Type of blades
The same considerations practically
apply to axes, hatchets and big blades, parangs kukris, goloks,
Profiles of wood chopping blades of
any kings vary from convex (goloks, felling axes) to flat V (axes,
parangs), saber grinds (leukkos, parangs, kukris) to hollow grinds
(limbing axes, some big knives, kukris), with all kind of mixes
between the genres (generally with a convex edge), depending on the
specific purpose of the tool and the culture that resolved the
While it seems that convexes are
good for shaping and control, Vs for going straight, and hollows for
limbing and penetration, things differ in dense or soft woods, and
thick or thin saplings.
And I have not taken into account
weight, length, geometry and balance!
Basically, I am telling you that it
is worth trying your blades carefully, as you cannot know how they
will behave by just looking at them.
Type of sheath
Some sheaths are more secure than others. Sheaths can be made
from all sorts of material, including wood, leather, plastic (Kydex,
Concealex), cordura, etc. Most will be easily cut or split by the
edge, should an impact occur, or just when sheathing or unsheathing.
17 " of razor blade can cut a wooden sheath easily if is not
properly done. Some sheaths do not have a retension system of the
blade, invent one! I hate being tied all the time to a big blade,
because there are time I need to be free from it. Climbing a tree is
an example. So the system could be disposable. A baldrick is fine by
Sheathing and unsheathing
A general principle, while holding a sheath with a big blade, and
drawing the blade from or into the sheath, is to hold the sheath
firmly, the hand well away from the mouth (so that the edge cannot
cut you), in a vertical position (if there is no retainment strap,
or if it has been released). The fingers should not at any time be
on the sheath part that is under the cutting edge (you hold the
sheath using a U of your hand, palm on the side of the sheath that
holds the spine of the blade -- an alternative is to hold the sheath
in a way the edge is up, and unsheathe the blade, letting the spine
rest and slide against the sheath, like you’d do for a katana). The
main principle is to never trust the sheath.
Secure sheathing /
unsheathing, note the open hand over the sheath and distance of the
holding hand from the mouth. the main disavantage is an usecure
grip, and that the edge may cut through the sheath with gravity and
time. But anyway it is worth describing, as at least it saves your
The katana way,
sheath and blade up-side down, edge up, you let the spine rest on
the wood/material of the sheath. You do not change your grip on the
handle, just flick the wrist up. Same thing for unsheathing, you
hold the handle in the right position from the start by flicking the
wrist. Again, note the distance of the holding hand from the mouth.
This is probably the best method ever, it saves the scabbard, the
edge, and the fingers.
Chopping and machete work
position: hitting away from me, with a movement from the left to my
right side (the wall in this case !) . This has the advantage that the arm cannot close
around me like in an embrace, and therefore, in case of deflection,
the blade is less likely to come back towards me, my legs or bust . Also it allows me to hit with the arm in
extension, therefore the blade is at the maximal distance I can get
from me when it impacts. It also allows getting more speed, as the
position is safer. If you need to angle the blow at say some 45
degrees from vertical, you’ll need to take more care again, as
bouncing back due to a glance or a deflection is always possible.
These blades where
sunk in the banana trunk using the exact movement I just described
There was a glance
on this one. I did hit at 30-45 degrees, but giving a lot of energy,
and the blade ended vertically stuck. The tree is soft and large, so
it stayed there, but it could have been bad on different wood, as it
could have bounced back, after taking a chip...
Length of blade or handle
Shorter blades if they get deflected
are more likely to come back to you.
If a felling axe gets deflected or
glances, it will not cause a problem to your safety, because the
head will hit the ground. If a hatchet gets deflected and comes back
to you, it will hit you at knee level , as the handle is not long
enough to allow the ground to protect you.
The same considerations apply for
longer and shorter machete type blades.
It is obvious that for any wood
cutting or chopping task, any tree felling or limbing, a well
sharpened blade will work better. Not only it will make a better
job, but it will be much less tiring, and more easily controllable,
as it requires less energy to perform the same tasks. So my advice
is to keep the edges well sharpened and polished. It is always a
good idea to carry a burnisher steel and some sharpening tools with
The downside of this is that a well
sharpened tool will also cut you just as well, so it deserves even
There are a few things that can be dangerous when
using a big blade:
A Glance is when the handle tries to turn in your hand while
hitting the material. It often shows that you were probably
applying too much force to the blow, but can also come from the
design of the knife. The blade can turn in the material, and the
trajectory be modified to a point it comes out of the material,
and back to you or another person at the same speed it came in.
Beware of kukris regarding this aspect. Generally, blades whit a
lot of forward curve are prone to glances, the same way hatchets
are, for the reason that the cutting edge is under the dynamic axe
created by the arm, thus in an unstable dynamic balance, hand and
handle.8 stitches in my big toe, down to the bone, and 10 on my
shoes can attest of this.
- Draw cut or sabre effect:
This is encountered on backward curved blades that look like
sabres (golok, parangs, sabres...). When you hit the material, it
tends to push in your hand towards you. If you pull the blade, at
that moment, thus taking advantage of the natural tendency, the
blades goes slicing the material, as well as push cutting. All
users of goloks have noticed this, the problem is that when you
think the blade will get stacked in thick material, it goes
through. It could be very dangerous if a part of you, or another
person is in the way. Goloks are likely to do this. Do it once,
and you will quickly understand why the saber was a so feared
cavalry weapon ! This is why being right handed, I hit from left
to right, away from me, and not the opposite.
- Shearing effect:
This is encountered on forward curved blades that look like
khukuries (bolos ...). When you hit the material, it tends to pull
from your hand. If you take advantage of the natural tendency, by
giving a small rotation forward, the blades goes slicing the
material, as well as push cutting. It is like the draw cut, but
going away from you. The effect is the same, and this is a reason
why khukuries are so valued by outdoor people.
The blade hits something unexpected, or something expected at a
wrong angle, and is deflected from its expected trajectory. It
could be messy if you, or anybody, are in the trajectory. Try to
avoid movements that would cause the blade to pass too near or too
parallel to your body.
- Loose blades in sheath:
The blade is loose in the sheath, meaning it does not stay in
the sheath when the horizontal level is passed, this is a danger,
you go with a huge blade in it’s sheath on your belt, securely,
then bend to pick something on the floor, and ZZZZZip you get 17
inches of razor sliding out, and getting in an unknown direction
just near you, because you passed the horizontal level. Avoid the
reflex to grab the thing!. I always secure my big blades, by
adjusting a piece of leather in the mouth of the sheath, which
holds the blade by friction. When you do this, you must take care
to adjust the leather thickness, in order to avoid splitting the
scabbard. It does not need to hold in an up-side down position,
but a good 30 degrees is a lot of safety added.
- Energy from the material cut:
Bouncing saplings. Branch falling towards you. Bent sapling
releasing it’s energy in your guts or face. Tree falling an
unexpected direction. Fruits falling on your head. Dead branches
suddenly deciding to fall. Base of the tree kicking terrain hump,
or bouncing because of the trunk curvature. Barber chair tree
because of bad undercut... These things arrive, learn about proper
axemanship and related safety before felling and limbing a tree.
- Unsafe tool:
The handle is cracked, or is becoming loose. For axes and
hatchets this can sometimes be fixed by soaking the head in
linseed or tung oil. For knives, machetes, goloks, parangs, it
needs a repair adapted to the assembly type.
Basic precautions of use
- Other people must be outside the
reach of your tool when the arm is extended, in front, on the
side and behind you. Be aware of their position, they may come
closer to see what the hell you are doing with this HUGE blade.
Warn them not to approach.
- Cut away from you , this also
mean extending the arms, if needed.
- Take the time to learn the blade
first using moderate blows.
- Do not rush, do not run with
an unsheathed big blade, axe or hatchet, think your movements
carefully. Be stable on your feet, or put the
blade back in the sheath if not.
- When carrying, remember to keep it straight in
the sheath, or put a friction pad. Sliding blades are a danger to
you and others.
- Do not handle the bare blade to
someone else, sheathe the blade first, handle the whole lot.
- Avoid if possible full force
blows, let gravity work for you. This is not always possible,
but avoids glances and tiredness. Keep blade well sharpened.
- Try to make the trajectory of the
blade as straight as possible.
- Avoid the edge entering the
material at an angle different from the angle of the blow.
This avoids glances.
- When tired, stop, breathe, rest.
Most accidents happen when tired. Recently a friend cut his knee
(just 2 stitches, he was lucky), because he was tired, and did not
control the blade well enough anymore.
- Observe, think and choose.
Carefully select the place where you intend to work, clear it,
check the possible dangers of the work you want to do (inspect the
tree’s high branches, etc).
- Protect yourself. Gloves,
glasses, steel toes shoes, thick pants are not that stupid. Kevlar
gloves and pants exist for gardeners and workers, and are not that
expensive. If you are not protected, act accordingly, being much
more careful and less precipitated.
- Loose or cracked handles must
be repaired prior to use.
Using a big blade is a bit like using a charged and armed gun,
except the range is closer, and it can hit backwards and on the