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.)