! Both the Backpack and Belt Hung sheathes are universally left and right handed.
If you’re ordering a sheath with a Handle Retention Strap and are Left handed, let us know and we will reverse the strap for you. They work either way, its just functions better if the snap is facing behind you.
Shoulder Carry Sheath (2)
First up, stacking gear to a machete sheath is nothing new. You have all this free real estate on something you’re carrying around with you and it can be put to good use. This is just our version of it.
The simple answers are:
The sheath (and gear stacked to it) sits higher and is is less likely to get hung up on vines and bushes
We are already use to carrying our equipment from shoulder style bag. The Shoulder Carry Sheath with gear stacked to it is just a logical progression. It’s essentially a mash up of a sheath and bag in one convenient unit
The sheath is very easy sling behind, to the side or to the front. This gives you easy access to equipment as well as being able to sling it out of the way when needed.
The tunnel in the MFMP makes it super easy to solidly attach a fixed lanyard. You can secure vital equipment to this lanyard.
This is personal preference and it is going to differ wildly between everyone. Be creative and experiment. In the provided pictures, we stacked a full sized Ontario Ranger canvas sheath in one scenario as well as a some paracord, small knife and TinderTube in the other. Personally, I like some simple fire making equipment, sharpening gear for the machete, a space blanket and some paracord. Lately, I have also been packing a small hobo fishing reel as I often walk along a small river. There is a limit to what you can pack on this platform but common sense is your best guide….for example, I would recommend avoiding attaching a house brick to your sheath. We tested it, the sheath carried it, and it was not comfortable. You can always contact us if you have any questions.