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Making a Machete

by Dennis Miller

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Jan. 11, Nopala, an hour or so from Puerto Escondido.

I was on the way to a finca in the mountains, stopped in Nopala to get a drink, we heard loud metal-on-metal pounding in the back. It was a very traditional way of making machetes. I think it was a father-son operation, but I'm not sure of that.

machete1 (55K)
The machete begins with a recycled automotive leaf spring.

They started with an axle spring off of a junker car, not the easiest thing to work with! You can see the raw material in a couple of the photos. They had an ingenious, human-operated way of getting the fire hot, via a wheel-blower system.

machete3 (51K)
Blower system for heating the fire
machete6 (49K)

The metal would get red-hot, they would put it on an anvil, and fast double-pound with coordinated sledge hammers. That was one of the neatest things to see. Then back into the fire, repeat. Before this stage, they used an axe-type handmade tool to cut the axle spring into the basic machete shape.

machete4 (48K)
Pounding the heated blade
machete2 (59K)
Reheating the blade

When it was shaped properly, the son would start the sharpening process on a stone. But not just any stone, curved in several places to do exactly what he wanted to do, and he did it fast, a blur. How in the world did he avoid slicing off a finger or hand? He'd stop, give it to his Dad for inspection, then back to the stone.

machete5 (44K)
Sharpening the machete on a stone
machete7 (46K)
Inspecting the blade

The son did all the work, the Dad oversaw every step of the process. Fascinating, and I'm privileged to have seen something like this. Users say the newer factory-made machetes are too flexible/cheap. This one was stiff, as they used to be. These hand-made ones were $500 pesos, about $38 usd. It takes two of them 2 days to make one. When you get into the mountain villages outside of Puerto Escondido, every man is carrying a machete.

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