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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.