ESEE lite machete

Knives :
  • ESEE lite machete

This review consists of :

Design details and unique features

Maker Webpage : lite machete , basic specifications :

A note from the seller about the manufacturing :

The blade of the machete is made in El Salvador by Imacasa. The handle and handle components are made and assembled in the USA.

This is a clear example of a consistent design with all aspects complementary to produce the same goal a functional medium length lite machete which can handle :

Fit and finish / quality of build

For a machete this is well finished :

The only real issue is that the tip is slightly compacted, likely off of a hard contact, as seen in the 50X magnification of the image on the right.

Stock cutting

The initial sharpness was measured at :

In short for a machete it is very sharp, for a knife, not so much.

Standard buffed edge as noted in the 50X image in the right.

On carving wood compared to the #1260 Mora on some 1" hardwood dowel with light force (10-30 lbs) :

As the angles are very similar and both edges are highly polished it would be expected that the performance is very similar. The slightly higher performance of the Mora is just due to the fact it was freshly sharpened on an 8000 grit waterstone.

On some 1x0.5" pine making 2" points with heavy force (50-70 lbs) :

The performance falls behind on heavier cutting though because there is simply no way to effectively hold the machete and do traditional one handed hammer style carving.

As noted in the image on the right, while the handle is very well comfortable for a forward grip, any contact of the handle against the blade will generate high pressure quickly due to the thin stock, even though the spine is decently chamfered.

This is why in general instead of having an extended choil for a pseudo grip it is more effective to simply have an extended handle which allows for higher force cutting without high pressure points or having to deal with the leverage disadvantage of working far out ahead of the grip on the blade.

Of course machetes are not typically used in that manner and usually shaping is done by a combination of :


The primary use of a light machete of course is light brush work :

It does this very well because :

and :

Lighter and easier to bend woods like alder have to be cut very fast because slow cuts will just push them out of the way. This was what the lite machete was made to do and were it is optimally designed. The entire length of the blade can easily make contact with the vegetation and just cut swaths right through it.

In terms of raw chopping power, it can easily cut through a spruce 2x2 in one hit with only moderate effort, again because of the :

However the problem is that since the blade is so thin it will bind readily if the cut is not completed and since it is so easy to flex it will not be easy to draw from the wood once stuck.

It is possible to cut thicker wood with the lite machete however the technique has to be adapted. If high force is used the blade can bind deeply and be difficult to draw out. Because deep cuts can not be made, shallow notches have to be used and then multiple notches or simply rotate the wood. The break even point is in the 2-3" range on hard woods. On larger and softer woods the machete starts to fall behind a decent small axe like the Fiskars Sportsman.

As the Fiskars is a soft wood design (thick wedge shape to prevent binding) it has reduced penetration on hard woods and small hard woods make for springy impacts. In extremes, less than 1" wood, the hatchet can simply break the wood thus the edge is not even relevant. However on the larger and softer wood the Fiskars can utilize its ability to get heavier impacts and is still very fluid. The ESEE has to be used light there or else it will bind as the machete does not clear wood it is forced to multiple notch. The difference in the extremes is easily more than 2:1

In general the machete works best on wood if it can be cut in one hit as this allows full use of the speed and length without having to deal with the consequences of binding. This small diameter wood of 1-2" in diameter is easily cut into lengths with single snap cuts even when the wood is fairly seasoned. Ideally if a lot of wood has to be sectioned then it should be cut on a log or similar to support the wood to prevent it from moving which just wastes the chopping energy.

However there are some issues in regards to durability on very hard cutting. In general hard stub limbing is not sensible use with "felling" class tools as the loads on a edge for felling are *far* lower than in limbing hard stubs so and edge optomized for one doesn't tend to do well on the other. This is why there are for example felling and swamping axes. In general you only build a tool to the required minimal durability as going beyond that just adds weight and cost with no functional gain.

However, just how much damage will the blade actually take when the machete is used for such work? The lite machete was used to do some very hard limbing of dried and seasoned small limbs. The edge does turn fairly consistently. It doesn't chip but rolls and dents in these hard contacts.

Most of the dents are 0.005" at back, only one is just under 0.010". However as the cutting is moved back towards the handle they are reduced very rapidly as both the energy is reduced (less powerful cutting) and the angle increases towards the handle, and it almost 50% thicker ground than in the tip which makes it almost 3.5x stiffer.

Of course the tip can be ground at a higher angle to deal with the knots or the cutting can be just done with the base of the blade and just leave the variable grind so that very low angle in the tip just shears through light vegetation and handles wood cutting on thick sections without much problem.

Beyond chopping, as the blade is very thin it has little stiffness and thus is not overly effective for splitting such wood and if that has to be done on any significant work then wedges would be much more effective choices as the blade will just bend rather than force the wood apart.


The handle is very large, most consider it over sized :

It is a basic micarta grip and comes with a fairly smooth finish. There is some disagreement over grips for larger blades in regards to smooth vs textured and the conflict comes mainly from different styles of use. A smooth handle such as on this one allows the handle to move freely in hand so is well suited to a loose grip, often used for low impact cutting, faster swings and extended use - typical for a machete.


The sheath is a very basic synthetic drop in pouch. It has received fairly harsh criticism because :

All of this is very true however it projects a fairly different interpretation of what a machete sheath should be than what Randall (the designer) tends to use. Randall is very basic on cases for machetes and this represents exactly that view. It is basically more of a case to carry the knife from place to place rather than a sheath.


The ESEE lite machete used a plain carbon steel, advertised as both 1075 and 1084 in different places, the hardness is listed as 50-52. This hardness and lack of alloy carbides may send off warning signals to many who may have the idea that it would have very low performance as there is a misconception about edge retention for larger knives. In general edge retention of a blade is influenced by :

and how much of each is important depend on the type of cutting being done.

For a large blade like this one, the edge when used for natural work on woods, will not tend to blunt by slow wear in general because wood is naturally not clean. The edge tends to blunt by small impacts leading to dents and rolls on a microscopic scale. If the wood is clean, then a large amount of it can be cut, such as shown on the right, and the blade will still easily cut light grasses.

Now the machete could be made harder of course which would increase the strength, lessen the rolling and in general allow a slightly thinned edge angle at a given type or class of work. However the hardness used makes the blade very tough which prevents brittle failure even in extremes, allows the machete to be readily filed and also worked easily with natural stones.

A case could be made for using an inherently tougher steel, say 1050, which would allow a higher hardness and still retain the necessary durability. However the steel choice could be influenced by that is available in suitable stock thicknesses and the hardening methods/equipment.


Overview :

In short, this is an excellent example of a lite machete, optomized for brush clearing which can be pressed into heavier work. However care has to be taken in use due to the asymmetric nature of the edge which has the angle reduce dramatically through the tip. This works very well when it is used as intended, using the tip to do large sweeping cuts on soft vegetation, but could cause problems with damage if the tip is used on harder woods. Either a change in technique or regrind resolves that issue.

Now a case or argument could be made considering the price compared to the same machete pattern without a Micarta handle as aside from the handle, the increased cost is just producing a better quality initial sharpening that the standard piece from Imacasa. However some people do want to support a US maker/distributor and there is also the issue of a local warranty and the ability to interact / discussion the performance on the ESEE forum.

Comments and references

Comments can be emailed to cliffstamp[REMOVE] or by posting to the following thread :

and/or the YouTube Playlist for ESEE.

Most of the pictures in the above are in the PhotoBucket album.

Last updated : 23/01/2015
Originally written: 12/09/2013