I just returned from a week in Honduras, where I didn’t do anything more sporting than track down vagrant cattle with a 3rd generation campesino via horseback. But once again—and this was my 5th trip to Central America—I was struck by the ubiquity of machetes, and the variety of the blades.
This is the time of year I find myself with a machete in hand more than any other season. It’s time to hang early-season deer stands, which often means hacking my way to a stand tree then hacking shooting lanes through the woods. A good machete is awfully handy.
In Honduras I saw a wide range of styles. The typical Central America pattern is an 18-inch willow-leaf shaped blade. But there were plenty of bolo or rozador blades with heftier tips for more efficient wood chopping, a panga style or two, and a few sickle cumas that were more targeted towards clearing reeds and grasses. What really stood out, however, was how much machete sharpening was going on. Everywhere I looked, somebody was crouched down working on the machete blade with a file—in the coffee fields, on front stoops of adobe houses, and simply on the side of the road. The steel in most machete blades is soft and prone to dulling, even more so considering that the blades are whacked against the ground frequently. The folks I ran into relied on a machete blade—for their employment in the coffee fincas and pineapple fields, or for gathering sticks and kindling to cook that very night’s supper. They didn’t suffer a dull blade.
And a lot of these folks had machetes they had customized with a file or grinder. They inspired me: I’m going to grind down the top edge of one of my machetes and sharpen the swedge for a little back-and-forth double-action clearing of greenbrier and old-field grasses. And I’m going to keep my eyes open for a bolo-style machete blade, so I can clear limbs from shooting lanes more efficiently. You can read all the online reviews in the world, but watching someone whose livelihood literally depends on their big blade gave me a few new ideas on how to make one of the oldest knife designs in the world work even better.