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How Sharp Do Machetes Need to Be?

A machete for survival purposes is intended to fill the gap between a bushcraft knife and an axe. The blade on a machete needs to chop through wood, process food, and cut cordage. The edge needs to handle overhead chopping blows into branches and vegetation without chipping or deforming and fine enough to slice through rope or make feather-sticks.

So what would the edge requirements be for a machete blade to give optimal sharpness for all the tasks an outdoorsman may call on the machete to perform?

The optimal edge angle for a machete depends on what you use it for. Whatever the angle, the blade needs to be maintained to the point that it is sharp enough to shave with but still with enough metal behind the edge to support the impact of heavy blows.

The shape of a machete blade makes it a great all-purpose outdoor or survival tool. The sharp point is excellent for making small holes, while the edge just below the tip is perfect for scraping.

The curve’s belly towards the front of the blade is great for chopping through thicker material such as branches and vines with an overhead swing of the machete!

The long straight edge behind the curve does an excellent job of slicing smaller material such as in food processing. Should you want to get your machete to the optimal sharpness for survival or homesteading, then the information below will put you on the right track to maintain your edge!

Edge Geometry For A Machete

Generally, when you get your machete from the supplier, it does not have much of an edge on it. Manufacturers often do this so that the new owner can put whatever edge on that they need depending on the intended purpose.

For those readers who are not used to working with blades, the sharp edge of a knife or any other blade, sometimes called the secondary bevel, can be at different angles, which gives the edge certain characteristics that are good for certain functions but not good for others.

Thin blades, such as a chef’s knife, generally have an edge angle of between 17 to 25 degrees. This makes the edge razor thin and very sharp, but susceptible to chipping or becoming dull quickly if used for chopping instead of slicing.

A bushcraft or survival knife will have an edge angle of 21 to 30 degrees, depending on the thickness of the blade. This gives the blade a sharp enough edge to do fine work, but with enough metal behind the edge to support it for tasks such as processing firewood.

If you are going to use your machete for lighter work similar to a bushcraft knife, then an angle of 25 to 30 degrees should be ample.

If, however, you are going to be hacking your way through a jungle, the optimum angle would be 30 to 35 degrees.

The edge angle of 30 to 35 degrees will give more mass and weight behind the sharp edge to allow the blade to slice through thicker material without deforming or quickly becoming dull.

Once you have decided on the appropriate edge angle for your machete, the trick is to get that edge on the blade!

How Sharp Should Your Machete Be?

Whatever the angle you select as the best option for the way you use your machete, the fine cutting edge needs to be as sharp as it can be.

Many people stop too short when sharpening their machete, instead of going that extra bit with a finer grit abrasive to get a really sharp edge!

A blade with an edge of 30 degrees can be taken to a shaving-sharpness as easily as a 25-degree edge.

The sharpness of the edge depends on how fine you take it during sharpening, and how much you polish the final edge, which is why I even use a strop on the edge of my machete blade.

A machete is a multi-purpose tool used for processing larger material as well as for fine work such as carving wood to make pegs or making feather-sticks for starting a survival fire.

These tasks all require the machete to at least be as sharp as any bushcraft knife that you carry.

You want your machete to have as sharp an edge as possible to maximize its cutting efficiency for the task you have planned for it.

How To Sharpen Your Machete

There are many ways of getting a good edge on your machete, and many people have their own methods that they have learned, and they stick to these methods.

If you are a new machete owner, you may be tempted to take it to a shop to get it professionally sharpened. While this is an acceptable option, the ethos of survival and self-sufficiency is that you learn to do these tasks yourself.

A professional sharpening job will put a great edge on your machete, but you will have learned nothing.

You will need to maintain it yourself anyway, as you cannot take it to the shop every time it needs sharpening, so it is best that you learn the skill at some point!

Some people feel intimidated by the size of the blade and feel like it is too difficult a size for them to take on. It is, however, pretty much the same as sharpening other blades, but a little extra patience is required due to the blade size.

Some Tools For Sharpening

Sharpening your machete can be done with your preferred knife sharpening method, which can involve expensive tools or simple, cheap items from your local hardware store.

  • Belt grinder. If you have one of these machines, it makes a great machete sharpener and allows you to easily sharpen the entire length of the blade. The large variety of various grits of belts you can get for these machines will enable you to take the machete all the way to its final edge.
  • Grinding wheel. This tool usually has stones of different grits to put the initial edge on your machete, but you will usually need to use higher grit abrasives to put the final finish on the edge.
  • Oil-stones And wet-stones. These stones also come in various increments of grits, but you will need multiple stones to get to your final finish. This method is also labor-intensive and requires a fairly high level of skill to maintain the angle across the length of the blade.
  • Files and sandpaper. These are probably the simplest and cheapest sharpening tools you can use to get a good edge on your machete. With a standard bastard-file, you will be able to rough out the main shape of your edge and get the angles right. Then with progressively finer grits of sandpaper, you can hone the edge to a mirror-finish and razor-sharpness. This process is slower but gives you much more control over the shape and angle of the edge.

Many people use a combination of these sharpening methods, using what tools they have available and develop a process that works for them.

A leather strop is recommended to finish off the edge, and often the edge can be maintained with a simple stropping once the final edge has been achieved.

A Sharpening Jig

My preferred method is to lay in the initial edge with a file or a belt sander and then use a jig with various grits of sandpaper to get to the final edge.

I have a homemade jig that has a vertical post with holes drilled into it for various edge angles. I use a metal shaft through can be placed at whichever height that corresponds to the angle. The opposite end of the shaft has a flat plate where I can attach various grits of sandpaper to fine-tune the edge. The blade is secured a fixed distance from the vertical post to maintain the correct angle.

This process takes a little patience, but the edge is straight and even across the length of the blade.

Conclusion

Most people are all familiar with the saying that a blunt tool is a dangerous tool, and this also applies to your machete.

While it is not necessary and indeed probably not possible to get your machete scalpel-sharp, it should at least be sharp enough to easily shave the hair off your arm. It is important to maintain your blade tools with as sharp an edge as possible. This makes the blade easier to use and also safer as less force has to be used to get the edge to cut through the material.

Frank Pearmain

As a homesteader, survivalist, and previously a safari guide in Africa, I have extensive bush and wilderness experience. I am passionate about living a self-sufficient, off-grid lifestyle and continuously learn and strive toward that goal!

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