Everyone has their own personal definition of a survival knife. Sometimes it's just a piece of fantasy steel with wicked looking spikes or a saw back. Sometimes they come with a selection of bizarre and poorly though out tools. Sometimes it's a straight copy of a movie prop. Sometimes it's just a simple working tool that is specifically designed for the environment that it will be used in, but has had a little more care and attention lavished on it than the local knives.
This is a Philippine Bolo. It's made with great care from Jeepney leaf springs hand forged and lovingly fashioned on an angle grinder before being hardened in random oil before being tempered in the ashes by the fire. The handle is Carabao (water buffalo), with peened pins and a wooden scabbard.
Nothing, nothing out chops a Philippine Bolo when working bamboo. As an experiment, last time my group brought a big custom Bowie knife, two Kukris (खुकुरी) of different profiles, the best Thai Enep, and other knives to the Jungle. They all proved next to useless, bar the Enep, which was still substantially outperformed by the local Bolo.
Let me correct myself, the only thing that outperforms a Philippine Bolo is a Hong Kong Bolo. It's not my first and to be fair, it's essentially a Philippine Bolo, except made a few upgrades based on my experience making and using knives, cutting bamboo and, compared to a local smith, an unlimited budget in materials, tooling and time.
- I used O1 tool steel from a reputable stockist, differentially edge quenched in decent quenchant it and tempered it in a computer controlled heat treatment oven. The spine is resilient but the edge is hard. The edge is only in the low sixties on the Rockwell C scale, but that is deliberate so that it is easily sharpened as is the local tradition. It still holds an edge about 5 times longer than a traditional Bolo and less likely to crack or snap. Cracks cannot propagate through the blade as they will stop in the soft back and the blade will remain not only intact, but functional. You could put this blade through multiple 180 degree bands without cracking the edge anyway.
- The blade is a little longer narrower and yet a little thinner so that I could redistribute the weight forward with a Nepalese style recurve and belly swell and beefed up the handle a bit to allow me to chop more securely. If needed, I can I loop my hand through the lanyard made of jungle creeper (lasts longer than hemp), holding the pommel and swing with a huge arc and with great angular momentum. The lanyard has a tritium marker so it can be found at night. Otherwise, it is exactly the same cross-sectional profile as a Bolo, has a pointed tip for drilling and fine work. The blade belly swell is grippable for fine work. The edge has a true zero grind and very gradually tapers to a convex.
- I gave it a nickel guard for safety and a hidden full tang with all the strength attributes of a full tang but none of the edge oxidation problems. The scales are plasticised wood dust a weatherproof material used on park benches and decking, polished smooth. They are epoxied on with 3-Ton epoxy and held in place with stainless steel Corby bolts. It has a good width, belly, a grippable pommel, and is blended into the guard which is silver soldered to the blade.
- The scabbard is thick Kydex and hangs from a jungle creeper belt loop like a traditional Bolo scabbard. It is totally secure and is secured with a toggle that I carved into a loud, high-pitched whistle.
- I also made a sharpening stone from a Canadian made dual-grade oilstone.
We tested this blade every which way, cutting bamboo, wood, etc. It passed the one true test with flying colours: My guide and his boys put their own bolos aside and came looking to borrow mine whenever there was hard cutting to be done because it made lighter work of the job. That knife took the lion's share of the work, housed us, fed us, built fires, lit fires, fixed boots, did some light surgery and dug the latrine.
It isn't the ultimate Bolo; I have some planned improvements for the next version. It does make a good example of my knifemaking philosophy with respect to 'survival knives'. Maximum, cutting power, reasonable weight, optimised for the locale, zero embellishments.