BIG Blades: 4 Monster Choppers for the Bush

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The latest in big blades, from top: TOPS Knives Bestia, Boker Arbolito El Gigante, KA-BAR Gunny and Medford Knife & Tool Bonfire.

BY JAMES MORGAN AYRES

Wherever folks live close to the earth, they use big knives

Little knives are convenient to carry but, if you have a lot of work to do, big knives are it. I’ve lived and worked with indigenous peoples in Latin America and Southeast Asia and found that wherever folks live close to the earth, they use big knives—machetes, parangs, goloks, bolos and the like. They use them for everything from rough work such as cutting poles and opening coconuts, to dressing out pigs and game, to delicate work such as slicing mangoes.

The advantage of the big blade was illustrated to me one day when I was working alongside a villager who, with his bolo and its 14-inch blade, cut wood for a fire, bamboo poles for a cooking rack, lopped off a banana leaf on which he filleted two large fish and sliced them thin as a sushi chef—all in the time it took me to bring down a few stalks of bamboo with my hair-shaving-sharp Randall Model 1.

We reviewed the test knives with that standard in mind. We chopped and split wood and sliced meat and tomatoes. We also, just because, cut hanging rubber hose and slashed through water-filled plastic bottles.

 

LONG, TALL & HANDSOME: Boker Arbolito El Gigante


The Boker Arbolito El Gigante is a handsome classic bowie with a stonewashed blade, comfortable handle and nice leather sheath. Balance is excellent, all very much in the bowie tradition. Construction is top quality; so is performance. It cleaved 2-inch pine saplings with one stroke. The quarter-inch-thick spine was brought down to a well-supported edge fine enough to slice tomatoes, and slice meat thin enough to see light through the slices. We slashed rubber hose and the water bottles with ease.

Like all well-designed and crafted bowies, this is a versatile all-around knife.

A tree branch succumbs to the reflective blade of the Boker Arbolito El Gigante. It cleaved 2-inch pine saplings in one stroke.

BOKER ARBOLITO EL GIGANTE
Blade Length: 9.25”
Blade Steel: Bohler N695 stainless
Blade Thickness: .24”
Blade Grind: Flat
Blade Finish: Stonewash
Handle Thickness: .94”
Handle Material: Green Micarta®
Weight: 15.75 ozs.|
Overall Length: 14.75”
Sheath: Leather
Country of Origin: Argentina
MSRP: $229

The El Gigante also proved its mettle after chopping wood by slicing a tomato nice and thin.

 

SEMPER FI! The KA-BAR Gunny


The KA-BAR Gunny is a hybrid design that resembles a bolo. I suspect R. Lee Ermey, the unforgettable Gunny who serves as the knife’s namesake, spent some time in jungles because this combination chopper/slicer’s performance is on par with village-forged bolos I’ve used in Southeast Asia, and that’s a high compliment. Its forward weight and terrific blade design promote efficient chopping.

The KA-BAR Gunny chomps into dry pine. Its forward weight and blade design promote efficient chopping.

We cut through 3-to-4-inch-thick saplings with two strokes. We took down a tree with a 6-inch-thick truck just because we could. After the chopping the blade was still sharp enough for camp kitchen work. The belly, good balance and fine edge combined to make slicing meat and vegetables a pleasure. Slashing hanging rubber hose and the water bottle were a piece of cake. The comfortable handle lends itself both to heavy chopping and fine meat cutting, which is unusual.

The Gunny is an excellent all-around bush knife. The sheath has a pocket for a sharpening stone, which was not included with the review model.

After chopping wood, the Gunny sliced tomatoes like a chef’s knife.

KA-BAR GUNNY
Designer: R. Lee “Gunny” Ermey
Blade Length: 9.75”
Blade Material: 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel
Blade Width: 2”
Blade Thickness: .2”
Blade Grind: Flat
Handle Width: 1.5”
Handle Thickness: .94”
Handle Material: Wood
Weight: 15.29 ozs.
Overall Length: 15.5”
Sheath: Leather
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $292

 

RAZOR SHARP: Medford Knife & Tool Bonfire


The Medford Knife & Tool Bonfire came from the maker absolutely razor sharp! The blade design is interesting in that we do not often see a contemporary styled drop point and hollow grind on such a big blade. I don’t know the Rockwell, but the steel is hard and tough. It was just as razor sharp after we put it through its paces as when we started.

The Bonfire comes with a well-fitted Kydex sheath.

The fine edge made for a very good slicer and slasher and lopped off thin branches with one cut. The hollow grind tended to bind when chopping wood, though that’s to be expected—hollow grinds aren’t chopping designs. It’s better to think of this knife as a well-designed and crafted big knife rather than a bush tool such as a panga or kukri. It sliced rubber hose with a snap of the wrist and slashed through water bottles with more consistency than the other review blades and cut meat just fine. You probably could dress out a bear with it.

Use it as a big knife on soft materials and you won’t be disappointed. It comes with a well-fitted Kydex sheath.


The Medford Knife & Tool Bonfire slashed through water-filled plastic bottles with more consistency than the other review blades.

MEDFORD KNIFE & TOOL BONFIRE
Blade Length: 8.25”
Blade Material: CPM 3V carbon steel
Blade Thickness: .24”
Blade Grind: Hollow
Handle Thickness: .64”
Handle Material: G-10
Weight: 19.16 ozs.
Overall Length: 13”
Sheath: Nylon
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $450

 

CHEF’S CHOPPER: The TOPS Bestia


The TOPS Bestia is just a beast. A kukri-styled 13-inch blade and hefty weight make it the blade of choice for serious chopping or zombie cleaving. We hacked though a 3-inch sapling with one stroke, and used it to clear a stand of saplings and brush. The handle remained comfortable during an hour or so of work. Heavy as a small hatchet, it is more versatile and safer in use, especially in thick brush. During many survival classes, I’ve seen more injuries from hatchets than from big blades with their longer cutting edges.

The Kydex sheath is formed to fit the unmistakable kukri-style blade of the Bestia.

Given its heft, blade design and chopping ability, the Bestia is surprisingly usable in the camp kitchen. We found it could slice meat quite well, allowing for adjustments in maneuverability due to its blade length.

The TOPS Knives Bestia’s kukri-styled 13-inch blade and hefty weight made it the blade of choice for serious chopping or, as the author puts it, “zombie cleaving.”

TOPS KNIVES BESTIA
Designer: Leo Espinoza
Blade Length: 13”
Blade Material: 1095 carbon steel
Rockwell Hardness: 56-58 HRC
Blade Width: 2.25”
Blade Thickness: .25”
Blade Grind: Flat
Handle Width: 2.125”
Handle Thickness: .97”
Handle Material: Green Micarta®
Frame/Liner: Micarta
Weight: 1 lb., 13.18 ozs.
Overall Length: 19.5”
Sheath: Kydex
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP: $300

 

VERSATILE BUSH TOOLS
If you haven’t spent much time with a big blade, try one. Work with it for a while. Direct close attention to your work and you’ll find a good big blade to be a terrific, versatile bush tool.

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