Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Gerber Gator Machete Jr. (post-recall improved version)

Hey guys. First off, let me apologize for the lack of quality pix of the items I write about. I've found the quickest way to get an image onto a post (for me that is), is to email it from my phone, copy it, and throw it up here. It's fast, but unfortunately LG phones with 2+ year old technology don't take the best photos. I have an inexpensive standalone digital camera, but it's rather finicky with light sources. So, for now, you'll have to endure pix "stolen" from other sites, and grainy cellphone photos.

Now that's out of the way, let's move on to the Gerber Gator Machete Jr., let's have a look:
*Tactile rubber grip
*Fine edge and saw blade
*Dual Saw and Fine Edge Blade for Clearing and Removing Vegetation
*Gator Grip Handle - Resists Slipping in Wet Conditions
*Blade Length: 10.75"
*Overall Length: 18.75"
*Nylon Sheath
It should be noted that the original Gator series machetes lacked the thumb ramp on top of the handle, and peoples' hands were sliding forward and getting cut. Gerber announced a recall on their site, and the machete in this review is the result of a redesign for safety's sake. Any Gator or Gator Jr's on shelves now should have the slanted thumb ramp on the back. If you have a pre-recall version, Gerber will replace it. I believe the info is under their press release section.

I've been pretty harsh on Gerber in the past couple years, well, because, frankly, much of their Chinese product output is garbage. See my earlier review about the Descent folder. Since then, I have gotten countless emails from other Descent owners whose blades also loosened up for no reason, other than opening and closing the knife. Inexpensive foreign made knife or not, that's inexcusable, IMO. But hey, it's pretty hard to eff up a machete, and while I generally prefer Cold Steel's machetes, sharpened to a nice edge post-purchase, the Gerber Gator Jr. does have its merits! This machete is a nice size for a backpack, useful for stowing so folks on the trail or wherever don't get bugged out by the machete wielding dude dripping sweat and babbling about cardio. At an overall length of just over 18 inches, it fit neatly into every pack I tried it with. I even left the house with it on my hip under a long Helly-Hanson rain jacket. Ok, so 18 inches is a lot of steel to wear on a belt, but if I'm gonna camp with the damn thing, I want to know it fits decently on a belt, and it does indeed. It was somewhat uncomfortable while sitting, but it's light and can be worn fairly comfortably, as long as you're standing/walking.

This is a nice, light portable machete that works well for clearing light vegetation, you might even be able to use it as a draw knife on wood, or likely baton it through larger timber to make a lean-to or something. The carbon steel blade is bolted to the rubberized handle and feels pretty good when swung. I managed to clear thick blackberry vines and other unsavory weeds on the bank near my dad's house. It was easy. The sawback, however, suffers from the same problem that most sawback knives suffer from, they don't work very well. I should say, it works in theory, but it binds up and gets stuck. I'm not complaining too much though, as it retails for around $27.95 USD, but can be had @ discount stores and online for about $16.95 USD. That's about comparable to many of Cold Steel's excellent South African made machetes.
Granted, overall, I didn't do any real abusive testing or give this machete everything I had. But I am confident, that it's fairly priced, and I love the short overall design that fits well in a rucksack or backpack. The handles provided excellent slip resistance, and sliding the included lanyard over the handle and inserting your hand, security is increased, and works well. I felt comfortable enough with the Kraton-rubber-esque grip, that I took it out back and flailed the machete around as if I was engaged in a sword battle, I even did some of the Filipino martial arts moves I used to know, just to see how secure it is in the hand. The grip is another high point of this machete, at no point did I feel that I was in danger of losing control of the little beast. Comparatively, as I said, I prefer Cold Steel's machetes overall, but the Gator's grip is a tad more comfy, and I imagine pads the hand nicely for extended work.

Overall, I would indeed recommend the Gator Jr. machete, by Gerber. The sawback edge could be redesigned to be a bit more useful and smooth, but the short pack-ability is a plus, as is the semi-tacky rubber grip, which is also comfortable. The sheath is a cheap, basic ballistic nylon affair, but it keeps the blade from cutting you, and though it feels cheap, I haven't had any problems yet. The handle is retained with a simple velcro collar that fits tightly and securely.
The nice thing about a semi-flexible, forward weighted blade like a machete, is the fact that it doesn't need to be honed to a razor edge in order to work. The type of work you do with a machete dictates also, that you're hacking and smashing your way through branches and vegetation. Again, I didn't do any real crazy abusive testing, but I didn't notice any severe deforming of the main edge. It got dull, yes, but even after it had lost it's "pop", it still worked as well as most other machetes. To touch up the plain side, I held the machete static on my lap, and used a Smith's flat diamond hone as you'd use a file, moving the sharpener along the blade, while keeping the blade still. This method worked pretty well, and wasn't time consuming. With a medium grit diamond hone, I had the edge actually feeling sharper than the factory edge in about 5 minutes.

So it appears that Gerber's Chinese manufacturing partners can still do basic knives right. You're ok, as long as it doesn't have any moving parts, like a folding knife!

I love Cold Steel's machetes, but as I mentioned, the handle is less comfortable, and there's no way you're getting the massive Magnum Kukri machete into a backpack. For light work at a reasonable price, the Gerber Gator Jr. machete actually exceeded my expectations, which were maybe unfairly low. I bought mine at a local discount sporting goods store which specializes in knives, guns and fishing and hunting supplies, but you can find these pretty much anywhere online that sells Gerber products. Not bad Gerber, not bad at all.

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