Monday, June 19, 2023

An intriguing variation on the "camp knife" or "small machete" theme


A couple of weeks ago we discussed machetes, camp knives, hatchets, axes and tomahawks in terms of their general utility.  Soon thereafter, thanks to the generosity of a reader who wishes to remain anonymous, I received an SP8 Survival Machete (shown below) from Ontario Knife to evaluate.  I've long been interested in this knife, but hadn't had the spare cash to invest in one to try it out.

Knives/machetes like this can be used for many purposes.  In "pure" machete form, there are several like it out there, such as the Condor Woodbuster Chopper (below), with a 9.8" blade.  It weighs 1lb. 9oz, giving it enough heft to cut through boughs and even small trees with relative ease.

Condor also makes its Cambodian Machete, with a 10.4" blade, weighing in at just under 1lb. 12oz.

Several companies have tried to add function to the basic short machete form.  Camillus has its Carnivore Machete Inject 18, offering a 12" blade with a saw back, a wire cutter notch, and an auxiliary 5" trimming knife.

One of the better-known products in this field is the Ka-Bar BK3 Becker Tac Tool, with a 7" blade equipped with a pry notch, a chisel head, and a semi-serrated edge.  I find it too light (at 1lb. 2.6oz.) to be really effective at chopping wood, and the blade is also a little short for that purpose;  but for urban "tactical" scenarios, it appears to be popular among users.

The Ontario SP8 Survival Machete steers a middle path between these products.  It offers more than a bare-bones machete design, but not as many features as a "tactical" option.  Its 10" sawback blade is thick, heavy (the machete weighs 1lb. 7.5oz), and tough.  It ends in a broad, flat chisel-style point, which is not only useful to gouge, but makes the machete into a very effective trowel for digging (something one needs surprisingly often at a camp site, for cutting out turfs to make a fireplace, digging holes for sanitary purposes, and so on).  It doesn't have a special pry notch or gut hook, but the chisel end works pretty well for the former purpose if needed.  I've used it to pry up nails embedded in pallets.

Also of interest is the obvious family resemblance between the SP8 machete and Ontario's SP10 Raider Bowie knife, one of the most versatile general purpose knives in its class.  The SP8 is on the left below, and the SP10 on the right.

The image above was combined from two separate ones, so they're not quite to scale, but it's close enough.  You'll note that the sheaths for both knives are identical;  either blade will fit either sheath without a problem.  (Yes, I tried!)  They also share the same grip size and design, covered in a soft rubbery substance to make them very comfortable even when in hard use, and non-slip in sweaty hands.  Their blades are almost the same length (there's no more than a quarter of an inch difference between them), although the SP8's blade is thicker and heavier than the SP10's.  The SP10 is clearly the better general purpose knife, but the SP8 will make a better hatchet or digging tool.  I found it intriguing to use them side-by-side and compare their performance.

The SP8's squared-off blade means it won't be very versatile for skinning or slicing game.  On the other hand, it makes a very useful cleaver, which might come in handy when preparing meat for roasting over the coals.  Its digging performance, as noted above, is excellent, easily the equivalent of a camping trowel.  It's also heavy and strong enough that you won't hurt it if you hit a rock or other obstacle while digging.  It's more than capable of chopping through roots if necessary.

As a hatchet replacement, the SP8 shines.  Out of the box, it wasn't really sharp at all;  I had to put in some work to get it into usable condition.  However, once that was done, it held its edge well, and didn't need much touching up to remain very sharp.  The saw back on the blade isn't really a saw;  its teeth are not tapered to a point from the sides, and the very thick metal doesn't lend itself to a deep cut.  However, it can scrape away wood and make a rough-and-ready notch for further deepening by chopping at it, which is about as much as I'd expect from a combination tool like this.  Also, the saw back doesn't prevent one using the SP8 for batoning.  One simply has to place a piece of wood over the saw back, to prevent damage to it, before hammering at it to drive the blade into and through a log or branch.

(There's a smaller, simpler "little brother" to the SP8:  Ontario Knife's 9712TC Spec Plus Alpha Survival Fixed Blade Knife.  It has a 7" blade, but without a saw back, and weighs only 8.7oz - far too light, IMHO, for serious chopping tasks.  It has a flat tip, like the SP8, but not sharpened like a chisel, so it has far less utility as a digging tool.  I don't think it's as practical or useful as any of the blades mentioned above.)

At any rate, I find the SP8 intriguing, offering several useful possibilities as a camp knife or small machete or hatchet replacement tool.  I'll try using mine in different activities over the next few months and see whether it graduates to my permanent toolbox.  (Its bowie knife "brother", the SP10, already has.)



Anonymous said...

Not exactly in the same vein as what you discuss here but are you familiar with the Japanese 'Hori Hori' knives? A very useful tool when roaming around the yard or on a 'walk about'. Amazon has a wide selection, would recommend not going with the cheapest.

Take care

JD in N AL

Old NFO said...

Thanks for the update and AAR.

Anonymous said...

I suppose you could also use it as a froe to split wood shingles, and also a draw knife (a hole at end of blade to insert wood handle would help with control). Short enough to insert up ones sleeve when traveling in urban environment or place in ruck sack if one is carrying one.

MNW said...

I have an Ontario RTAK-II that i have been using in place of a hatchet. I use it for clearing, limbing, making kindling and light chopping and it has performed well for me. The thing is a beast, though the sheath sucks.

Anonymous said...

What do you think of the Tops Tracker?
- jed

Peter said...

@Anonymous at 6:42PM: The Tracker is ridiculously overpriced for what it is. It may be a perfectly good knife, but I don't see it as more versatile than that - and at that price, I have no plans to review it!

Dan said...

Probably the most common usage of these in non turd world countries is as a weapon in places like Britain where they are regularly used to commit assault and murder. And they are a very effective tool for that purpose.

Anonymous said...

Dan 10:51, in the Latin World, the machete is often the weapon of choice because of availability and familiarity with it. A traveler through the jungle has limited burden to carry, but one of them is a machete.

So I'm not surprised to hear of immigrants from the 3rd world using them for 'social work'.

mobius said...

my choice

Aesop said...

I have both the SP8 and the BK3.
Both perform serviceably and adequately for intended tasks.

But FTR, the Becker Knives, all of them overall, are nearly an order of magnitude thicker, heavier, rougher and tougher than anyone else's knives.

Which should be expected, given the weight penalty.

But as both the Thompson and BAR proved, people will carry something heavy that works, and use it in preference to lighter-weight pieces of junk.

You get what you pay for.

Meanwhile, I still have half a dozen standard government issue LC-18 machetes, with the modern sharpening sheaths, and when I need a machete, that's what I use.

Aesop said...

And FTR, the BK3 was aimed more at G.I.s using one to break down metal and fiber banding, crates, and pallets, rather than hacking much at brush, and as a replacement for much more delicate fighting knives and bayonets. It's a vast improvement at those tasks over the latter choices.

Σd00d said...

If you're looking for a short machete from the Becker line as a camp knife, the BK9 is much more comparable. 9.25" blade, about the same weight as the BK3, but forward-weighted, and a solid handle. It's similar to the Kershaw Camp 10, but with a much better handle and no recurve. The Kershaw handle doesn't feel like it's as solidly affixed to the tang, and it has a very annoying rubber grip that catches on clothing when worn.

I have examples of many of the Ka-Bar Beckers. The Tac Tool is not one of them. It hits many of my can't-stands: chisel ground blade, partially serrated, guthook/line cutter and a vaguely American-tanto shape. All it needs is a sawback and a recurve somewhere to be perfectly ugly. The Camillus example you posted is up there on the revolting scale for me, but that's just me. It looks like it was designed to appeal to a 14-year-old boy.

I'm not a fan of the sawback because they're rarely executed well enough to saw through anything, or even create a decent notch; and they chew up a baton if you're using that to split through wood.

Condor makes a number of very good blades for this too. The Pack Golok is fairly compact, but has an 11" blade (not all of that is cutting edge), 1.74lbs and is distally tapered. The Bushcraft Parang is solid as well, with a 13" blade, a little lighter at 1.66lbs, again distally tapered. Their Australian Army Machete is also great, with a 12.875" blade and weighing even lighter at 1.45lbs. I think they executed the design very well, for a lot less money then what's supposed to be the original manufacturer. All three Condor blades come with serviceable sheaths.

I've used the BK9 and three Condors above for fire prep and other camp tasks. They're all excellent and highly recommended. I haven't used any of them to dig or chop roots, but would likely lean on something with a blade profile more like an axe than a knife, like a pulaski or pick-mattock head.