Axes, Hatchets, & Machetes

Machete Review: CRKT Ken Onion Halfachance

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The CRKT/Ken Onion Halfachance is hands down the most impressive machete I have ever wielded.

To say that a tool is “the finest machete I have ever used” would normally be a bit of a puzzling statement. Machetes are frequently crude tools made from stamped steel, and in many parts of the world from reclaimed scrap steel. But the last several years have seen higher-end offerings by Cold Steel, SOG, and others. CRKT enlisted famed designer Ken Onion to help create their entries into this niche market.

I have used machetes to cut geology trenches in Kenya, clear grid trails while studying monkeys on an island in Venezuela, beat back brush on my own 1.6 acres, and as a recovery and trail tool when Four-wheeling. I have logged scores of hours with a machete (or panga as they are called in East Africa). I have witnessed professional laborers exhibit true artistry with the tool, and while I am not at that level, I consider myself fairly proficient with it.

 

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My 3 machetes. Two car bumper specials, and the Halfachance.

I now personally own 3 machetes. The first two are from Harbor Freight and Northern Tool. They are flimsy mystery metal, and are about on par with pretty much every machete I have swung prior to CRKT’s Chopfest at this years Blade Show.

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The toys from Chopfest. The Chancinhell can be seen on the far left.

The Halfachance and Onion’s more traditionally shaped Chanceinhell were both among the shiny, pointy things that CRKT brought for us to demo. I played around with both, and it was my impression in admittedly limited side-by-side use that the parang-shaped Halfachance hit with slightly more force. It is my belief that the weight forward distribution of the blade’s mass coupled with the parang’s leverage were the primary reasons for this.

I was offered the Halfachance to take home and test/review and keep for my personal collection (Consider that my disclosure). While this review is of the Halfachance, many construction details are the same for the Chanceinhell. I feel comfortable stating that had I been given the Chanceinhell instead I would have been equally pleased, and I am fairly certain that it would have performed in an essentially similar manner to the Half.

 

Construction:

Blade:

65Mn carbon steel with a hardness in the low to mid 50’s. While this steel/hardness would be suboptimal in a carry knife, it is fantastic in this application. For one thing, good luck even finding out what steel your $10 machete is made of. Finding the steel listed for a machete is the first sign that CRKT was trying to put out a quality product to stand behind. Lower hardness is also desirable in a tool which will be seeing impacts, i.e. a machete. The higher the hardness of the steel, the more brittle it is. The softer steel absorbs wayward strikes (rocks, nails, etc) with less risk of a catastrophic failure.

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The Halfachance is half again as thick as a cheap machete.

The blade itself is a full 1/10th” thick, easily half-again as thick as my two cheap machetes. Given that the blade is only 14″ long, this means that the Halfachance crams its 20.4oz in a very compact package. It is a machete – it obviously has a weight forward feel, but it felt responsive and balanced in the hand.

Another advantage provided by the thick blade is it was very easy to simply throw in a vise and sharpen. Even when using a bastard file on the distal 1/3 of the edge, the blade simply did not deflect the way thinner machetes do. You can put a little elbow-grease behind it and the blade remains straight.

The blade also features a durable powder-coat finish. I have logged in the neighborhood of 10 hours of using the Half, and the coating is doing a fantastic job. I believe that it would be into the 100’s of hours before the coating show signs of wearing through. Seeing how your average machete is bare steel, there is no comparison when it comes to corrosion resistance. The Halfachance is built to last.

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The powdercoating shows no sign of damage through 10 or so hours of use.

 

Handle:

The handle is listed on CRKT’s website as having a “PP Core” with “textured TPR overmolding with faux pigskin texture. I believe that PP stands for polypropylene or some other plastic, and TPR is textured somethingorother rubber. In layman’s terms, the Halfachance (and Chaninhell for that matter) have very solid handles (likely plastic) with a textured rubber grip, which has a rough texture similar to a football. It is attached solidly, with no wobble or looseness of any kind.

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The Half’s handle is a grippy, textured rubber over a hard molded plastic.

Even when wet with rain, dew, or sweat the textured rubber and ergonomic grip provide a rock solid hold. It is so solid in fact, that my girly-man citified hands developed a blister on the inside of my thumb. My outer layer of skin was so locked into the hand-filling grip, that the friction was between layers of skin.

Within the handle, there are 5 lanyard hole pins. Most folks will probably use the one closest to the pommel, though you could do a “wrist lock” from the forward-most one. I am sure that there are uses for the other 3. You could use them to aid in lashing the Half to a cut sapling and have a heck of a pole-arm.

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For added grip, you can use the forward-most grommet and a piece of paracord as a “lock-strap”.

Sheath:

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The Halfachance’s sheath is worthy of a high-quality tool.

One of my biggest knife industry peeves is when a maker puts out a fantastic blade, and the sheath is thrown is as an afterthought. That is definitely not the case with the Halfachance. Ken Onion put every bit as much thought into how this tool would be carried and it shows.

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The plastic liner is sewn into the sheath.

The outer layer is high-quality ballistic nylon. Definitely on the tougher end of the scale. The whole thing is lined in a fairly hard yet flexible plastic. Like one of those flexible plastic cutting boards. There is a nice CRKT logo badge on the outside. It is attractive without being overstated.

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The spine-side of the sheath snaps open to allow one to draw the blade.

The sheath is open on the spine side, which closes with two of the three snap-straps. The third wraps over the finger guard of the handle, holding the Half down into the sheath.

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The belt loop can be flush with the sheath, or released to hang from the silver metal loop.

 

The belt-loop is thick velcro, and can be positioned for a flat/tight carry, or dropped to a more dangled position. This works as designed, though I am not sure when I would personally prefer the dropped position.

All along the outer edge of the sheath there are grommets. The Halfachance also includes a length of paracord that is laced through these with a braid of the extra at the bottom. As shipped, this can be used to lash the lower end of the sheath to the thigh. Otherwise the possible lacing and strapping options with the grommets and paracord are fairly limitless.

My only very slight criticism is that after having gone to so much trouble to make a mostly bomb-proof sheath, it is only single stitched. I think I would have opted for double or would have gone overkill on the gauge of the thread. A really nit-picky point, especially given that mine hasn’t shown the least wear or sign of fraying yet.

Sharpening:

I touched on it in the “Blade” section, but the Halfachance is easy to sharpen. The steel is on the medium-hard side, but it does hold a good edge. The longest I used it in a single day was about 2 hours, but I never had to touch it up while in use. As an educated guess, I would say you could get about 4-5 hours of solid use before you would want to touch up the edge, much longer if used casually.

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I found that the easiest way to sharpen the Halfachance was with a coarse stone while clamped in my vise.

While at Chopfest, I glanced a blow off a log and into a rock. The resulting nick was quickly and easily touched up with a piece of fine-grained river rock. Once back at home, I was able to finish the job with my bastard file.

After some experimentation, I settled on stone sharpening with a fairly coarse stone. Less aggressive than the file, it restores the edge quickly enough for me, typically in 2 minutes or less from when I first clamp it in the vise. The blade sharpens just fine with a stone, and I want use marks, not tool marks on this machete.

Testing:

Is it a (very) big knife? Is it a hatchet? Is it a small sword? Testing the Halfachance was interesting in the variety of actions that can be performed with it. As is our habit, I covered both the mundane (cardboard) and the task/tool specific (wood splitting, brush clearing). Finally, I like to finish with something a little out there. I didn’t try to skin a groundhog this time, instead I decided to go the culinary route. After hacking the crap out of a watermelon, just for the hell of it, I tried to see if a machete can be used to cube a pineapple.

Cardboard/Paper:

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Not a scalpel, but a pretty keen edge.

I didn’t try to put a razor edge on the Halfachance. That kind of edge is better suited for an EDC blade. At its peak, I barely managed to slice newsprint, but could achieve a couple of inches of clean cut. Cardboard was a different story.

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Not quite as clean as an S30V EDC, but the Halfachance made it through 65′ of corrugated before a noticeable drop in performance.

 

The TTAK cardboard test is to demonstrate the durability of an edge. The Halfachance made it through more than 65′ of cardboard with minimal tearing. I was a little more forgiving of small tears with the Half. It wasn’t a slicing edge and I was really looking for a noticeable decline in performance rather than an absolute number of linear feet. I stopped the test around 80 feet, as it was obvious that the edge had degraded.

Batoning/Wood-splitting:

In a bench setting, I did some standard batoning, and also kindling splitting (the old boards from my MTech Extreme throwing knife testing). I also tested the Harbor Freight $10 machete in both tasks.

The thick blade of the Halfachance split kindling with ease.

Compared to a standard “crap” machete, the thicker blade excelled at both contact splitting and batoning. There was a definite wedge effect compared to El Cheapo. plus the thick, non-deflecting blade transferred the baton energy more efficiently than a lesser tool.

But that isn’t to say that the Half’s power is hindered by the increased friction. The mass and weight distribution of the blade allow for greater impact strength. To illustrate this, I struck a piece of 1/2″ chip-board with each and measured the depth of cut. Because the alternating fibers of the wood, the Halfachance would not gain a splitting advantage. In fact, it would be plausible to think it would stall slicing the thick fibers.

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I measured the depth of impact in 1/2″ chip-board with both a cheap machete and the Halfachance.

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The Halfachance easily eclipsed the lesser tool.

The cheap machete cut a respectable 1.5″ into the wood. But the weight, sharpness, and balance of the Half more than made up for any increased friction from the thicker blade cutting through over 2.5″ of wood on each of the two test rounds.

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I highlighted the cuts with Sharpie. The Halfachance almost doubled the performance of the cheap machete.

I think that this test is the most objective of all of my measures. The Halfachance quantifiably outperformed an inexpensive machete.

Brush Clearing:

This is where the rubber meets the road. Obviously, if a tool cannot do this task well, it doesn’t deserve to be called a machete. The Halfachance met every expectation I had and then some.

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The Halfachance threw hatchet-like chips.

Not only does the Halfachance feel nice in the air while swinging. Utilizing a chop motion at impact causes the tool to bite into the wood like a hatchet. The chips of wood were the largest and cleanest I have ever seen from a machete.

It can cut cleanly through branches up to 2″ thick or more with a single swipe. The blade shears masterfully.

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The Hallachance cleaved branches cleanly and efficiently.

The “15-minute Machete Test”

Finally, I decided to do the “TTAK 15-minute Machete Test”. I had an overgrown section of yard that I wanted to knock back. It ran along an old block wall that marked the edge of a fairly steep drop. It had been 2 years since I last flattened the overgrowth, and it was a mix of saplings, shrubs, kudzu, and other assorted vines.

Before:

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Bring us a shrubbery!

After:

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15-minute’s work with the Halfachance.

The results speak for themselves.

Culinary Tests:

While it is definitely outside of a machete’s wheelhouse, it is plausible that a machete might be pressed into camp-kitchen use if the only alternative is a small folder. So I decided to throw the Halfachance a few curveballs.

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While obviously not a kitchen knife, the Halfachance could shave impressively thin slices from a tough, warty squash.

I had already beaten the crap out of a watermelon, leaving behind cleanly sliced, if not aesthetically pleasing pieces. This was done purely for fun and served no purpose whatsoever.

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Because I could.

The final test would push the envelope of the Halfachance’s culinary potential – Cubed Pineapple.

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Whoops.

My first blow missed right. I managed to cleave off the stem, but not only did I not really get enough off the top, I sliced my cutting board in two. I decided to switch to a slicing motion.

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After adjusting technique, clean slices were achieved with minimal effort.

The shorter than your typical machete size of the Half certainly made the slicing motion less awkward. I was able to peel the outer layer with almost as much efficiency as a chef’s knife.

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I just cubed a pineapple with a machete. Your move.

After removing the flesh from the core, I cut my cubes. Obviously the motion required me to raise my elbow in an awkward manner, but the results were better than I expected.

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It takes some getting used tom but the Halfachance can adequately perform most culinary tasks.

It should also be noted, I performed this test after a period of use. I washed, but did not sharpen the Half prior to this test.

Ratings (out of five stars)

Styling ****

This thing looks bad-ass. The black-matte powder-coat and parang shape are definitely intimidating.

Blade *****

The 65Mn is enough steel to be up for the task and then some. It was a good choice, and light-years ahead of your typical machete. Weight, size, shape, and edge are all superlative.

Ergonomics ****

The contoured handle and textured grip are the best I have ever seen on a machete.

Ruggedness/Durability **** .5

This thing is straight up burly. The powder-coating is extremely tough, showing no signs of wear after testing. The handle is still as tight as it was from the factory. My only ding is as nice as the sheath is, I would have liked to have seen more robust stitching. That being said, I have never used a more solidly built machete.

Overall Rating: *****

Without a doubt the finest machete I have used. Not everyone “needs” a $70 machete, but if you spend a lot of time in the woods, either around the yard or in the field, the Halfachance is a significantly better tool than your typical machete. I will be taking the Halfachance 4 wheeling, camping, and I will be sure to toss it in my Go Bag when the zombies arrive in my neighborhood.

 

(Update 10/11/14: Welcome to those visiting via CRKT’s Facebook Post. We hope you enjoyed this review, and hope you stop back again. Please take a moment to “like” our Facebook Page, or follow us on Twitter @knifetruth to follow our latest updates. thanks. – HCA)

 

Discussion

12 responses to ‘Machete Review: CRKT Ken Onion Halfachance

  1. Awesome review I have been meaning to get a better machete than what I have now. I’ve been looking at some Condors but I might have to take a look at one of these now.

  2. I enjoy the reviews here. You pour your time, energy and sweat into them, its appreciated. We just wish you had a larger staff, so this blog could cover ground quicker. Keep up the good works.

    • While I’d like more content from a varied number of writers. I don’t really hold it against TTAK. There’s tons of other knifeblogs and we’ve got a pretty healthy discourse going on compared to other hobby communities.

      Every review on TTAK, and most of the random snippet articles too, are thoughtful, thorough, and nicely written.

    • Seriously, can’t praise you enough for your reviews H. Clay, you’re knocking it out of the park with ’em lately.

      I’ve been in the market for awhile and always wondered how CRKT’s new offerings compared to better known Condor and Kershaw’s camp line and it looks like it’s a serious contender.

      Thanks again as always!

  3. Dear lord…that is on heck of a test. Put it though its paces. Seems like the only way to go if you have some land to trim back privet every spring and fall.

    Yeah…my H.F. $4 one will do, but it is scary when it bounces off a limb.

  4. Good Review. I just got done putting an “edge” on my father’s HF special machete and the whole time I was thinking about getting him a good one. I’m sure he (and indirectly my mother), will appreciate it.

  5. I’d look again at one of your “car bumper” special machetes. If it has a circle on the blade with the words “hand BOLO forged” from the top down you may have a little treasure. They’re certainly not beautiful, and sometimes the scales are too big so that they chafe on you hand (if that’s why the duct tape on the handle you can fix it in about 5min with a coarse file), but they’re durable as hell, and easy to sharpen with a file. Made in Japan shortly after WWII, IIRC. Should be embossed on the bottom of the grip. If it starts to dull quickly, just grind the bevel further back on the blade with a grinding wheel or dremel, and the file touch ups last much longer.

  6. I bought a Halfachance at Wally World and I have to say for $30 it is quite nice. The only beef I have so far is the top strap on the sheath, it is either to short or sewed on in the wrong spot because when the parang is in the sheath you can barely snap it and it barely holds the handle. That said, it’s not worth returning to try for another that may be the same and truthfully I don’t see it falling out in any normal circumstances.

  7. I noticed like CRKT’s website you conveniently ignored the construction of the all important tang. Previous comments have also mentioned this. I would hope that Ken Onion would not allow his name to be associated with a disaster similar to the Kershaw Outcast (nice thick blade, cheap easily breakable tang hidden in a nice rubber handle). Since CRKT’s marketing department has overtly ignored this major selling point I must say I am skeptical. For a machete under $30 there must be a corner or two cut somewhere.

    Is the tang solid as it should be or crap thin easily breakable like the Kershaw Outcast?

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