Though the machete is a nearly omnipresent tool throughout most of the developing world, made by dozens of manufactures to hundreds of patterns, we in the United States only have one domestic manufacturer of quality affordable true machetes.
The Ontario Knife Company has been stolidly churning out quality edged goods for over 120 years and during that time has contracted the production of many different tools for the the US Government. Among them, the M1942 machete remains an issue item in slightly modified form 71 years after being type specified. (Or at least it would be a generally issued item if US American service-folk would ever get deployed to a locality whose scenery consisted of anything other than dust, sand, rocks and the foul precipitate of militant Islam.)
Currently produced for the commercial market by the Ontario Knife Company as the 1-18 “Military Machete” (NSN 5110-00-813-1286), occasionally sold as surplus from the DOD to the public, the 1-18 is one of the most widely distributed and common machetes in the US.
Lets give it a look.
The OKC 1-18 generally conforms to the perception of a plain-vanilla “latin” style machete having a straight back, extended ricasso and not-particularly-pointy point. There are some clever subtleties in the design as the blade gently broadens from the ricasso to give a more weight forward balance.
The blade is ground from stock a full 1/8″ thick and is untapered. While not “thick” to the common US American perception of what constitutes a “heavy duty” knife, when compared to most actual working machetes the Ontario seems massive.
This extra thickness isn’t necessarily a good thing since it comes at the price of increased user fatigue and decreased control but does increase chopping performance on light hardwoods. OKC offers a lighter (but still thick by machete standards) “Econo” line of machetes with a .08″ blade thickness.
The blade is coated in an even black phosphated finish. Note that this sort of finish has minimal rust preventative properties unless kept well oiled. In any case, the finish isn’t very durable will soon wear off with usage.
Most machetes are usually shipped dull and the Ontario is no exception. Expect it to be totally dull and unusable out of the box. Usually the OKC machetes will require less finish filing or grinding to establish a working edge as the bevels are closer than on most central or south American machetes.
Ontario uses 1095 steel for their machete blades. While the desired hardness for machete blades is low, OKC’s 1095 will offer better edge retention than most imported carbon steel machetes but can fail catastrophically if pushed beyond its limits. To put it another way, I’ve seen more broken OKCs than I have bent OKCs. Remember folks, it isn’t an axe and it isn’t a prybar.
While the blade of the OKC is of the utmost quality, the grip as delivered is an ergonomic disaster seemingly intended for the inhuman grasp of some sort of anthropomorphic steam driven automaton. The scales will also be poorly fitted to the tang. No surprise in this regard, and quickly and easily remedied by the use of a rasp or other abrasive tool.
The poorly fitted grips aren’t the issue. It is the profile of the grips. While nicely rounded to the rear, the edge side of the scales are knuckle-achingly square.
The shape of the grip may even preclude the use of a proper thumb and forefinger grip without great discomfort for some users. (Specifically those of us possessed of the standard flesh and blood hand configuration.)
The plastic handle scales do have enough thickness to allow the sharp corners to be rounded but another critical flaw exists.
The compression rivets that are used to secure the scales are notorious for repeatedly working loose. Very annoying if you are depending on the tool in the field. If only someone at OKC was paying attention to these endemic flaws and had worked out a fix…oh, what is this?
Well how about that?
This one piece molded-on grip solves most of the issues that the standard 1-18 grip has. No loose rivets. No sharp edges. Well molded, lightly textured with a rounded oval profile. While the D guard does offer some small protection for the hand under limited circumstances this small utility is more than outweighed by the manner in which the guard interferes with the handling of the tool. To restate in more succinct terms, the D guard is often in the damn way. Thankfully it can be easily sawed off and discarded.
The OKC 1-18 usually retails for around the $25 mark from most vendors, and the “improved” version with one piece polymer grip is a few dollars more. While the handle scales of the 1-18 are sub-par they are easily removed and it is a fairly simple (and very rewarding) task for a handy person or blade aficionado to pin on better scales. For those seeking a hard use tool to use with minimal investment of time and effort the “improved” grip is undoubtedly superior.