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FIELD BLADE REVIEWS
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Ontario's Mil Spec Machete vs. Gerber's Gator Machete
I've long been a fan of the US military issue machete as made by Ontario. Few machetes could ever stack up to it, as their blades were too thin or too soft. The Ontario is made from a wonderful grade of spring steel, and hardened as such. This means that it flexes rather than breaking, and that it is hard enough for strenuous chopping, but able to take and hold a decent edge. It's also easily sharpened.
I didn't think I'd find a machete to top the Ontario offering... until the Gerber Gator Machete came along.
The Gerber blade is an all-around great design, and seems to be made from an almost identical spring steel as the military spec model.
First of all, the saw on this machete's spine features extremely aggressive cutting teeth in two staggered rows. It tears through logs and limbs like a champ. There will always be situations where chopping just isn't a great option. I ran across this recently while camping. The area I was in had a lot of old, dead swamp maples laying around. These were nicely seasoned and would burn for a long time. I set about trying to chop these up, and it was like trying to chop steel. My machete which will normally make a nice, 1-2" deep plunge with each stroke was only making little divots on the surface, and it actually hurt my hand to chop from the vibration carried back through the handle. Luckily, I had a very sharp little folding camp saw in my pack, and with that I was able to mow through these logs. Even then, I made the logs long, and used the "lazy-man fire" technique.
In any case, that got me to thinking about an effective saw edge for my machete. I've played with the Ontario saw-back model, but the teeth were not very aggressive in my estimation. I can say in no uncertain terms that the Gerber has a VERY nice saw!
The other key difference between the Ontario and Gerber machetes is the handle. The Ontario has a short, hard plastic handle that begs to be either cord-wrapped or grip-taped for comfort. It also isn't very convenient for those planning to use the saw edge! This Gerber offering has changed all that for the better. Not only is the handle long enough to get a two handed grip if needed, but it's a very comfortable, rubberized grip which is not only comfortable to hold, but also helps to dampen vibration when chopping. Add to this, the fact that this handle design is quite comfortable when using both the blade edge and the saw edge. Bravo to Gerber for designing an effective toolthat is ergonomically pleasing to use.
Finally, I was expecting the sheath to be a cheap canvas offering, but was surprised to find that this sheath is actually a rigid, heavy nylon fabric, and is lined with a plastic inside to protect it from being cut up (a problem with the mil-spec canvas that the Ontario models came with). It also has a velcro strap for retention. I still think the all-plastic sheath that is offered (usually at an additional charge) by Ontario is superior, and I will probably modify one for use with this Gerber machete.
UPDATE: The Gerber handles are reportedly BREAKING under heavy use. If you take it apart, you'll see that the Gerber is NOT a full tang design, and I can see where it might break. I've NEVER seen or heard of breakage issues with an Ontario machete, so this is a definite drawback to the Gerber. In my book, this relegates it to yard tool usage only!
Winner: Design and Ergonomics - Gerber
Winner: Overall Durability and Safety - Ontario
Results: I don't carry my Gerber into the field. It's reserved for backyard brush clearing and limb sawing duty. I DO trust and carry an Ontario saw-back machete, but I've heavily modified and lengthened the handle to make this a more ergonomic field tool. Wish they'd offer it that way, and with the heavy plastic sheaths!
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