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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
** 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is my finished machete:
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:
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.