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DIY Machetes – Improvised Arms and Ammunition Part 6

Making your own machete is easier than you might think, even if you have never done anything like this before. Oh sure, you can just buy a machete, but that won’t give you the satisfaction of doing it yourself. So buckle up for another installment of Improvised Arms & Ammunition!

You may just need it for blazing a trail when you are backpacking, and hiking for fun. Or maybe you just need it for cleaning out that fence line at home. Or it could be tool number five in your BOB equipment list. You can also use it as an improvised weapon if the need arises. Whatever the reason, everyone has a use for a machete. Besides, they are really cool and fun to play with.

finished machete with gerber

Seriously, why do you need it

A machete is a very handy tool that comes in many shapes and sizes. Usually bigger than a knife, almost always smaller than a sword (shorter but wider), a machete is a blade used for hacking and chopping. As mentioned in the first paragraph, a machete is very handy when you are going through uncharted territory and need to blaze a trail.

When properly sharpened it can slice through brush and grasses with ease. It can also make short work of chopping firewood for that campfire. My store bought machete is a Gerber, it has a saw tooth back that comes in very handy for cutting thick branches. It is also an excellent chopper.

A machete could also come in handy for self-defense for dispatching zombies should that need ever arise. Just one quick chop the top center of the head and no more zombie. That would really help you conserve that ammunition. It could also take off an arm or head fairly easily so I would go so far as to say that a machete would make a viable close quarter weapon too.

Buy or make

You can buy a machete pretty much anywhere for 10-30 dollars. I ordered mine online at a popular sporting website for about $25, but they sell them at Waldo’s world o’ Chinese merchandise too. They also sell cheaper ones for around $7, so really you can get one pretty cheap.

Here’s a video of a guy that made his own:

But you can also make yourself a DIY machete pretty easily too. My favorite object to make one out of is a lawn mower blade. Of course you wouldn’t want to go buy a new lawn mower blade and then make a machete from it, that wouldn’t be practical since the lawn mower blade costs as much as if not more than the machete would cost in the first place. But, if you can find an old lawn mower then the blade on the bottom of the machine can come in quite handy for making yourself a good chopper.

mower blade next to machete

A lawnmower blade makes an excellent machete because the steel used is meant to be very durable. You can also cut two equal halves from the lawnmower blade to make a matched pair of knives as well. Using a lawnmower blade to make a knife or machete works quite well as the steel is able to be tempered.

Materials and tools needed for the DIY forgeless machete

Just like the making a homemade knife article, this method requires no forge, no specialized skills, and very few tools.

The only things you need for your DIY machete are:

  • A hacksaw
  • Hammer
  • Brass or copper pins or tubing for the handle pins or a couple of nails
  • A file
  • A lawnmower blade
  • 5 gallon bucket or similar
  • Sharpening stone or substitute (rub it on concrete if you have to)
  • Wood for handles (hardwood is better but anything will work, you can do a paracord wrap if you want to but you still need to put some kind of handle scales on it to bulk it out first)

If you should happen to also have any of the following items it would make your task even easier:

Since the machete is a rough tool that will see heavy and hard use, you don’t have to worry about it being pretty or looking as good as a shiny knife. As long as it has a cutting edge and a handle on it, it’s a machete and will serve its purpose. Of course you can make it a work of art if you so choose.

How to make your own machete

STEP 1: First, source your lawnmower blade.

rusty mower blade

STEP 2: Next, mark the blade to be cut for a handle, cut off a notch about half the width of the blade about 5 inches long. Cut off the part that is sharpened for cutting grass because it is bent upwards. The piece cut off will be hammered flat and used to make the hilt later.

cut handle

STEP 3: Then you need to mark the tip. A gentle curve is normal on machetes, but since its intended use will double as a weapon I felt that a point is needed.

If you have a bench vise, clamp the blade in it and cut the handle. Clamp the blade in the vise close to the end that you are cutting so it is more stable. If you don’t have a bench vise then you can try to lay the blade on a step or something so the end you are cutting hangs over, then stand or kneel on the blade.

STEP 4: After you cut the handle out, flip it and cut the “point” end.

first cut for point

Cut one side of the point close to the contour that you want, it might take two or three cuts to get close to the curve you want, the grinder will finish it. After you cut one side, mark it and then cut the other side of the point. Again, it may take two or three cuts just for one side to get the material out to get closer to your finished shape so you don’t have to do as much grinding. There are two pictures (one above, one below) showing two cuts that were made, but I actually made five saw cuts total to rough out the point. This is because with a hacksaw it is easier to cut straight lines rather than trying to cut a curve.

second cut for point

STEP 5: Drill two or three holes in the handle the same size as the pin material for attaching the handle scales. Drill a hole for a lanyard if you want to have a wrist strap when it is finished. Or, like I did, use tube style rivets and run the lanyard cord through the rivet hole. Since the mower blade is already tempered it is hard.

holes drilled for handle scale rivets

To drill the rivet holes I softened the spot to be drilled by holding a torch to it until it glowed red. This won’t hurt the blade since it’s so far from it and only localized to a spot about the size of a quarter, right where the hole will be drilled.

STEP 6: Now that you have the rough shape cut, and the grip scale rivet holes drilled, you’re ready for the grinder. Use the grinder to refine the cut and straighten it up if there were any “woopsies” from the hacksaw. My grinder died on me so I had to improvise. I put the grinding wheel on the drill and mounted the drill in the bench vise.

grinding the edge

emergency grinder because mine died

STEP 7: Once you have fixed the rough cuts you are ready to grind the edge on it. Grind the bevel at about 15 or 20 degrees, you can do it by eye or you can make a guide by clamping a block on the grinder to hold the blade at the correct angle. Stop the bevel one half to an inch or so from the handle. To prevent burning the blade or losing the temper, have a bucket of water handy to dip the blade in frequently as you are grinding. This can also be done with the file if you have no grinder.

partially ground edge

STEP 8: Once you grind the bevel on the grinder, at this point, if you have a belt sander, you can start on it to refine the bevel edge. If you don’t have a grinder, belt sander, or file you can refine the cuts and grind the bevel on the sharpening stone or concrete. Do whatever you have to do to get the job done. I used a stone as you can see in the following picture.

sharpening on stone

** If you didn’t do it earlier, this is your last chance to drill two or three holes for attaching the handle scales. If you don’t do it now, it will be much harder to drill the blade after you have tempered it. 

STEP 9: After you get the bevel ground you should temper it to make it hold its edge better. To do this you need a torch or build a fire. You need a big torch for this, like an oxy/acetylene torch, just a small propane torch will not do it. If you build a fire you need to heat the blade until it is glowing cherry red. If you can’t get the whole blade glowing, at least try to get the entire edge glowing.

If you temper the cutting edge and leave the rest un-tempered it will still be useable. If you can’t or don’t want to build a fire, use the torch to heat the edge glowing red. Once the blade, or the edge, is glowing red quench it in the oil. DO NOT QUENCH IN WATER! Water will cause the metal to become too brittle and it can break or chip. If you want to skip this part altogether you can, (I did this time) but the edge will likely become dull more quickly. If you quenched in water regularly while you were grinding the bevel, the blade most likely held its original temper.

STEP 10: At this point you are ready to put the hilt on if you choose to make one for it. I used the leftover piece that I cut out for the handle. It was a little bent so I had to hammer it flat.

hammering the piece cut out-from handle flat to make hilt

Then I drilled several holes to create the slot to fit over the tang. Drill the holes, then cut, grind, chisel or file the slot. I used the drill bit at an angle like a milling bit to cut the slot but be extra careful if you try this. It is very easy to break the bit this way. I made it fit tight so that it had to be hammered on.

holes drilled in hilt to make tang slot

STEP 11: Once you have the edge ground to a suitable stage and tempered the blade, you are ready to put the handle on it. There are several ways to do this. If you haven’t drilled the holes yet (I mentioned it twice earlier and warned about not doing it before you temper), you need to drill two or three holes for the handle scales now. I just drilled two since the material was so hard but I would have rather had three.

STEP 12: Find some wood to make your handles, it only needs to be about 1/2″ thick. I used an old piece of cherry I had lying around. Cut them a little bigger than they need to be. Hold one side on with the blade on top and mark it for holes, repeat for the other side. Drill the holes in the wood. Pin the handle scales on with brass or copper rod. If you don’t have that then you can use a couple of nails.

rough cut handle scales with copper tube rivets started

rough cut handle scales with copper tube rivets hanging wild

Heat the nail ends glowing red then let them air cool, this will soften them and make it easier to peen (hammer) them in place. You can also use copper tubing like I did. You just drill appropriate sized holes for the tubing, then drill a recess about 1/8” deep with a larger diameter than the tubing.

rough cut handle scales with copper tube rivets set

Cut the pieces of tubing about 1/2″ to an inch longer than the thickness of the combined grips and tang thickness. You push the tube through and flare one end into the recess (as seen in the picture below). For extra grip you can also glue the handle scales on along with the rivets. I used gorilla glue. Clamp the grips until the glue sets then set the other side of the rivets.

shaping handles with a rasp

STEP 13: Once you put the handle scales on and peen the pins, you can now grind or rasp the excess wood off (or rub it on the concrete again, I used a rasp). Take it down to the metal tang all the way around the edges, and then shape the handle to a comfortable fit to your hand. At this point you can really make a custom fit to your hand.

STEP 14: I also cut a large checker pattern into my handles to provide a no slip surface. To do this, use a pencil to mark the grips with diagonal lines. Then use a hand saw and carefully cut the lines about 1/16”-1/8” deep.

marked and cutting jumbo chekering on grips

checkered grips

STEP 15: At this point you can sand the handles if you want to, you can stain them or paint them. You can wrap the handles with cord if you’d like. You can also tie a lanyard cord onto the handle like I did. It’s pretty common to do so as it helps you grip it while you are swinging it. To finish the handles on mine I just put a coat of boiled linseed oil on them. This is a good, waterproof finish that is easy to apply. Just rub it on and let it dry naturally over night or you can use a heat source to speed it up. I used a torch to quick dry it. Be careful if you use a torch because you can easily scorch the wood or even ignite the oil.

For a different look, you can use the torch and burnish the wood. This just darkens the wood and closes the grain, it isn’t a water tight finish but it looks neat. You can put the oil rub on over that to seal it. It’s your machete, dress it up however you like.

machete chopped into branch
Photo: machete chopped into branch

Here is my finished machete:

finished machete in grass

It kind of looks like a big knife but it has some mass to it and really gets in there when I was shopping at a tree branch and sapling in the back yard. There is a short video showing me chopping at the sapling and when the machete hits the tree you can tell it strikes with authority.

All in all it was not a waste of time to make it. I actually think I like it better than my Gerber, and with that wicked sharp point on the end it doubles as a weapon much better than the Gerber does.

Here is another video of a guy that made his own machete:

Final chop

You now have a machete that you made yourself. Making things for yourself sometimes gives you a sense of pride that you can do things for yourself. Your machete may not look as good as a fancy store bought Gerber, but it may look better! However it looks, all that matters is that it will chop and cut, and that’s what’s important.

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About Eric W. Eichenberger

Eric W. Eichenberger

Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms.

A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method.

The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.

16 comments

  1. As you said in the posting machetes are pretty inexpensive. I don’t really see the pay off in making one yourself. We have Harbor Freight Tools where I live and they sell one with a saw back for about $5 on sale. And while you can make the machete as described in your post I would think it almost impossible to recreate the saw teeth. I’d just not bother and buy the double tool as my time is worth more than the $5 bucks I would spend. Oh and did I mention that the machete comes with a sheath? Another thing I wouldn’t have to make. Just m opinion of course. I’m sure there are those who would find making a machete on their own a worthwhile challenge? It’s just not my kinda thing.

    • The article mentions a few times you can buy it, but the point of these siyes I think is to have the knowledge to do things if post collapse or SHTF there may be no Amazon or Home Despot and like our forefathers we may have to make things.

    • uh huh,,,if you actually read it rather than just trolled it you would see I addressed buying one and showed my $35 saw back gerber. the point is when you CANT buy one and when your $5 cheapo breaks after a few hours of use you need to know how to make one. And as the article also mentions this one better serves as a weapon. not to mention it would chop your $5 harbor freight pos AND my gerber in half. so hanks for your input, I value all comments. but seriously, its ok if its small…get over it

  2. I agree with DarthKitty that some of these articles are to show what can or might be done if there were no places to BUY supplies latter. I for one applaud this article as ver informative and well written

    • Thanks David, I do not think people realize that there may be a time where we have to fend on our own with only things we can find to improvise weapons and protection, and everyday items. Thge bug businesses will not have workers and will be looted and without knowledge that most of us didnt grow up using or learning the only way to know for that time is to learn now.
      I applaud this site for putting crucial information out there on improvising…making things…from things we have without Amazon or the store being involved. As they sure wont be around when we need theses things and its better to arm yourself with knowledge even if you may not need it now, as if the time comes it may be to late when there is no internet to copy a how-to.

    • thank you David, your positive comment is greatly appreciated. unfortunately some people like to feel strong behind their screen

  3. I understand the point of the article and just disagree with the DIY when it comes to bladed items that can be had so inexpensively now. I can spend $25 which is about what it would cost to make one and have 5 for use or barter after the shtf. So again IMO there is no payoff in making it yourself. As I also said how will you make saws post collapse? You can’t without tremendous amount of work and special equipment that most preppers don’t have. But knock yourselves out guys to each his own. I just have better things to do with my time.

    • Dan F. Sullivan

      It doesn’t look like you have better things to do with your time, this is your 2nd comment on an article you have no interest in.

    • is it really THAT small? wow, sorry dude. id give you some of mine but you can just go give some to yourself 😉 ill try to wear baggy pants next time so you wont feel bad

  4. Well all I can say to that Dan is that looks can be deceiving.

    • Dan F. Sullivan

      So I take it there’s a reason you keep coming here and on the forums? 🙂

    • seriously nick, if you don’t like it don’t come and read it. maybe you can rewrite it and sell it to the other sites like you did my stuff before…

  5. and agreed its easy to buy things rather than make it…and why we have stores…but see above as to why stores may not always be here.

  6. so buy them now as said in my post and save a ton of time. Nuf said.

    • nick, oops, I mean goodasgold, you are the epitome of the old saying that stupid people cant be taught new tricks…im listed, bring the $5 machete over and we will do a torture test on them, id LOVE to have you over. if you seriously had any valid points that would be one thing, but you don’t. you’re just here to troll. get a life dude. I think Dan is still hiring, why don’t you start and show us your vast wealth of knowledge, I’d love to see it. but yeah seriously, keep reading and keep commenting. even stupid peoples hits count

  7. Dan F. Sullivan

    Yes, I went and saw that remark. There is a point at which I have to intervene, to stop this from escalating, that’s all

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