Over the years I have had several requests for machete reviews. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to deliver. The machete is a timeless tool. Although it is most readily identified with jungle survival, its applications are far reaching and potentially adaptable to a wide variety of climates. I happen to live in SW Florida and can safely say that the machete is well suited to this semi-tropical region carpeted with fibrous palms and grasses, thick vines, and relatively soft woods.
I’ve had the ability to sample a number of machetes over the years, but can still think of no better machete start with than the Ontario 18″ Machete. The model number is 6145 ad the knife is sometimes referred to as the “military machete.” Whatever you want to call it, this is a high end take on a classic tool. This knife will cost a little more than a $10 or $15 Chinese machete, but I humbly submit that this American made piece is well worth the premium. If adequately maintained the Ontario Machete will provide a lifetime of service and is an extremely rugged and capable tool.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
This particular Ontario machete has an overall length of 23″, an 18″ blade, and weighs in the neighborhood of 1 lb 7 ounces. This is a heavy machete with a thick 1/8″ (3.2mm) blade. Ontario makes their machetes in 3 different sizes: 12″, 18″, and 24″ blades. I like the 18″ size. It has good reach for clearing light vegetation, but the thick steel has enough meat behind it to tackle much harder tasks. I feel that the 24″ machete is too heavy for my purposes, while the 12″ model lacks the reach I want for a machete. Of course, everyone’s needs are a little different. I like the 18″ configuration and think it hits a nice sweet spot for my purposes.
The blade itself is a classic latin machete pattern. The knife features a partial flat grind that travels about 1/2″ up the blade. I have read that the edges these knives ship with can be kind of hit or miss – some arrive very nicely ground with shaving sharp edges, others are uneven and dull. My edge was serviceable and able to cut paper – completely adequate for the kind of bushwhacking I put it up to.
Ontario selected 1095 high carbon steel for the blade, and heat treated it to approximately 55 HRc. I have talked about 1095 time and time again, but it’s a great tool steel that can get nice and sharp while remaining incredibly tough. It’s a great choice for a heavy duty chopper like this, and the heat treat has been done right. This is where the Ontario steps away from the $10 and $20 machetes you will find at Wal-Mart. Those tools are absolute crap and will not hold an edge like this machete which tend to warp, bend, and even break in half under use. Ontario coats the blade with a zinc phosphate coating that has held up really well in my testing and use.
Speaking of testing and use, lets talk a little about what I did with this machete. Since I recently moved into a new apartment I had to get a little creative. I figured hacking through 2x4s in my living room, while thoroughly satisfying, was neither a good test of the knife nor a sane strategy for retaining my security deposit. So I moseyed on over to a piece of private land a few miles into the interior of South Florida.
A fire raged through these parts a few years ago, and the charred remnants of scrub pine still stand sentry to the sandy trails and switchbacks the landowners have carved through their property. I spent the better part of an afternoon clearing low lying palmetto plants, chopping through downed limbs, and even felling a fairly substantial dead pine tree (and nearly killing myself and my camera in the process – don’t try this at home). The Ontario machete exceeded my expectations in every regard.
The knife is so sturdy and heavy it’s almost too much to wield for traditional machete work. If all you are looking to do is clear very light brush, you may find this to be too much knife for your purposes. I won’t claim to be in great physical shape, but I think the 1/8″ steel will wear down even a practiced arm after a while. It’s a big and heavy knife and throwing that much carbon steel around quickly soaked my shirt with sweat.
I will say I pushed this machete far beyond the natural limits of this kind of tool. I think it is important to emphasize the bad experiences I have had with cheaper machetes that have bent and even broke in half on me. I took out a 8″ diameter tree (a dead tree) with this knife and the edge was still sharp. This is thing is a beast. If you are looking for a budget chopper but still want quality I think you will be pleased with the capabilities of this knife.
Handle and Ergonomics
The Ontario machete is a full tang knife with thick plastic handle slabs riveted in place. It’s an extremely strong design and it comfortably fills the hand. There is an extended pinky notch on the back of the handle that helps hold your hand in place. The corners are rounded and comfortable and there is a hole for a lanyard.
Having spent some time with this thing sweating under the southern sun, I will say that I noticed a distinct absence of traction with this handle design. I’m not one for overly textured handles, as they can quickly beat up your hands, but I advise either making use of the lanyard hole or wrapping the handle in some sort of athletic tape. I will say that I had no issues with hot spots or blisters.
The Ontario machete does not come with a sheath. It’s ok because many aftermarket sheathes are available. I advise going with a classic plastic Rothco sheath (pictured) over a nylon sheath. The nylon sheathes get torn up easily while the plastic is both reasonably light weight and secure.
I modified my sheath a little by removing the stock belt clip the sheath ships with (it only works with old school military belts), and drilling 2 holes to make a paracord sling. I took some scrap leather and made a little shoulder pad and carry the machete over my shoulder. I then used some ranger bands (thin strips of cut up bicycle tubing) to attach a sharpening stone. Big hat tip to David Canturbury for the idea – it all came from his YouTube video that you can watch here.
I ended up spending an extra $15 or so for the sheath and sharpening stone, and maybe half an hour modifying the sheath, but the end result carries well and is quite comfortable. I highly recommend this style of sheath and carrying configuration.
Ontario Machete Review – Final Thoughts
The Ontario machete is an excellent all-around chopper. While it can certainly handle light brush and grasses, chores typically associated with machete like tasks, the knife is overbuilt to handle far heavier jobs as well. Ontario’s offering is made of solid materials, benefits from a classic design, and is well made. I am of the opinion that every man should own a machete, and if you can only have one then the Ontario should be at or near the top of your list.
This is a little more expensive machete than the bargain bin crap that you will find at big box stores, but for around $50 you can put together a machete and sheath system that will serve you very well and last a lifetime.
The only potential downside I see to this kind of machete is the weight. If you are looking to work with this machete in a field for 8 hours a day you either have to have way better technique than me or resemble The Rock, because this is a heavy knife capable of far more than light clearing tasks. In that case you may want to consider a smaller and/or lighter option.
- Overall length is 24"
- Made of 1095 Carbon Steel
- Blade is hardened to 50-55 HRC
- Molded plastic and riveted handle
- 18" blade
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