Founded in 1939, Gerber has long since established itself as one of the biggest names in cutting tools. From kitchen cutlery to pocket knives, to skinning knives, Gerber has remained a small-shop powerhouse for most of a century. The Portland, Oregon based company is still fighting to keep at the forefront of the industry. Being local, I was very happy to hear I’d be working out their machete, the Gator Bolo.
The Gator is 22.5″ long with 15.5″ of that taken up by the (full-tang, 1050 steel) blade. The slip-proof handle is made from Gator Grip™ and includes a small lanyard hole at the end. A nylon sheath is included, which zips shut and has a hook-and-loop strap to secure it shut. A D-ring on the back of the sheath can be affixed to a belt or backpack. The Bolo design comes courtesy of the Philippines, where the front-heavy design is used to add mass and inertia for chopping thick vines or hard coconuts.
After a day at the range, I stopped at an area often used as a campsite. Lots of downed tree limbs and scrap wood were strewn about, providing a bounty of chop fodder. After a brief inspection (looked good!) I got to chopping. My first 10 whacks were given to a ~2.5″ diameter branch, which bisected it easily. The bolo design definitely gives a different balance to the Gator’s swing, taking just a little getting used to, it certainly helps to drive the edge home. I continued, taking the Gator to a number of limbs and branches between 1″ and 4″ in diameter. Over the course of 45 minutes, I spent probably 25-30 minutes of consistent chopping, gathering up a nice pile of wood in the process.
Here’s what I found: The handle of the Gator is marketed as ergonomic, and it really is. The shape of the handle as well as the material combine for an excellent grip. Even when the machete had been given a good soaking by rain, the grip was excellent. The edge of the blade didn’t start out particularly impressive, which stands to reason. A razor sharp blade would dull too quickly to be useful, but a wider blade edge should hold up to more significant abuse, right? Well, the Gator wasn’t impressing me in that department. I was taking down some fairly soft wood such as cedar and pine, but the edge on this blade was blunted significantly in parts after short use. I always test before I research, but a quick look online shows that many customers are finding their edge dulled or even chipped after short use. Ouch. The sheath works fine, as a sheath should. It secures the machete when you don’t need it and releases it easily enough when you do.
I’ll admit, I’m not a metallurgist. I understand that 1050 steel is a carbon steel, lacking in chrome or other metals to inhibit rust and corrosion. As such, the Gator Bolo needs to be dried and oiled to prevent surface rusting/discoloration. Even though my Gator showed slight surface rust after use of the machete, as evidenced by the large number of reports of chipped, folded and broken edges. Perhaps it’s more of a heat treating issue and the metal wasn’t properly tempered? I’m not certain where the problem lies, but a chopping tool that blunts so easily isn’t going to be around long. Also, made in China.
While the Gerber Gator Bolo has an excellent design, acceptable sheath and a great handle, the steel used is either inappropriate for this use or not adequately prepared. If you want to read up some more on the Gator Bolo machete, check it out here. MSRP is $49, street price more like $35.