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!
← Do you have any safety pointers to get me started?