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Knives That Are Tools: Hibben IV Small Machete

Don’t laugh—most tactical-minded officers watch action movies, and the “Rambo” series is among the best. Some of us were on the force when the original one, “First Blood,” was still in theaters.

The fixed blades used in the series by John Rambo, while totally cool, are really just fantasy knives. The first one, Jimmy Lile’s “survival knife,” might have been close to functional, but as the progression went from “First Blood” to “First Blood, Part II” to “Rambo III”, his knives became even more fantastical. Cool, cooler, coolest…but not actually very useful for us in the tactical arena. Until now. The small machete featured in the fourth film, “Rambo,” is a zero-frill, total function fixed blade designed by Gil Hibben.

Hibben Knives

Gil Hibben has been a custom knifemaker for 50 years. While Jimmy Lile made the knives for the first two “Rambo” movies, Gil Hibben made the “Rambo III” bowie knife and the “Rambo” small machete. If being a Cutlery Hall of Fame member and making Rambo’s blades is not enough credibility, Hibben is the Official Klingon Armorer for Paramount Pictures. But back to planet Earth…Hibben has also made knives for our soldiers in Vietnam, and he is an experienced Alaskan hunting guide.

And yes, Sylvester Stallone and Gil Hibben worked together on the design of this small machete. In fact, Hibben made five prototype versions of the machete before the design that was selected for the movie. The machete does indeed look basic and Spartan, and that is exactly how Stallone wanted it—something crude looking, as if it had been quickly pounded out from a basic furnace-forge in a small Thai village. In keeping with the “scarce resources” theme of the movie, the last few prototypes were forged from pieces of a truck leaf spring.

Hack, Pry, Scoop

The Hibben IV small machete might be a good fit with some rural tactical teams. It actually does what we want a big fixed blade to do: hack, chop, dig, scoop, pry, wedge and, on only the rarest occasion, cut. Few of us actually use the big tactical blades to cut with. If you need precision cutting, use your tactical folder. This small machete may work better for every purpose that a big fixed blade is carried.

Two-thirds of tactical officers carry a tactical folder, leaving one third of us who carry a fixed blade. About half of those fixed blades are the shorter fixed-blade versions of the tactical folder. That leaves about 15% of us, about one guy per team, who carry a big, tough fixed blade on callouts. And that is the group of operators who should compare their big fixed blade with the mid-sized machete. Someone on your team should have a big blade to do ax, crowbar and shovel work. This blacked-out, low-profile Rambo machete does those tasks better than almost anything else we have seen.

The Hibben IV is 18 inches long and has a balance point exactly 9 inches from the pommel—half the overall length. For comparison, we checked a number of very big tactical-survival knives, the ones with long and thick blades. One of these 14-inch long fixed blades, typical of them all, had a balance point 5.5 inches from the pommel. That’s a 40/60 weight distribution. In comparison, the Hibben IV is nose-heavy.

The Hibben IV does not have a fine and razor sharp cutting edge. Instead, the cutting edge is what you would expect from an axe or hatchet. Make no mistake—it can be sharpened. Frankly, we did put a bit more edge on it, just enough to cut through webbing. But this is not a surgeon’s scalpel. No one is going to use this for fine, precise cutting, even if it were razor sharp! It is just too heavy.

Don’t think of the Hibben IV small machete like you think of a regular machete, which has a long thin blade. This is much more like one huge knife with a very thick blade. Heads up: The Hibben IV small machete is very heavy. It weighs a hefty 3 pounds. In comparison, the typical 14-inch long, ¼-inch thick, big tactical knife with an 8-inch blade weighs 1 pound. Movie trivia about the hefty weight: Lighter, aluminum versions of the Hibben IV machete were used for some of the actual filming.

How Big is Big?

The Hibben IV small machete has a 12-inch blade, compared to the big fixed blades with a 7- to 8-inch blade. It has a 6-inch handle, compared to a 5-inch handle for the big tactical knives. So, it is 5 to 6 inches longer than even the biggest tactical fixed blades. The small machete is, of course, much wider than the big tactical blades. The fixed blades are about 1.5 inches in width. The Hibben IV is 2.8 inches at its widest part.

Be warned: The sheer weight of it and the different balance take some getting used to, even for beefy toolmen. It is this forward balance point (the forward weight distribution, the nose-heavy feel) that allows the small machete to chop, hack and hammer much better than even the biggest fixed blade.

United and Master

The Hibben IV small machete is available from both United Cutlery and Master Cutlery. These are wholesale-only companies, so you cannot buy direct from them. However, both versions are readily available online for much less than retail stores. On the Internet, expect to pay between $75 and $100 for either version. Watch out for the ultra-cheap knockoffs in the $25 to $50 range.

The United Cutlery piece is marked a bit less provocatively than the Master Cutlery piece. The United machete is laser etched with “Hibben IV” and “designed by Hibben Knives (logo), Gil Hibben (signature)” on the blade. It does not have the word “Rambo” anywhere on the tool. In contrast, the Master machete has “RAMBO” heavily stamped in the ricasso.

There is no fantasy appearance on either machete. Neither has saw teeth on the spine, aggressive blade serrations or exaggerated finger grooves. There is nothing silly, like a compass in the pommel. In fact, these tools could not be more plain or simple. Each is just a wide, long, thick slab of sharpened steel. Exactly that, and only that, is needed for the task.

The blade finish between the two makes is a bit different, too. The United machete is extremely smooth, and all the edges are radiused. About a dozen hammer impacts are visible in the perfect finish just for effect. The Master machete looks like it was forged, ground and finished in the jungles of Thailand.

The final difference between the otherwise identical tools is in the blade alloy. The United machete uses 1090 high carbon steel. The Master machete uses 1060 high carbon steel. Both makes need to be oiled to prevent corrosion!

The 4-digit alloy number (1060 or 1090) is easy to decode. The first two digits refer to the type of carbon steel. In this case, 10 means plain carbon. The second two digits refer to the percentage of carbon. The more carbon, the harder the knife. The 60 means 0.60% carbon, which classifies the 1060 Master machete as a High Carbon Steel. The 90 means 0.90% carbon, which classifies the 1090 United machete as a Tool Carbon Steel.

The 1060 alloy has “high” strength, hardness and wear resistance. The 1090 alloy has “very high” strength, hardness and wear resistance. High Carbon Steels (used in the Master machete) are used to make screw drivers, hammers and wrenches. Tool Carbon Steels (used in the United machete) are used to make shear blades, punches and springs. The two machete blades are otherwise identical.

You cannot break this blade. You cannot even bend the blade. You cannot break the tip off. You cannot chip the blade any more than you can an axe head. It is a shovel, a hammer, a crowbar, a machete, a wrecking bar—a real tactical tool. The Hibben IV is a hammer, a hatchet, a club, a jimmy, a shovel. It will shatter triple pane and wire-reinforced glass or, at the very least, pierce the glass to allow a pry. For this review, we did a little bit of all of this. Some fun, some work.

The Hibben IV comes with a heavy-duty sheath. Like the small machete, the leather sheath is very basic. Nothing MOLLE here. It has a heavy-duty belt loop and leg strap. That’s it. No tactical operator is going to have this thing dangling off his belt. It is much more likely to be mounted high on the back of the LBV. It is not a knife—it is a tool. Think of how we carry other tactical tools.

Published in Tactical Response, Nov/Dec 2009

Rating : 9.9

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