SOG Kukri, Bolo or Cutlass Machetes
By Mike Bondra
The term ‘machete’ has changed over the centuries, but in general has referred to a short bladed implement that isn’t quite a sword, yet not quite an axe. Used both for slicing and chopping, these simple tools have been used by workers in fields and woods, as well as on the battlefield. A wise man once said “a workman’s tool can be a dangerous weapon, if used properly”, and the machete is the poster child for this statement. In different settings and societies, the names vary as well as the designs, since form needs to fit function, but the basics still remain. In general, the length of the blade needs to be sufficient that it can develop a sweeping arc for cutting, and be light in weight (around 0.1 to 0.2 pounds). The handle needs to be comfortable for long days of field work, and additional items such as the scabbard and lanyard complete the package. You will find a lot of variance in the shape and thickness of the blades, and this is all based on the task at hand. If you plan on cutting light grasses and vines, then a thin, whippy blade with a very sharp edge will best suited. Heavier chopping of limbs or harder wood saplings is best suited for a thicker blade with a wide shape at the end to aid in chopping.
Since all of these designs also lend themselves well to the art of war, the machete has been used in about every culture for this purpose, and still holds a place of utility and honor today. In some South American and African nations, machetes remain standard issue hand weapons for troops, and the flag of Angola features a Machete, along with a cog-wheel. SOG, long known for knives and tools, has produced their own take on the machete, and has an offering of shapes and designs from different cultures.
The ones I had the pleasure of using were the SOGFARI – Bolo Machete, the SOGFARI – Kukri Machete, and the SOGFARI – Cutlass Machete. All three are made of 3Cr13 high carbon steel and are shipped with a hollow ground edge. The full tang design has a hard-cased black finish, and has saw teeth opposite of the blade edge. Each machete had an ergonomically designed Kraton rubber handle with aggressive knurling that provides a sure grip even when wet. The handles are all holed so you can add your own lanyard, and the tang extends past the grip and forms spikes that can be used to pound or scrape (what exactly you hit, it up to you). All three also come with unique nylon sheaths, each designed to hold the specific style securely. Finally they come with something that just doesn’t fit well into any official specification – they all look really cool! At a manufacturer recommended price of $35 each (although you can find them online for around $25), they are well worth strapping on your leg.
I took all three out with me for an afternoon of tree cutting and brush clearing in the woods of Central Pennsylvania, and put them through their paces. Before I get to the individual descriptions, let me address some attributes that all three had in common. The first thing I was intrigued by was the sheath design. With three unique blade configurations, each sheath needs to be designed to safely hold the blades for transport and carry into the field. The sheaths design that SOG came up with uses both snaps and a zipper down the back length of the blade. Some folk may find this to be an issue, since it is almost impossible to draw the machetes one-handed, but I think the added safety of the snap and zipper combination is worth the extra time to draw the blades, especially with the saw edge on the back side. Even with the added time, I was still able to out-draw the birch sapling that I intended to chop down. The other commonality all three blades have is they are light weight and flexible. All share a blade width of 0.1 inches, which is on the light side in my opinion. This isn’t something that should be an issue when you use it, as long as you remember this isn’t an axe. That being said, I will be honest and say that one blade chipped when I took a bite out of an oak limb – it may have been as much user error as anything.
The first weapon of choice on that chilly winter morning was the SOGFARI Cutlass Machete. The blade shape and style are evocative of the 17th century French and English sabers commonly used by sailors and pirates alike. An interesting side note, the term ‘cutlass’ is actually used in English-speaking Caribbean locations (Jamaica, Grenada, etc…) to refer to a machete for non-military use. The SOG version boasts the longest length of the three at 18.8 inches, and has a blade length of 12.9 inches. The traditional widening near the tip allows for cuts to larger, thicker limbs, but the saw edge may be a better choice on this style. As there was a cold rain falling when I used the Cutlass, I really appreciate the handle design, and if felt solid in my grip. At a weight of 15.3 ounces, at was an easy swing.
After cutting out a decent walking path to the standing dead tree I was going to fell, I switched over to the SOGFARI – Bolo Machete. The bolo style comes from the Philippines, and has a long history of tool use, as well as a distinguished pedigree in combat. The martial arts style from the same area, called Eskrima, utilizes bolo knives in training and forums, and is a nasty thing to be facing. One other little bit of trivia is the use of the term ‘bolo’ by many in the US military to refer to failing at a task or test. It originated in the Philippines during the Spanish American War, when recruits who failed their marksmanship would not be issues a rifle and were given only a bolo knife. This bit of information (gathered God knows where from my past) was rattling around my head as I was clearing the saplings to form my cutting ring. Fortunately, both I and the Bolo Machete proved our worth, and the 12 inch leaf-shaped blade style made short work of the nearby birch. Similar to the Cutlass, the overall length of 18 inches felt good, and not too long. The Bolo Machete is also the heaviest of the three offerings, weighing 17 ounces. I think these contributing factors were what made me feel that the Bolo Machete was the best of the three at cutting heavier wood.
After dropping my tree and sectioning it up into manageable sections to carry back to my saw horse, I needed to widen my original path. Thus the SOGFARI – Kukri Machete came out and was put to work. I have a soft spot for kukri knives, and my usual choice is a kukri a good friend of my brought back for me from a village blacksmith in Nepal. I was pleased to see that SOG added not just the distinctive style, but even the little detail of a simple notch where the blade meets the handle. Similar to the other two, the Kukri Machete had an overall length of 18 inches, a 12 inch blade length, and weighed 15 ounces. The rain that had abated while I was cutting had returned, but again the knurled Kraton grip did its job, and I quickly had a trail wide enough to carry out my sections. Perhaps it was because I’m more used to the cutting style of the kukri, but this particular machete seems to perform the best of the three for me. With minimal effort, I was able to clear the undergrowth and small samplings that remained in my way.
The right tool for the right job is an important lesson that man has learned through the years, and the machete is a great example of a tool that has adapted itself to fit the task and environment at hand. So when you’re in the market for an inexpensive machete set with a little panache, the SOGFARI line is an excellent choice. With the variety of styles, the Kukri, Bolo or Cutlass should fit the bill for whatever brush you have in your way, and look really cool as well.