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The Philippine Bolo


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#1 ZDP-189

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 12:36 AM


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.

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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.
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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.

#2 ZDP-189

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 12:54 AM

A Bolo in action:

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BTW, that's Perry's #35 bamboo PS-1 in case you're wondering.

#3 JoergS

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 12:54 AM

Wow, nice one.

The blade looks much like a Khukrie!

I had a Khukrie as a boy, someone gave it to me, I think it was an original from India. It was in poor condition, and I did what a ten year old boy could do with some leftover sandpaper.

I loved that thing, and still miss it (it got lost at some point).

Jörg

#4 ZDP-189

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 01:02 AM

It's definately a lot more like a Bolo than a Kukri. The edge profile and thickness is all Bolo, although the shape is distinctly Kukri-like. Some Bolo are somewhat Kukri shaped, but I exaggerated it a bit taking the best features of all the jungle knives I knew: the Bolo's thinness, the Parang's reach, the Machete's shock resistance, the Enep's draw-slice and fine tip, the Enep, Kukri etc.s' belly and cutting recurve. It is a bit like me: evolution by hybridisation of cultures picking and choosing the best of both worlds; and my design philosophy: re-examination of traditional with modern techniques in a design with flow and balance.

I'm not going to make more of these. If anyone wants one, the knife is now in the possession of Eduardo Tolentino (pictured). If you can track him down, you can make him an offer, but the knife is a complete one off and handmade from start to finish so please offer him more than €500 ;)

#5 whipcrackdeadbunny

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 06:44 AM

It really is quite lovely, I'm surprised that it out-performed the Bowie though. Do you know Chris Grant, the knife maker from Scotland? a good example of his work is on the youtube channel by Sean Mulhall, or the silver fox as he's also known. It's a special survival knife, with many edges and functions to the blade.

#6 ZDP-189

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 07:21 AM

The Bowie was by Darren P. Reeves a giften knifemaker and master engraver from Billings, Montanna. It's huge - competition cutter sized. Sharp as a razor and a great wood chopper. Filipinos, especially Aetas, don't chop a lot of wood. It's slow growth and can't be used for as much as bamboo. It didn't cut the bamboo at all well, being too thick. A bolo can fell a 5" stem in one swipe, but for safety they use one blow on each side and make a V-cut.

The bolo is the consummate multitool. It chops, cuts, drills, whittles, carves, shaves, lever cuts, battons, prepares dry bamboo for friction firelighting, dispatches animals and fish, dresses game, scales fish, digs holes, makes pots for boiling water and cooking rice, you name it.

It does not come with a 1/4" wode saw with no clearance and no kerf, cannot be used as a suicidal grappeling hook, lacks a built-in crossbow, pliers, screwdriver, or 512kb thumb-drive, has no demagnetised compass, cannot be used to signal planes through the dark canopy, contains no damp matches, sticking plasters or rusted fishhooks.

It's not your best bet in a deciduous or coniferous forest; that's better with a Scandinavian knife and hand axe, or maybe a MOD survival knife/ Tom Brown Tracker. It's not your knife for maritime survival (a folding stainless serrated sheepsfoot and marlinspike would be better.) It isn't what you want when you need to cut a seatbelt and shatter a car's sidewindow underwater; you'd want a settated hook knife with a glass breaking stud. It makes a poor entry tool or urban TEOTWAWKI/ zombie hunter; that would be any knife by Busse Combat. :lol: What it is is the sort of survival tool that turns a survival situation in an Asian jungle in the monsoon into a night's camping under a shelter with a full belly.

#7 harpersgrace

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 08:13 AM

Great looking knives both original and your re-vamp...hard to beat those time tested designs...
I have a fondness for kurkri's myself, but that is a personel preference only, plus I'm not likely to be chopping bamboo in NY.
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These are around 100yrs old and still fully functional, but seldom see any use these days have more modern versions for that. The bottum one I rescued from a guy who thought all knives had to be bright and shiny before he could do more damage.

#8 ZDP-189

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 08:58 AM

That's a great observation about locational appropriateness. Also those are great knives; there are few Kukris made since the start of WWII that are anything but tourist tat. A chap called Sirupate (look him up) respected western dealers like Himalayan Imports and some named kamis and some western made knives are the only kukris worth owning.

#9 A+ Slingshots

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 11:47 AM

I love sharp things too Posted Image..... Here is an old friend that I use often.... I'ts was billed a "Field Grade" leaf spring kukris...which is part of it's rugged good looks and charm to me. . It is one tough blade that takes and keeps an acceptable edge. With it I have made a 60# plum wood "native american style" bow, and debarked an entire set of lodgepole pine Tipi poles. I have used it for other numerous outdoor tasks through the years. I made the sheath for it a while back since it didn't come with one. To me it's just about perfect for so many camping and survival type chores!!

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#10 frosty2

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 11:49 AM

Edged tools carried by those with experience generally reflect the environment in which they are used and their dominant function. It's not really a one-size-fits-all deal. In the US Pacific Northwest the machete I camp with has been modified for the conifer forest and wood craft use. First it is cut down to a 13 inch blade length then given 5 distinct edges. The first 4 inchs are ground to a sharp single bevel (chisel) edge for use as a draw knife and fine carver. The blade above is a sharp convex (axe) grind for chopping and easy withdrawal from the wood. The tip is a very flat course grind for digging and such. The top of the back of the blade is rounded and smooth for a comfortable grip when using it as a draw knife, digging and is good for crushing. The last 5 inches of the back of the blade is filed to provide a sharp 90 degree edge on each side of the blade. This works as crude cabinet scraper for smoothing wood projects, will make fine wood shavings for fire starting and throw a good spark off a fire-steel. A decent machete is not expensive, get one and make it your own.
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#11 harpersgrace

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 04:04 PM

Perry nice knife, I thought about getting one a while back, they are made in Thailand IIRC which isn't too much of a stretch since they have a regional knife that is very similar to a kurkri already. Alot of good knives are made out of leaf springs, I believe Himalayan Imports tries for Mercedes truck springs if they can get them.

#12 whipcrackdeadbunny

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 04:50 PM

The Bowie was by Darren P. Reeves a giften knifemaker and master engraver from Billings, Montanna. It's huge - competition cutter sized. Sharp as a razor and a great wood chopper. Filipinos, especially Aetas, don't chop a lot of wood. It's slow growth and can't be used for as much as bamboo. It didn't cut the bamboo at all well, being too thick. A bolo can fell a 5" stem in one swipe, but for safety they use one blow on each side and make a V-cut.

The bolo is the consummate multitool. It chops, cuts, drills, whittles, carves, shaves, lever cuts, battons, prepares dry bamboo for friction firelighting, dispatches animals and fish, dresses game, scales fish, digs holes, makes pots for boiling water and cooking rice, you name it.

It does not come with a 1/4" wode saw with no clearance and no kerf, cannot be used as a suicidal grappeling hook, lacks a built-in crossbow, pliers, screwdriver, or 512kb thumb-drive, has no demagnetised compass, cannot be used to signal planes through the dark canopy, contains no damp matches, sticking plasters or rusted fishhooks.

It's not your best bet in a deciduous or coniferous forest; that's better with a Scandinavian knife and hand axe, or maybe a MOD survival knife/ Tom Brown Tracker. It's not your knife for maritime survival (a folding stainless serrated sheepsfoot and marlinspike would be better.) It isn't what you want when you need to cut a seatbelt and shatter a car's sidewindow underwater; you'd want a settated hook knife with a glass breaking stud. It makes a poor entry tool or urban TEOTWAWKI/ zombie hunter; that would be any knife by Busse Combat. :lol: What it is is the sort of survival tool that turns a survival situation in an Asian jungle in the monsoon into a night's camping under a shelter with a full belly.


For future reference, is there a knife forum you would recommend? It looks like I'm missing out. :)

#13 harpersgrace

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 05:21 PM

you can pick your poison here
http://www.bladeforu...orums/index.php

#14 Rayshot

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 05:36 PM

This is all fascinating to me since I understand the gratification of having and the pleasure of using a well suited tool (knife, blade etc) to it's purpose.

Eduardo, perhaps feels like he has the "crown jewel" hanging off his belt. Envied by others. If that was a gift from you Dan, or even a terrific deal for Eduardo, my hat is off to you for your generous spirit.

#15 philly

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 06:59 PM

Here is a original Bowie Ax from the 60's. It was designed as a throwing knife but I have used it over the years as a camping woods knife. It splits wood, handles hot pots, digs holes and chops and shaves kindling real well. It works as a hammer and is generally indestructible. Holds a fair edge. Probably not in the same class as the knifes being evaluated but none the less a great camp knife.
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#16 frosty2

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Posted 26 September 2010 - 01:42 PM

If your looking for a machete this is a fairly complete source for all things machete. It even has some videos on proper use and other tips.
http://www.machetespecialists.com/
frosty2

#17 smitty

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Posted 26 September 2010 - 03:25 PM

Here is mine that I made by modifying a Tramontina into a shorter 12 inch blade length, overall 18 inch length with a wooden sheath I made for it. I think it is the perfect size for all around use, but I also have a Gerber full size machete for tougher brush clearing.

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#18 whipcrackdeadbunny

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Posted 27 September 2010 - 06:56 AM

you can pick your poison here
http://www.bladeforu...orums/index.php


Wow! Thanks. Ask and ye shall receive in abundance ...

#19 lucifer93

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 02:16 PM

Your Philippine Bolo Dan is lovely, i have seen two pinoy brothers fighting with these first hand. They were fighting over a bit of land that the family owned and the worse sound in the world to hear is a mans fingers dropping to the ground. The fight was over and my girl went and patched the man up. I have the upmost respect for the Philippine Bolo and the damage it can do in the right hands.

If i was shipped wrecked on a desert island i think the Philippine Bolo would be the knife to have, it has 1000's of uses

#20 Tom Krein

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Posted 28 October 2010 - 09:29 AM

GREAT looking blade! I bet it works GREAT! This is my idea of a survival knife also!!

I would be hesitant to wear my slingshot around my neck though. When I worked as a nurse we would often wear our latex tubed stethoscopes around our necks and the rubber would get hard. Something about the oils affecting the rubber.... this might effect the durability/life of the bands.

Tom




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