Joe “Shangoman” Flowers, collaborated with TOPS shop manager, Leo “The Lion” Espinoza on the design for a new machete. After much deliberation, they finally came to a positive agreement with the design and practical field ability… and the Machete .230 was born.
Going back about ten years, when it came to the subject of machetes the options were limited. If you resided anywhere in North America, you had four main choices—Barteaux, Ontario Knives, Cold Steel or Tramontina. These companies made some effort to get their machetes just right, but none of them ever had a useable point. In fact, the point was usually the thickest unground part of the blade. This could have been for a number of reasons, like safety for those walking in groups so no one got poked, or to prevent the point from going into the user’s foot due to a bad swing or follow through swing. Another reason: long, thin, machetes are not stabbing tools. The blunt tip was a turn off for me, but as long as I had a small knife with a sharp point on me, I could cover all bases, so to speak. Finally, TOPS Knives created a machete that comes with a sharp edge ready to go, and doesn’t need any modifications to the handle. On top of that, it has a sheath—somebody wake me!
Well-known machete expert and writer, Joe “Shangoman” Flowers, collaborated with TOPS’s own Leo Espinoza on the design. Sticking with a tried-and-true steel TOPS used 1095 carbon steel for the blade. Normal, the overall length for an 18-inch long bladed machete is roughly 23 inches. The TOPS Machete .230 measures 22.5 inches long overall. This difference is mainly due to the handle length being 6.75 inches. With a blade length of 15.75 inches and a thickness of 1/8 inches, this is a machete built for chopping hard wood as well as regular machete duties. The .230 is finished in an ash grey, baked-on powder coating.
At first glance, the handle seems to be rather large compared to most machetes. It is, and for a good reason. Most machetes found in Latin America have a few inches of unsharpened steel between the handle scales and the actual cutting edge of the tool. This is where the machete can be held for carving, cutting food and for short, quick chopping. Being that TOPS Knives and their designers have such a vast knowledge on these things, they have just made it a lot easier and comfortable to use the machete in this fashion. TOPS uses black linen Micarta with elastic shock cord integrated into the handle as a lanyard.
Few machetes, if any, come with a sheath—and if they do, it usually is one you don’t want that is made of poorly sewn canvas with no retention whatsoever. The Machete .230 comes standard with a ballistic nylon sheath featuring two 6-inch long pockets, which are perfect for storing survival items or tools.
Return to Green Hell
Upon receiving the machete I knew I had a trip coming up in Peru, where all things related to survival depend greatly on a machete and a good sense of humor. With this in mind it took the strength of Superman to keep me from taking it out and hacking something before I got out of the country, I guess it’s just the kid in me. I knew for sure I would have a chance to use it to the fullest, for there is much work to be done in the jungle.
Wading through knee-deep brown water with everything crawling on me and the rain pounding heavily on my every thought, I can almost hear the soundtrack of Guns N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” playing in my head. As if I needed it, the extra 10 pounds added to my pack from the rain, along with the stinging itch from the previous days mosquitoes and fire ants, were enough to let us all know that we were in fact in the jungle.
The importance of a machete in the jungle has been stated here in the pages of TK over the years. There are a number of things a machete can do—chop fire wood, cut thick water vines to hydrate, dig steps in a muddy bank, chip away ice and snow if used in a snowy environment, clear brush and cut trails, beat back brambles, cut green branches for traps and shelter…the list goes on.
All of the above will generally apply to different types of terrain. For real-world jungle use, a machete is paramount! With that being said, I used the Machete .230 in some sort of order in which a survivor would address their priorities. On this particular trip I was not the point man cutting a trail. The .230 is a little heavy for the typical machete work like trail blazing, however, it excelled at every other task.
In an environment that is full of all things creepy, it is important to establish shelter up above the wet, muddy ground. First, I had to clear the ground down to dirt so as to ensure there weren’t any roots, debris, or anything else to get in the way of the shelter building. It also clears some bugs and keeps the camp clean, if only for a short while. A pole bed was easily constructed for the instructional part of a jungle survival class. Green saplings, about wrist thickness, and four “Y” joints of trees (maybe a little thicker than a wrist) are all that are needed for this structure. The Machete .230 hits hard, like a 22-inch long blade machete, often resulting in no more than two swings to shear through the saplings and branches with an angular cut. The thicker 1/8-inch stock bounced less than the thin machetes and that alone saved energy in trying to wiggle and yank the tool free from the green wood.
Modified Bull Nose
Once the shelter was erected, I noticed later that evening that I had stumbled a little over some roots and stubs I hadn’t cleared all the way down to the soil. After a few failed attempts to eradicate them, I resorted to using the tip of the machete to dig them out. Here is where I must bring to light the design that I have seen before from TOPS. I had the chance to use their smaller Trail Mate knives a few years ago that had a similar tip design, loosely referred to as a “Modified Bull Nose,” that was great for prying. These little knives were also designed by Leo Espinoza, which I should have known! That same tip design was great for digging out roots and cat holes alike.
A simple ballistic nylon sheath with two pockets and a belt loop in the back complete the package. Even if the sheath isn’t used in the field, it makes for a safe transport sheath on buses and boats, not to mention the suitcase for the flight home.
Knife class and fire prep go hand in hand, as one feeds the other. During the knife instructional part of the class I used the Machete .230 to show how to get inside the dry center of wet wood in the jungle, an important thing to know since nothing is truly dry in the jungle. Again, the thickness played a role in facilitating this skill and made short work of splitting the dry wood. With its long blade length, one can easily donate a small part of the cutting edge when striking an artificial fire steel.
Food is always low on the list of priorities in a survival experience. A red-tailed boa constrictor was but one item on the menu during the week that required a machete. The long reach gave a safe enough distance to pin the head with a stick using one hand, while freeing the other hand to swing the machete and decapitate the snake with one swift chop, and then another for good measure. I also dug a small hole to bury the head with the .230. Cutting poles for making fish/frog spears was also the task of the Machete .230, although the rest of work was done with a smaller knife.
Signaling and self-rescue should be part of a survivor’s arsenal. Making a platform for a signal fire, cooking grill, and the fire prep itself were all tasks requiring a machete. After all attempts of survival, self-rescue is the last thing on the list. Small personal rafts were constructed using the Machete .230. The heavier weight allowed more chopping in thick wood and less binding. I also never found a need to sharpened the cutting edge. The Rockwell hardness on the TOPS Machete .230 was definitely higher than that found on the machetes we acquired locally, which had to be sharpened often.
The TOPS .230 will thrive in North America, as well as the equatorial jungle, or wherever your adventures may take you: rest assured, you can trust TOPS Knives.
Joe “Shangoman” Flowers, collaborated with TOPS shop manager, Leo “The Lion” Espinoza on the design…
by Massad Ayoob / Jan 1, 2013