Monday, June 13, 2011

Survival Parang

After several prototypes and much experimentation with design I think I’ve finally arrived at an ideal, “all-around” survival blade that I could depend on no matter where I travel. I call it the “survival parang” because obviously its design is heavily influenced by the parang machetes of Southeast Asia, particularly in the areas of Malaysia and Borneo. You might recall the earliest incarnation of this concept in a long blade I built called the “custom bush tool.” Although quite adequate I knew the overall contours could still be improved so I set out to build a number of “blades” using cardboard and wooden models. When satisfied that the peak design features had been successfully incorporated into the parang I took a 14” industrial file and forged the knife adhering closely to the specifications I’d established with my prototype designs.

Here’s my survival parang photographed after an afternoon of testing including cleaning up a 68 yard trail that had overgrown along the edges, plus using the parang for splitting some mesquite branches for firewood. After all that work the blade was still very sharp—so much, in fact, that I was able to quickly work down a coma wood stave to “floor tiller” dimensions so that it can dry a few more weeks before completion into a selfbow.

You’ll note that the blade is robust. It runs ¼ inch thick along the spine with no reduction in thickness all the way to the tip. The only reduction in thickness runs towards the bevel which is essentially a convex grind with Scandinavian type features. In other words, the bevel is reduced enough to allow for woodcarving but still stout enough to maintain excellent edge integrity. In an afternoon of work I experienced no chipping or “folding” of the edge, and the blade held its sharpness.

You’ll note the lazy-S shape incorporated into the blade design and handle. This allows the user to obtain optimum chopping force with less energy and reduced stress on the wrist joints. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this feature. Honestly folks, this knife is, in my opinion, vastly superior to most “survival knives” seen on the market from the old standbys like the KA-BAR made famous by US Marines in World War II to the British Jungle Survival Knife to any number of heavy, straight handled designs that, though extremely robust, make poor chopping tools and less than adequate fine woodworking instruments.

I had no intentions of making this into some sort of gaudy, extra-lusso, super shiny blade as seen on some knives. To each his own but that sort of look leaves me cold. I wanted the survival parang to reflect its purpose: A wickedly functional, tough life-saving tool intended for serious work no matter the environment.

In the above photo you can see that the rear end of the blade is rounded both on top and bottom which allows me to choke up on the steel for fine woodcarving tasks. Thus I can use the knife for serious chopping or for delicate work.

I incorporated three brass pins into the tang in order to secure the handle sections in place. The handle is mesquite wood held together by the three pins and an epoxy amalgam of fine mesquite wood dust. Over the years I’ve found this amalgam is even stronger than wood itself, and it also adds to the beauty of the handle. I’ve never encountered any sorts of problems with this type of handle setup.

Obviously, I’m enthused about this knife. Here are the dimensions:

Overall length: 14 ¼ inches (36.195 cm)

Blade length: 8 ¼ inches (20.955 cm)

Handle length: 6 inches (15.24 cm)

Blade thickness along spine: ¼ inch (6.35 mm)

Malaysian parangs come in an assortment of styles ranging from straight models to the swooping lazy-S designs as featured on my survival parang. Some designs incorporate handles that sweep downward, while other designs have handles that swoop upward. Blade lengths hover around 12 to 14 inches but some parangs have blades as short as nine inches while others have blades up to 24 inches. The only real commonality in any parang is that the blade is usually thicker than seen in most machetes found in the Americas. My survival parang is on the short side with a blade length of only 8 ¼ inches. The tang extends to just aft of the last brass pin but it is not a stick tang as seen on most Southeast Asian parangs. My survival parang incorporates a more substantial tang because the stick tangs just don’t look that strong to me. Still, my survival parang has the majority of its weight distributed forward of the handle which gives it an ergonomic advantage in chopping.

So why do I call it the “survival parang?” I picked the name because the blade is large enough (both as to length and overall design) to be used for serious chopping and other bushcraft tasks, but not so large as to be obtrusive or overly bulky. In other words, you can carry this blade with you and not be encumbered by its size. I’ve got a leaf-spring that I’m working on to make a larger parang but honestly I think this design will probably supersede the upcoming blade in terms of overall survival use. Of course, time will tell. I plan to post a video on this survival parang so look for it in the next several days on my YouTube channel, The Woods Roamer.    


  1. Excelente herramienta. Hace muy poco fabrique mi primer machete a partir de una hoja de elastico (resorte de ballesta) automotriz, llegando coincidwntemente a casi las mismas dimenciones y forma basica que el realizado por usted. Tambien tomando como punto de partida los machetes asiaticos pero adaptandolo a mi gusto y preferencias.
    Sepa disculpar mi uso del español en el comenrario pero mi ingles es muy básico.
    Saludos desde Argentina

    1. Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you, and forgive me for answering in English. I just wanted to give others an opportunity to, more or less, get the gist of what you wrote. I am glad you forged a machete from leaf spring. I hope you enjoy using it. I would imagine that in your part of the world you have ample opportunities to use heavy machetes. I plan to write more on the making of large choppers and hopefully will be able to do that in the near future.