If you are looking for a compact machete to cut small wood and brush, then the Gerber Gator Machete Jr. may be what you need.
For a long while I have been looking for an edged tool to add to my camping and backpacking gear. My main concern was to have something that would be relatively light, offer more than one solution when it came to cutting fire wood into manageable pieces and be reasonably priced.
For years I have carried a large survival knife with me in the outdoors and it has chopped, split and cut more small fire wood than I can remember. But I was looking for something a bit larger that could handle fire wood with a bit less effort.
When I was younger, my late father and I cleared trees away from the area around our cabin in the heavy timber of northern Michigan. They were the tall, thinner trees so common to the woodlands up north. He would bring the tree down by digging the base and cutting the roots, yes a bit intense but that was my father, and hey there were no stumps to deal with. It was my job to cut off the smaller diameter branches and for this, he gave me a machete to use. If you have ever used a machete to cut through inch thick branches, you will understand just how efficient this tool is for the job.
Well fast forward more than a few decades and when I started looking for a new edged tool, a machete came to mind. But for my uses, full sized machetes with blades that range from 18 -24 inches in length are just too big.
Then I came across the Gerber Gator Machete Jr. and I thought I would give it a try. With a 10.75-inch blade, saw teeth on the back and 18.75-inch overall length it is bigger than my survival knife but not massively so.
Now before I go on, I fully recognize the difference between the two tools and if it came down to choosing only one for a purely survival situation, I would choose my knife. But I was looking for something that I can cut branches with and that will do more if necessary.
Now to the specifics on the Gator Jr.
- Overall Length: 18.75"
- Blade Length: 10.75"
- Weight: 14.30 oz. blade alone
- Blade and sheath: 19 oz.
- Head: High Carbon Steel
When you first pick up the Gator Jr. you will notice the grip, which feels very nice in the hand and honestly it is one of the better grips I have ever used. There is a small lanyard attached to the grip that is used to prevent you hand from slipping up onto the blade (instructions included), a very simple and elegant solution. The sheath that comes with the blade is very nice, has a plastic stiffener, is riveted at stress points, has a hook and loop closure to keep the blade in place and a belt loop.
One of the features of the machete that drew me to it, is the saw edge on the top of the blade. Unlike some of the tools that claim to have a saw, this one works and works well. Finally the edge of the machete is what Gerber refers to as a "fine edge" which is OK, but it could be better. The machete came from the factory sharp but not overly so.
I carried the Gator Jr. with me while camping and backpacking in the mountains of Virginia late this summer. It was used to chop small branches for the fire, saw through some thicker stuff, cut paracord, cut up cheese and other edibles when I didnt feel like getting out my pocket knife, which by the way is a Gerber LST. With a piece of cloth over the saw blade, I was able to use the tool two-handed to shave off smaller pieces of dry wood to use when starting a fire.
Five days of constant use showed me it would do the job I needed done, then at the end of day five I faced a failure that truly surprised me.
It was late, I was up on the mountain and wanted to get a fire going and relax a bit. After setting up my hammock and tarp, I collected some downed limbs. I started cutting them up and that is when I hit a knot in one very hard piece of wood. The blade folded at the point of impact as though I had hit a steel pipe. It didnt dent or chip, it just folded over. I could still use the machete, but it had this folded over dent towards the bottom of the blade.
To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I have used Gerber knives for years and have never had a problem. I know there are those out there who will talk about the "mystery metal" used by Gerber as they do not offer exact specifications on the steel. But honestly, I really do not think that most people would know what the difference is and all I want is a tool that will perform at a good price from a reputable firm, which Gerber is. If you have any doubt, just keep on reading.
When I returned, I contacted Gerber and was told to fill out the warranty info on the website and then ship the machete back, which I did. Gerber knives have a life time warranty. The only hitch was the post office, which after a few days showed the package was sitting at the post office in Portland, Ore. where Gerber is located. In fact, this was on Sept. 14 and as of today, a month later the tracking information still says it is at the post office.
To make a long story short, I sent an email to Gerber to try and sort this out and they replied within 12 hours. Then when I called and left a message they called me back the next day. The warranty service was fantastic and my thanks go out to Kyle and Kyle, yes there are two in the warranty department and they were both very helpful.
So even with the post office mess up, Gerber did receive my return and I received a replacement Gator Jr.
Would I purchase a Gator Jr. again? Yes. It does the job it is intended to do, is easy to carry on my pack or even my belt if I want to look like some sort of insane mountain man, and it is very reasonably priced.
As far as the failure at that one point on the blade, I have to believe it was a combination of a super hard knot, my trying too hard on something I should have used the saw on and a batch of steel that was a little too soft.
Either way time will tell, but with the warranty service I received, I have a lot of confidence that if there ever is a problem with a Gerber product in the future, the company will make it right.
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