[muh-shet-ee, -chet-ee]

The machete is a large cleaver-like cutting tool. The blade is typically 50–60 cm (18–24 in) long, usually with a thin blade under 3mm thick. In the English language, an equivalent term is matchet , though the name 'machete' is more commonly known.

The machete is normally used to cut through thick vegetation such as sugar cane or jungle undergrowth but it can also be used as an offensive weapon. There are many specialized designs for different regions, tasks, and budgets.


As a Tool

In tropical and subtropical countries, the machete is frequently used to cut through jungle undergrowth and for agricultural purposes (e.g. cutting sugar cane). Besides this, in Central America it is not uncommon to see a machete being used for such household tasks as cutting large foodstuffs into pieces — much as a cleaver is used — or to perform crude cutting tasks such as making simple wooden handles for other tools. Also, in the Dominican Republic, it's common to see people using machetes for their odd jobs such as splitting open coconuts, working the lawns, or other related activities, also it is the most popular no-fire weapon used by bandits and outlaws.

As a weapon

In many (tropical) countries, a machete is a common and ubiquitous tool. Consequently, it is often the weapon of choice for uprisings . A machete should also be classified as a basic Knife, because it can be used like one. Machetes were the primary weapon used by the Interahamwe militias in the Rwandan Genocide, as well as the distinctive tool/weapon of the Haitian Tonton Macoute. The machete was also one of the most iconic weapons during the Cuban Independence War. Slaves freed by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes agreed to fight against Spain, where their only weapons were the tool they used to cut the sugar cane in the La De Majagua plantation. The Bolo Knife saw plenty of use in the jungles of the Philippines during World War II against the Imperial Japanese Army. As a result, it is a common weapon in the Filipino martial arts known as Kali, Arnis, or Eskrima, as well as the survival knife of the military.

The machete was (and still is) a common sidearm and tool for many ethnic groups in West Africa. Machetes in this role are referenced in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

Some tropical countries have a name for the blow of a machete; the Spanish machetazo is sometimes used in English.

In Trinidad and Tobago, to hit someone with the flat of the blade is termed planass. Although the machete is known in Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere in the West Indies (and also in parts of Africa, such as Nigeria) by the term 'cutlass', it is nevertheless a distinctly agricultural tool first, and a weapon of convenience second, and therefore not a true cutlass.

The Brazilian Army's Instruction Center on Jungle Warfare developed a 10-inch blade machete with a very pronounced clip point. In the same scabbard there's a 5-inch blade Bowie knife and a sharpening stone. This called "jungle kit" is made by Indústria de Material Bélico do Brasil (IMBEL)

Most battles for independence in the Dominican Republic were fought by Dominican patriots using the machete as a weapon of choice; this led to the well known battle cry "Machete, carajo!"(Machete, damn it!) which has been credited to General Gregorio Luperón during the Restoration War. This battle cry is still used to date by many military units of the modern day Dominican Republic Armed Forces such as "Los Cazadores" or "The Hunters of the Constanza Valley" and the use of a machete as a symbol and a field tool within their ranks.

In Hong Kong, the machete is a widely used weapon by the Triads. It is sometimes referred to as a "watermelon knife".

In South Africa. (Refer to Cultural variation below)

In Venezuela the machete originated as an rudimentary version of the Spanish sabre. It was used by the natives and Venezuelan patriots against the Spanish Army, fighting for independence. In modern times is used as a cutting tool for agriculture, hunting or clearing very dense vegetation. The Venezuelan machete is similar to a very large kitchen knife / dinner knife.

Cultural variations

The panga is a variant used in East Africa and southern Africa. This name may be of Swahili etymology; do not confuse this tool with the Panga fish. The panga tool has a broader blade when compared to the machete and usually has either a spear-point or a trailing-point tip. This tool was used as a weapon in South Africa particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s when the former province of Natal was wracked by conflict between the African National Congress and the Zulu-nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party. The panga is more usually employed in the cutting of sugar cane.

In the Philippines, the bolo is a very similar tool, but with the blade swelling just before the tip to make the knife even more tip-heavy for chopping. A longer and a more pointed tip bolo or itak (intended for combat) was also used during the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish, and later a signature weapon of guerillas in the Philippine-American War. Filipinos still use machetes for everyday cutting and chopping of dense vegetation and meats. Machetes are also commonly found in most Filipino kitchens, having sets on the walls for show and other sets for everyday usage.

Other similar tools include the parang and the golok (from Malaysia and Indonesia); however, these tend to have shorter, thicker blades with a primary grind, and are more effective on woody vegetation. The Nepalese kukri is a curved blade which is often used for similar tasks. Some types of Chinese saber (dao) are similar.

In the Southern Brazil (state of Rio Grande do Sul), the machete is largely used by the native inhabitants. It's used to open ways through the bushes, and was used to fight against the Brazilian Empire in the farrapos' war (War of Tatters). There, the machete is called "facão" or "facón" (literally "big knife"). Today, there is a dance called dança dos facões (machetes' dance), that is danced in this region. In this dance, performed only by men, the dancers knock their machetes while dancing, simulating a battle.

In the Northwest Brazil, Maculelê, an Afro Brazilian dance, can also be performed with machetes of about 40 cm, used primarily to cut way through tall grass areas.

Similar historic tools/weapons

The modern machete is very similar to some forms of the medieval falchion (a type of sword distinguished by the blade being wider towards the tip than the hilt), differing mainly in the lack of a guard and a simpler hilt, though some machetes do have a guard for greater protection of hands during work.

The kopis was an ancient Greek tool/weapon comparable to the machete. The makhaira was also similar, but was intended primarily to be a weapon rather than a tool.

The seax was a Germanic tool/weapon that was also similar in function, although different in shape.

The Fascine Knife is a somewhat similar tool/weapon used by European armies throughout the late 18th to early 20th centuries. Whereas infantry were usually issued short sabers as sidearms, engineers and artillerymen often received fascine knives, as besides being sidearms they also served as useful tools for the construction of fortifications and other utilitarian tasks. They differ from machetes in that they generally have far thicker, tapered blades optimized for chopping European vegetation (the thin, flat blade of the machete is better for soft plants found in tropical environments), sword-like hilts and guards, and sometimes a sawback-blade. Some later models could be fixed to rifles as bayonets as well.


In manufacturing, both the materials used and the shape of the machete itself is important to make a good machete. In the past, the best and most famous manufacturer of machetes was Collins Company of Collinsville, Connecticut. Indeed, it was so famous that all good machetes were called "un Collins."

Since the 1950s however, manufacturing shortcuts have resulted in a quality decline of machetes. Today, most modern factory-made machetes are of very simple construction, consisting of a blade and full-length tang punched from a single piece of flat steel plate of uniform thickness (and thus lack a primary grind), and a simple grip of two plates of wood or plastic bolted or riveted together around the tang. Finally, one side is ground down to an edge — although some are made so that the purchaser is expected to finish the sharpening. These machetes are occasionally provided with a simple cord loop as a sort of lanyard, and a canvas scabbard — although in some regions where machetes are valuable, commonly used tools, the users may make decorative leather scabbards for them.

Toughness is important because of the twisting and impact forces that the relatively thin blade may encounter, while edge retention is secondary. Medium to high carbon spring steels such as 1050 to 1095 are well suited to this application (with better machetes using the latter), and are relatively easy to sharpen. Most stainless steel machetes should be avoided, as a lot of high carbon stainless cannot stand up to repeated impacts, and will easily break if abused.

After hardening, many blades are tempered to maximum toughness, often nearly spring tempered. This also makes the blade relatively easier to sharpen.

A properly constructed machete will have a convex or flat primary bevel from the spine to the edge, which is formed by a secondary bevel. Better machetes will also have a slight distal taper.

In popular culture

See also


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