Machetes aren’t quite ‘knives’ as we usually consider them, but they’re still edged, metal, human-powered impact cutting tools. They fall somewhere on the continuum between knives, hatchets and swords, which are all good as far as we’re concerned.
And this sawback 18-inch SOG ‘SOGFARI’ machete might be all good, based on my experience with this particular example. I got to wishing I’d had it ten years ago, when we lived in the mountains on four acres of blackberries and scrub oak. And now I’m not sure at all.
SPOILER: This is the most ambiguous knife review you’ll probably ever see here at The Truth About Knives. But it’s not my fault. Really.
My previous machete was a $15 hardware-store machete, crudely made from cold-rolled steel and a poorly-fitting hard plastic handle. I foolishly attempted to use it in my war of attrition with blackberry thickets ten feet tall and twenty yards deep.
My arm was strong and my resolve was hard, but my $19 thrift-store machete was neither. I could hack and slash myself dizzy, but the useless blade tangled in the briars like a baseball bat. I was hoping for Kill Bill, Vol. 1 but I got The Warriors instead.
Those blackberry thickets are ten years and thirty miles behind me, but I recently decided to risk twenty bucks and see if the SOGFARI was a worthy upgrade from my nameless and worthless junk-store machete.
What’s In A Name?
The word ‘SOGFari’ doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, and my teenager remarked that the logo on the machete looks a bit too much like ‘DOGFART.’ There’s a thirteen year-old mind for you. Fortunately for the end user, it’s easier to use the SOGFari than it is to say it.
The 18-inch blade is very light (more on that later) and the whole machete weighs 19.2 ounces. The 0.1″-thick blade broadens slightly toward the rounded tip, moving the center of balance to about the midpoint of the blade.
The grip is well-shaped from rubbery Kraton. It’s one of my favorite knife handle materials, but it’s only good for uses other than everyday carry. It’s so grippy that it’s hard to extract from your pocket, and on a fixed-blade knife it’s always grabbing and printing through your cover garment. You’ll never EDC a two foot-long long machete, so these issues aren’t problems here. The SOGFARI’s handle shape and material are simply outstanding.
It’s well sized for average male hands, and it’s just about impossible to lose your grip on it. I used it for a solid hour of limbing and pruning (and chopping up the resulting brush) without a single blister or even hotspot.
The SOGFARI blade is a 24-inch slab of powder-coated 3Cr13 stainless. Yep: stainless. Hardened to HRC 52-53, and sharpened to an edge that’s keener than most hardware-store pocketknives. That’s a big improvement over most $15 machetes, but keep reading because that’s not the whole story.
The blade itself is 18″ long, and the remaining six inches is a full tang that passes through the Kraton grip and emerges as a serrated striking pommel. This has been criticized for being 1) too easy to tear your pants with; and 2) only useful for smashing zombies in the forehead.
I agree partly with the first concern (although my pants emerged unscathed) but SOG had no choice but to design some sort of hard pommel into the SOGFARI. The pommel will sometimes get struck against hard surfaces, and a Kraton pommel would be quickly cut through by the underlying tang.
This hard pommel protects the Kraton grip, and gives the SOGFARI some limited utility as a wilderness hammer. Maybe. I didn’t find the serrated pommel terribly useful for pruning and brush-cutting, however.
Sawback: Pro Or Con?
I used the SOGFARI as a pruning saw on our maple and magnolia trees. We’d gotten a nastygram from the homeowner’s association Nazis, telling us to limb them up a few feet to ‘conform to regulations’ (whatever they are) and I saw a prime opportunity for yardwork and blade reviewing at the same time.
The sawteeth extend approximately 12 inches along the spine of the blade. Like any real saw, the teeth are slightly offset for a better bite. The teeth are big enough that they don’t instantly clog with sawdust, and they’re not so sharp that they’ll rip up your hands when you touch them. It doesn’t produce the razor-clean cuts of a dedicated and freshly-sharpened pruning saw, but it remains a fairly usable saw for cutting branches up to perhaps six inches thick.
I’ve never used a sawback knife and liked it, and conventional wisdom suggests that sawbacks aren’t a great idea on machetes either. The SOGFARI confounds this conventional wisdom: this sawback adds versatility instead of detracting from it.
The SOGFARI ships in a padded cordura nylon sheath, with a belt loop and a velcro closure strap. It also comes with a plastic saw protector, which will work really well until you inevitably lose it. I’m not saying you’re a klutz or anything, but blade protectors for tools like these just get lost. I haven’t lost this one yet, but trust me. I will.
Luckily, SOG seems to know this, and the SOGFARI’s padded cordura sheath has a very tough plastic insert sewn into it where the saw teeth might abrade it. Sadly, there’s no matching reinforcement at the front of the sheath, where the edge of the machete will slice right through the stitching.
If your hand is wrapped around the sheath when this happens (and it probably will happen eventually) you’ll be cut to the bone. This happened while I was cautiously experimenting with the sheath, and I kept my fingers well away from the seam because it looked dubious. The only things keeping the whole sheath from unraveling are the two metal rivets along the seam. Why only two rivets, when five or six are clearly needed? I shouldn’t have to, but I’ll be modding this sheath myself with several rivets from the fabric store. I can play a pretty mean Les Paul, and I plan on keeping my fingers the way they are.
With a handful more $.03 rivets this would be a safe, secure sheath, but it’s not secure and it’s not safe. This is a serious product safety defect that SOG needs to fix before they ship any more SOGFARIs, and I can’t believe nobody has sued their pants off yet. If you’ve had a similar problem with this machete, chime in in the Comments section or drop me an email.
Adding insult to (personal) injury, there are numerous published reviews in which the sheath belt loop has torn out of the sheath. I didn’t wear the sheath (and I doubt I would, preferring to strap it to a backpack) so I can’t predict how this one would hold up. Given the flimsiness of the main seam of the sheath, I wouldn’t expect good things.
Update: January 2014
When I visited the SOG booth at the 2014 SHOT Show, I was pleased as punch to see that they completely redesigned the SOGRAFI 18″ sheath. Instead of just two rivets, there are now four of them properly spaced along the seam of the sheath. The belt loop is still pretty wimpy, but at least that won’t cut your fingers off.
See the SOG SHOT Show 2014 post for more details.
The video above pretty much says it all. The SOGFARI didn’t break branches; it cut them cleanly. The tip end of the blade chopped clean through anything thinner than my thumb in a single blow. A slightly different stroke, with the midpoint of the blade instead of the tip, powered through wood up to 2″ thick in three to five swings. I cut through a few branches thicker up to wrist-sized by chipping away at them as with a camp hatchet. It worked, but an axe would have been a better choice for the bigger stuff.
I did more sawing and cutting after the video was shot, and by the end of the day I’d put the SOGFARI through a couple of hours of nonstop chopping. A massive pile of maple and magnolia branches were reduced to a compact heap of short, limbed sticks.
Other than some sap stuck to the blade, the SOGFARI looked brand-new at the end of a day of vigorous use. Once I washed the sap off and re-oiled it (which isn’t strictly necessary for a stainless blade) it didn’t look like it had been used at all. The blade had no bends, chips, dings or edge damage at all, and was still about as sharp as before I’d used it.
I acknowledge the limits of the testing I did on the SOGFARI. I didn’t baton any telephone poles or chop through treated 4×4 beams. I used it for the kinds of light- and medium-duty wood cutting and brush clearing that machetes are generally used for, and it stood up fine for me. I came away very impressed with the SOGFARI.
But it turns out that I may have gotten the luck of the draw, and many others have not been so fortunate.
BUT: Disastrous User Reviews
Internet lore shows that SOGFARIs have been plagued with problems far more serious than its crappy sheath, and which I never would have predicted from how well mine performed. The purchaser reviews at Amazon include many stories of brand-new SOGFARIs bending and breaking on the first day of use.
Every product fails once in a while, but the predominantly negative reviews actually caused Amazon to suspend sales of the model at the time I wrote this.
I’m sure Amazon sells plenty of junky products, but I’ve never seen them completely stop selling a product because of customer complaints. Most of the disastrously negative reviews date from 2010-2012, but a Blade Center account of a broken SOGFARI was posted just last month. Similarly, a YouTube/Google search for ‘SOGFARI Fail’ will produce plenty of results.
The common complaint in these failures is the fragility of the very thin blade, and here’s where things get really interesting. The product description on the SOG website lists the SOGFARI as being made from .08″ steel and weighing 15.7 ounces. Nobody would call a four-inch pocketknife overbuilt with a .08″ thick blade, and SOG may have pushed the metallurgical envelope a little too far in trying to engineer two feet of machete from such slender steel.
On the other hand, the design might be sound and the quality control might be lacking. Their supplier might ship them 3Cr13 steel with an improper chemical composition, and all their engineering bets are off if the steel chemistry is wrong. An unreliable heat treat could over-harden the steel and cause brittleness (bad for a hard-use machete) or could under-harden it and lead to flexion and fatigue (equally bad for any tool.)
Either way, the .08″ blade has proven to be too flimsy for the SOGFARI. And it appears that SOG went back to the drawing board and redesigned it with thicker, heavier steel. But why haven’t they told anybody about it?
Our SOGFARI Is An Entirely Different Animal
Our test SOGFARI, however, measures out to be completely different from the specs on the SOG website. It’s made from .10″ steel, which is a full 25% thicker than the .08″ stock, and it weighs 3.5 ounces more than the original spec. This beefed-up blade would easily explain why my SOGFARI has thus far performed flawlessly, where previous SOGFARIs failed quickly and spectacularly.
Perhaps it’s just an oversight that the SOG website lists the old .08″ specs, but I encourage them to update their website and come clean about their earlier design or QC issues. This machete has developed such a bad reputation that SOG needs to either rehabilitate it with some good PR, or rename this .10″, 19-ounce machete so it’s no longer associated with the ‘SOGFARI’ fiasco.
Either way, it’s a good thing they eventually redesigned the SOGFARI’s fragile blade because the new spec seems to work really well. The 2.54mm blade is nearly as thick as Cold Steel’s beefiest 2.8mm machete blades, and substantially thicker than Cold Steel’s thinnest 2mm machete blades.
Now could they fix the damned sheath?
Every bit of information available original states that SOGFARIs were originally made from thin .08″ blade steel, and many of them failed quickly and catastrophically. My own example is made from much thicker .10″ steel, and it has performed superbly.
The SOG product literature is clearly wrong, and I have no idea what kind of steel my example is made from. Whatever it is, it’s sharp and durable and incredibly comfortable to use. It cuts and chops like crazy, and it still looks brand new when it’s done.
So I really like my SOGFARI, but I seem to have gotten lucky and received the secretly-redesigned version. There are plenty of old, flimsy SOGFARIs out there, and you never know which kind you’ll get until you rip open the blister packaging and caliper the blade.
I’m not biased against SOG. Their Seal Pup is a great knife, but I cannot recommend the SOGFARI. SOG hasn’t come clean about the flaws in the original design (or the dangerously defective sheath) and you can’t know which version you’ll get in the mail. If you happen to bring your calipers to a brick and mortar store, you might find yourself a sturdy new SOGFARI, but that’s a hassle SOG shouldn’t subject you to.
I told you this would be an ambiguous review, didn’t I?