Contrary to my usual practice of buying a knife because it looks cool or has some feature that I don’t have on another one, or because it is a larger or smaller version of one I have or because the Moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, my most recent purchase was motivated by a particular purpose. I was cleaning up a section of the fencerow with my trimmer a couple of weeks ago, and I kept running into brush and briars that would not quite succumb to the .095 line. I could have switched to my metal brushcutter head, but that meant I would have to go to the house. I could have used the brushcutter head to begin with, but it is slower going in the lighter stuff, and I can’t cut as close without sparking rocks and whatnot. I have a machete, but it is rather flimsy. I have some big knives, but they don’t have enough reach to keep me out of the multi-floral rose briars. I have axes, especially my “landscaping” ax, but it is a little heavy to drag everywhere. Plus, on overhanging briars and brambles, you have to fight your way in to get to where the ax can cut down closer to the roots.
I decided that what I needed was something like the machete but with a little more weight and cutting power. Since I was ordering a tactical shotgun case anyway, I decided to throw in another twenty bucks and try the Cold Steel Magnum Kukri (seems to be CS’s spelling) Machete. The Magnum has an 18” blade and is 22” overall. Blade thickness along the spine is about a tenth of an inch (3mm), fairly substantial for a machete. The nylon sheath is nicely done with rivets, some plastic reinforcement on the end, a solid belt loop, and two snap closures on the dull side of the blade to retain the knife but allow it be drawn and re-inserted without a struggle. The grip is sharply textured polypropylene, providing a good, secure grip, and a reasonably comfortable one with a palm swell and flared ends. The grip seems solidly attached. Pounding on hardwood has so far caused no loosening at all.
The thing about any sharp tool is that you have a potential for injury. Some people claim axes are more dangerous than big knives. For knives less than a foot or so in length, that is probably true. But when you move to a machete having a foot and a half blade, you have to pay attention to what you are doing when you use it. Some friends were on a missions trip to Central America with their teenage son. They were literally hacking their way through the jungle with machetes. The teenager made an awkward swing and sliced into his leg. It was a miracle that he survived without severe blood loss or infection. I have been swinging an ax since I got my first double-bit True Temper for my eighth birthday without any injuries that I can recall. I have been cautious and lucky. My son has been hurt several times while using a chainsaw -- sliced into his boot, and dropped a limb on his head. As Brother Dave used to say, “Get away from that wheelbarrow, James Louis. You know you don’t know nothin’ ‘bout machinery.”
Anyway, back to the CS Magnum, I was not initially impressed with the blade geometry. It does not appear to have as much curve as the typical shorter khukuri, and I thought this would render it less suitable as a strong chopping blade. The edge, as it came from the box, was also not ready for action. I went to work on it with a large, coarse stone – a file would have worked better, but the stone was neared at hand. After fifteen or twenty minutes, I finished the edge with a diamond stone. I did not want to thin it down too much. The last thing we need on a hickory sprout or when chopping into a dry cedar is an edge that will roll. The more ax-like the edge, the better, but we still like it sharp.
After sharpening, I took the machete out and attacked some polk that had been threatening on nearly a daily basis. The blade slipped right through the tough, fibrous stalks and toppled the lurking menace with almost no effort. Next I tried a few lighter bits of scrub and weeds. At that point I decided that the blade curvature might not be as bad as I had anticipated. I turned to the real test and began chopping some limbs and saplings that needed to be cleared out. The Cold Steel performed satisfactorily. It is not an ax, but it is a decent, durable blade, and it will take down tough sprouts, briars, and saplings as well as trimming limbs off larger trees without requiring too much of the user, and without getting bent out of shape itself.
On the plus side, we have price, grip comfort, and sheath quality, blade strength and ease of sharpening. I really like the overall length for working on thorny stuff. The negatives can mainly be reduced to the fact that I wish it were a little heavier. I am not sure that is a legitimate complaint. After swinging it for a few hours, I imagine it will feel plenty heavy.