What is a Bolo Knife? Is It Different From Machetes?!

A bolo knife is a very practical type of knife with a very long and distinct history. In essence, it’s a cutting knife that’s very similar to a machete. It is mostly used for clearing vegetation and for agricultural uses.

Historically, it was a knife that was used in the jungles of Indonesia and the Phillippines. In Cuba, it was a knife that was used in sugar fields. Other uses include harvesting crops of rice, mung beans, soybeans, peanuts, or other crops. The bolo knife has a long history connected to blood, sweat, and sometimes, even tears.

But perhaps the biggest significance of this knife comes from its rich physical labor. Today, a bolo knife has a symbolic significance – one of liberation from slavery.

The design of the knife is also very specific. As it was used for agricultural needs, the tang and the handle had to be adjusted for harvesting. It often has a curved, thick, and relatively long tang with a wooden handle.

In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about a bolo knife – what it is, how it looks, what it is used for, its history, and much more. Stay tuned!

What Does a Bolo Knife Look Like? – the Anatomy of a Bolo Knife

the Anatomy of a Bolo Knife

A bolo knife has an oval-shaped tang and a wooden handle. The blade was firstly made from any sort of high-carbon steels that the locals could produce or find. Nowadays, the bolo knives are made from high-carbon steels and hardwood handles.

Sometimes, the locals used animal horns for the handle. And today, such knives are somewhat rare and have a higher value. In many ways, a bolo knife looks like a machete. What separates it from a machete is the shape of the blade and the shape of the handle.

A machete blade is commonly more straight and has fewer curves, and it’s also larger than the bolo blade. This one, on the other hand, has a curved blade with more curves than the machete blade.

The handle is also very much different. A bolo knife’s blade is bulkier, heavier, and also larger. Sometimes, it’s made from animal horns, but in the majority of cases, it’s made of hardwood. Meanwhile, the machete’s handle is much smaller nowadays, especially compared to the old machetes.

Who Invented a Bolo Knife?

The bolo knife has a rich history. Primarily, it was used for agriculture and for cutting down crops. However, the historical circumstances “forced” the bolo knife to become a military knife.

There are many stories and myths as to how a bolo knife came to existence. However, the gist of these stories is that a bolo knife was created through centuries of hard work and work experience with sugar cane crops and other crops.

The exact inventor of the bolo knife is not known. However, it’s likely a product of collective effort from farmers who sought to come up with a versatile tool that would help them with their farming needs.

But when the first settlers from Spain and Portugal came to these nations, a bolo knife transformed itself into a battle knife. As the natives didn’t have any other weapons to defend themselves, the bolo knives were usually the only means of protection for them.

And with that, the production process of knives changed slightly. Bolo knives became bulkier, longer, and the end of the blade was much spikier. The handle was also extended, so it became a weapon. However, the bolo knives were not enough to withstand the pressure from the invaders, who used far superior weapons, such as guns.

Soon, bolo knives were used by slaves in sugar cane fields and rice fields. It became a symbol of slavery, but with the abolition of slavery, it was also a symbol of the fight against slavery.

Then, during both world wars, bolo knives were present, again. Sometimes, they were used by guerilla forces who launched surprise attacks in thick jungles. But some armies also copied the design of the bolo knife – they started using these knives to cut through the thick foliage of the jungles themselves.

What is a Bolo Knife Used for?

what is bolo knives used for

A bolo knife is primarily used for agricultural needs. In the centuries past, the bolo knife was one of the primary tools for clearing out jungles, thick passages of vegetation, and for collecting crops from fields. In Cuba, it was the most common knife for sugar cane crop collectors.

And you can easily see why the bolo knife looks like it does. It has to have a sharp, thick blade to be able to cut down the vegetation and thick, low forest. And the curve makes it easier to cut through even the thickest of vegetation.

The handle has to be sturdy in order to allow the user of the bolo knife to hold it still and exert as much power as possible.

Through the years when slavery was abolished and the bolo knife was no longer used for physical labor, the role of the knife changed. It became more of a military knife, connected to guerilla forces from the Phillippines and Cuba. Also, it was a status knife, something that its owner would be proud of.

Today, bolo knives are used in Filipino Martial arts (FMA), which is also sometimes called Arnis, Eskrima, or Kali. Artful bolo knives with a unique style and design also make a great present. That’s especially the case for the Filipino culture, but also for Malaysia and Indonesia.

Who Uses Bolo Knives?

Farmers, military officials, warriors, guerilla fighters, the common folk – they all have one thing in common: they use the bolo knife or have used it. This is typical for Phillippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cuba, but bolo knives are spreading through the world quickly.

Today, bolo knives are readily available.

For example, this bolo knife is a very popular knife nowadays. It was used by the US military during WWI when they fought in thick jungles. It was used to chop down the jungle and make way for the soldiers. Its design is based on the design from 1909 when the first such knife was made. It is 19” long, and it weighs 2lbs. It’s an excellent knife to add to your collection!

Is It Legal to Have a Bolo Knife in the US?

According to the US laws on carrying and discharging weapons, bolo knives fall into the “dangerous knives” category. This means that bolo knives cannot be used without a license when it’s used as a lethal weapon, or when it’s used for fighting or for military means.

However, a bolo knife doesn’t always represent a lethal weapon. In those cases, the use of bolo knives is allowed, but for limited entities.

When the bolo knife is used for agricultural means, outdoors, camping, survival, hunting, fishing, or when it’s sealed safely and securely, then it’s allowed. It’s also allowed for peace officers, military personnel, or other means when it’s a part of the job.

The Harmonized Code is 8201.40.0000, which is the code for axes, bill hooks, machetes, and bolo knives. This code determines that these items can be shipped duty-free, as long as they are appropriately sealed and secured.

So yes, it is legal to own a bolo knife, but only for certain and particular uses.

What is the Difference Between Bolo Knives and Machetes?

Bolo knives often get confused for machetes, and there are good reasons for that. Firstly, they are very similar in the looks department. But there are some differences that we just can’t neglect.

The first big difference between the two is in the blade. A bolo knife will have a curved blade, while a machete usually has a straight blade, or at least a much less curved blade. Also, a bolo knife will also sometimes have a spike at the end of the blade, while a machete can either have a blunt end or a spiked end.

Another massive difference between the two is in the handle. With the bolo knife, the handle is more substantial and larger than that of a machete. A bolo knife handle is made from hardwood, or sometimes even from an animal horn. A machete handle is much smaller, most of the time.

What makes people mix these two up is the use and the connotation that we get when we hear of a machete. Both machetes and bolo knives were primarily designed for cutting and chopping crops and thick forestation. However, both were used for military means later on. A machete became a symbol of guerilla forces in South America, but so did the bolo knife, just in other parts of the world.

My Recommendation For The Best Bolo Knife

Last update on 2024-05-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Wrapping Up

Bolo knives are a special type of knife that has several different uses. Historically, it’s one of the richest knives with a very comprehensive history. The bolo knife is connected to hard work, labor, sweat, blood, tears. Today, bolo knives are a bit of a status symbol; they have become a luxury that makes it a desirable piece for knife collectors and enthusiasts.


I’m Ahmed, the guy behind Knifepulse.com. I’ve owned several types of knives and sharpeners over the last few years and have become obsessed with everything to do with knives. I’m always trying to improve my cleaning and sharpening process, and always on the hunt for the next best knife. But when I’m not spending time with my hobby, I’m here, writing about Knives and Sharpeners on KnifePulse to share with you what I learn along the way.

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