Machetes have a dual history, considered tools and, sometimes, powerful weapons of murder and violence. The Rwandan genocide is a testament to the dark potential purposes of this agricultural tool/weapon. Yet you may ask, what exactly is a machete?
A machete is a knife, not a sword for several reasons. Machetes are made from different metals to swords, are sharper, and are not intended for combat. They are shorter than swords, and their tang is visible, unlike a sword’s. It is the function of a machete that puts them in the category of knives.
Although the term sword covers a broad spectrum of combat weapons, historians class blades under 18’’ in length to be knives or daggers. Swords are typically 24’’ or more and are intended for combat. If you are interested to know why the mighty machete is a knife and not a sword, please read on.
What Is the Difference Between a Sword and a Knife(Machete)?
Although swords have been part of human history since the bronze age, the knife is one of humanity’s earliest tools and has been recorded from as long as two and a half million years ago. Originally they were made from wood, bone, and stone such as obsidian and flint.
The primary difference between knives and swords was their intended use, knives being a tool, and swords being created as a weapon. Beyond their intended use, several structural differences make a machete a knife and not a sword.
Although many knives and swords are made with steel alloys, the sword uses several folded steel layers around a typically nickel core. High carbon steel used in machetes does not lend itself to a sword’s function. Stainless steel is hard but becomes more prone to breakage the longer the blade extends. Knives, being used as cutting tools, do not make use of folded layers. They require hard metals for their purpose, whereas swords need certain flexibility for their use in combat.
Knives are created with an acutely sharpened edge, while swords typically have a more convex edge. The power of a sword as a weapon is in its thrust and swing, and the edge is made to withstand the force of heavy blows. A razor-sharp edge in the situation of combat would make the sword vulnerable to chipping and breaking.
While knives typically need a convex edge for use as a cutting tool, swords have a rounded edge. Knives such a machete are not created to withstand metal on metal contact and can afford to have an extremely sharpened edge.
Knives are utilitarian in function, made for the action of cutting or carving. Swords are primarily a weapon created for use in combat. While knives such as a machete serve various uses such as clearing undergrowth, agriculture (particularly cane cutting), and chopping, the sword is made for only one purpose.
Swords were created for use in close combat, and serve no specific function beyond that particular use as a weapon. The dagger is one exception, which is a knife that is similar in function to the sword.
Length of Blade
Although there is no definitive cutoff length between a knife and a sword, historians usually define a sword as a blade that is longer than 24’’ and a knife shorter than 18’’ The greater length of the sword is due to the greater reach needed on the battlefield. The shorter bladed machete reflects its function as a tool for agricultural and non-military purposes.
The handles of a machete and a sword are also created differently, and the tang (the base of the blade on which the handle is made) is exposed on a machete. In swords, the tang is enclosed in the handle of the blade. A swords handle is also more elaborate and uses a guard to protect the sword bearer’s hand from opponents’ blades and shields.
A machetes handle is utilitarian and serves only to protect the user from contact with the knives blade. The sword also often uses a pommel at the blade’s base, which doubles as a counterweight and prevents the user’s hand from slipping. The machete, in its use as a cutting tool, has a broader blade than the sword. The sword makes use of a pointed edge made to pierce an opponent’s armor.
The machete is a powerful agricultural tool and has doubled as a weapon since the ancient Egyptian khopesh in 3000-1000 BC on which the knife is thought to be based. The Spanish named the machete from the Spanish word macho meaning ‘hammer,’ which gives a firm sense of the machete knife’s power and purpose.
Machetes come in many shapes and sizes, but ultimately, it is a machete function that places it in the category of a knife, not a sword.