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 as a survival tool, for clearing bush, blazing a trail when you’re backpacking or hiking. 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.
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.
Table of Contents
Buy or Make?
You can buy a machete pretty much anywhere for 10-30 dollars. They also sell cheaper ones for around $7, so really you can get one pretty cheap.
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 A Forgeless Machete
Just like the making a homemade knife article, this method requires no forge, no specialized skills, and very few tools.
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The only things you need for your DIY machete are:
- Hacksaw or jigsaw
- 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)
Should you 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.
DIY Machete Steps
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 machete 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:
I know the finished product 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.
This is a short video showing me chopping at the sapling and when the machete hits the tree you can tell it strikes with authority:
Your machete is officially finished, but there is always more that you can do to it to improve its performance, durability or just its appearance if the mood strikes you.
Consider the following options below and see if any of them will work for you.
Powder Coat or Other Finish
One of the best things you can do for your machete, especially if you live in a humid environment or near a coast is to finish the blade.
Even the simplest finish will provide a modicum of corrosion resistance and minimize the effects of rusting that does take hold.
This is an easy way to extend the life of your machete in the field, minimize maintenance requirements and to make it look a little snazzier.
The good news is you have all sorts of options for your DIY machete. Everything from simple spray paint or aerosol enamel to ceramic coatings and traditional metal finishes like bluing.
Each has its own pros and cons, can be applied in a variety of colors and has different lusters depending on your desires.
For my money, I like powder coating. Powder coating, when applied properly, forms a solid barrier against moisture and other elements that will prevent them from reaching the steel at all, except where the edge is exposed on the blade.
Powder coating is also durable, inexpensive and easy to touch up, and I really like that a slick, semi-glossy surface helps prevent the blade from getting stuck in wood.
It can chip and break down over time, but it is so easy to apply that I don’t mind stripping it and refinishing after a few seasons of hard use.
A thorough discussion of powder coating is a bit beyond the confines of this article, but you can find plenty of walkthroughs with a simple search.
Sheath with Belt Loops or Sling
You got the machete, now you need an easy way to carry it.
The sheath is to the machete as the holster is to the handgun; no matter how regularly you use your machete the time will come where you need to put it down to free up your hands.
Instead of sticking it in a stump or setting it down on the ground where it could become lost or result in an accident, it would be best if you can sheathe it on your hip.
The purpose of the sheath is to securely hold the machete and also protect the edge and the point from damage while protecting you from the edge and the point in turn!
Mark my words that a machete left sitting around carelessly will eventually result in accidental injury. These are large, sharp tools that should be treated with the appropriate respect in terms of safety.
Making a sheath is not nearly as involved as making the machete itself, but it does require a little bit of skill.
Luckily, the basic process is easy to learn and is adaptable to all kinds of materials, from leather and nylon to cardboard or styrene paneling in a pinch.
Even if you go with a simple two-piece riveted design secured by a strap and buckle, make sure you attach belt loops so you can hang the sheath from your waist.
Alternately, you might equip your sheath with a sling in a fashion similar to a long gun so you can carry the machete on your back or in front of you and remove it just as easily.
Compared to most other knives that you might rely on in the field and around your property, a machete will be subjected to substantial impact forces.
This has a way of putting even the best fasteners to a severe test, and this is most noticeable when it comes to your grips. Chances are after a couple of hours of hard work, you might start to notice your grips getting a little wobbly.
This is annoying, for sure, but more importantly it is a significant safety and performance problem. Wobbly grips will lead to hotspots and pinches that will blister your hands terribly, and eventually the attachment between grip and machete will fail.
Potentially you could lose control of the blade, severely injuring yourself or someone else.
You can significantly slow or even prevent this occurrence by using a thin epoxy bead between your grip slabs or scales and the tang of the machete.
Standard, two-part epoxy that is rated for use on tools and other high vibration applications that will work fine. It will serve to reduce the effects of impact that could loosen your grips and also provide an even stronger bond to the tang.
Sure, it could prove to be a bear if you ever want to change grips, but I like the cheap insurance epoxy provides for using my DIY machete.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
It absolutely can. If you pay attention during the design, construction and treatment processes, particularly when it comes to tempering the edge, your DIY machete can hold up just as well or even better than many mass produced store-bought versions.
You should keep in mind that in many parts of the world cutting and chopping tools like machetes are often crafted from high quality scavenged steels, everything from lawn mower blades like the one we demonstrated here to leaf springs from cars and everything in between.
These tools are often used for generations, and by necessity. This should inform you that a properly made example will endure just fine. Carbon steel is quite tough!
That’s a valid question. You need to consider how much your time is worth, whether or not you have the needed materials and tools on hand, and potential lost opportunity costs if you aren’t already an experienced amateur bladesmith. In the end, it might not be worth your time at all.
That being said, there is an X-factor you should consider. The techniques demonstrated here are versatile and adaptable to a variety of austere conditions. You don’t need a fancy machine shop or a bunch of high-tech equipment to fashion a frighteningly effective machete from a scavenged piece of scrap steel.
Potentially, this might be one tool that you could reliably produce with a little bit of effort in the aftermath of a societal collapse. I think you can make a great case for adding this to your prepping skill set as an insurance policy against loss in the future.
Normally yes, if you are strictly considering the knife or machete as a practical exercise in the art of knife making.
However, for our purposes, the steel of the lawn mower blade has already been forged and further refined prior to ever being installed on a lawn mower in the first place. All we are doing is reshaping it, reprofiling it and then tempering the edge, if necessary.
Pretty much every lawn mower blade that I investigated was made out of high- to medium-carbon content steel. This allows them to be made quite sharp, but also flexible and durable enough to withstand impacts on hard objects like rocks, thick branches, in ground utilities and the like.
When you think about it, this makes them pretty much picture perfect for a machete which can be expected to withstand similar impacts and abuse.
Don’t get too caught up in the idea that you need to forge the steel yourself to make a proper machete or other knife. It is totally okay to repurpose existing steel for the job, no forging required!
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.
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.