Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Texas Brushlands Parang....

The parang is a short chopping tool from Southeast Asia with a blade thickness between four and seven millimeters near the handle tapering to as little as two-millimeters at the tip.  Most parang blades range from 25 to 36 centimeters long.  The traditional Malaysian parang has a tiny stick tang inserted into a wooden (or plastic) handle that is sometimes pinned to insure the blade does not fly outward when chopping.  Southeast Asian parangs are more robust than South or Central American machetes.  “Latin American” machetes have blades no more than about 1.5-2.0 millimeters thick and range from 30 to 64 millimeters long.  There is no set design for either Malaysian parangs or Latin American machetes other than parangs tend towards shorter and thicker blades and machetes longer and thinner blades.  I’ve examined parangs with straight handles and curved handles.  I’ve seen straight bladed parangs as well as parangs with sweeping blades.  Likewise, I’ve worked with Latin American machetes with wide blades, narrow blades, and blunted blades.  Some of the blades are hooked and others are pointed.  They are sometimes given names like cane-style or bill-hook-style or bolo-style.  I was at a feed-n-seed store this past week that had just received a couple of crates of machetes made in Colombia.  They were crudely made and overpriced but came in a multitude of styles and blade lengths some of which I’ve not seen at any store or online dealer.  I think I’ll go back to that store and take some pictures to show you for a future post.

The thing to remember is that both parangs and machetes are designed for clearing away herbaceous shrubs or grass or small woody plants.  In places where bamboo grows parangs and machetes are used to either whack bamboo aside or fashion implements ranging from cooking tubes to shelters, traps, chairs and assorted camp or village essentials.  But neither the parang nor the machete is designed for chopping heavy wood.  Here’s a mantra you might consider remembering:
Use a machete in the jungles, brushlands and desert regions.  Use an axe in the forests.

Of course, there are any number of YouTube videos and assorted websites where someone takes a parang or machete and tries to chop a five-inch (or bigger!) log in a post entitled something along the lines of: “Comparing the machete/parang to the axe in chopping a tree.”  Those posts are both amusing and nonsensical since no one it seems would ever think to reverse the equation with an equally ludicrous post like, “Comparing the machete/parang and axe in clearing vines.”

I hope you see the point.  These are specialized cutting tools that evolved in particular regions around the world and trying to use one or the other in places where they are not suitable is both time consuming and potentially dangerous.  It would be like telling a trapper in the Taiga region of Siberia to use a machete instead of an axe.  He’d probably think you were crazy.  Equally nutty would be asking someone living in the Sonoran desert or in the Central American jungles to use an axe instead of a machete when clearing weeds, shrubs or cactus along a trail.

In South Texas the equation becomes slightly more problematic.  Most workers opt for a 61 cm (24-inch) blade length machete.  If you’ve seen my videos on South Texas machetes you’ll see a couple of classic machetes from the region.  A few days ago I happened upon a fellow clearing weeds and small woody shrubs along a fenceline.  He was using a long-bladed machete.  I’ve seen men cut brechas through thick brush in northeastern Tamaulipas, Mexico using the same types of machetes.  Those 24-inch models allow users to stay clear of thorn brush as well as develop momentum even with lightweight blades.  My interests, however, are in cutting tools I can use for woodcraft (bushcraft) applications.

South Texas is a land of diverse plant species.  A nopal cactus is soft and succulent and easily whacked with a blade measuring no more than one-millimeter thick.  A mesquite branch on the other hand will make that same thin blade bounce sending shock waves into your wrist and elbow.  In this case a small axe would be good but a heavier weight parang-style cutting tool employing a substantial tang is perhaps a better option.  Thus enters my latest experiment in design.

You might recall “The Beast Parang” I made awhile back.  That is a ponderous and heavy cutting tool.  The parang-styled blade pictured above is quite a bit lighter but yet designed to be equally effective.  Made from a 5160 leaf-spring the blade measurements are as follows:
Blade Length: 9.5 inches (24.13 cm)
Blade Width at widest section: 2 inches (5.08 cm)
Blade Thickness: 7 millimeters near handle tapering to 4.5 millimeters at tip

The handle is made from chaparro prieto (Acacia rigidula) and is 6.25 inches long or 15.875 cm.

This blade has a substantial tang extending just beyond the last of the three 3/16 inch brass pins.

The blade was differentially tempered to be hardest along the cutting edge and a bit softer along the spine.  The section adjacent to the handle was tempered lower to give the blade added structural reliability.

So what is this brushland parang good for?  It’s not a tool for whacking vines or herbaceous shrubs.  But if you’ll check out my post on negotiating the brush without making noise then you’ll see I don’t use a machete for those purposes.  Instead, this brushland parang will make an excellent camp tool for fashioning things like chairs and cooking platforms.  It will also work as the one tool for making a selfbow.  It’s the time of year when I make a couple or three new bows and I’ll use this brushland parang.  It will also make a good survival tool especially for brushland or desert terrain.  A man with skills can make a life with this tool.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with this latest project.  I make knives as a hobby and enjoy experimenting with design.  I’ve got more leaf-springs and maybe I’ll attempt a few variations on the theme.  Some people go out and buy dozens or even hundreds of knives for their collections.  I make my own instead.  I like spreading them out on the table (or floor) and admiring them and then thinking about making more.  Some of my knives will never be used.  This one, however, will see action.  Someday the boys will get all my knives and maybe think back about their old man.

PS: Sorry, none of these are for sale.

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