This morning I was able to do a little comparison between three chopping tools I have in my arsenal: a Cold Steel Trail Hawk, an Ontario 12" machete, and a Harbor Freight 18 machete. The victims of my cutting tests were a few arbovitae trees in my yard which were in dire need of pruning. First, some background on each of the tools.
I've had the HF machete for a couple of years. Like most machetes it's on the soft side and came as dull as a butter knife. I put a semi-usable edge on it with a belt sander last year but was never really happy with it. A few weeks ago I bought some new files, reshaped the edge, then convexed it using sandpaper on top of a mousepad, taped to my workbench. I also drilled the handle for the lanyard and added a paracord wrap to the grip, which greatly improves the feel. The HF machete came with a cheap flimsy canvas sheath. I improved this by covering it with duct tape, first a couple layers of regular duct tape then a final layer of camo tape as shown below. This actually came out pretty good and I will look at giving it a polyurethane clear coat to make it more weather resistant.
I picked up the CS Trail Hawk a couple weeks ago mainly on a lark. I wanted a hawk that was smaller than my Dixon's hawk, which is about the same size as a CS Rifleman's Hawk. The Trail Hawk's head is rather small with a 2" edge, and a hammer poll. It came reasonably sharp, though I touchd it up with some sandpaper and began to convex the edge. The Trail Hawk did not come with a sheath.
The Ontario 12" machete was ordered around the same time as the Trail Hawk. It's made of 1095 carbon steel about 1/8" thick, which is thicker than the HF machete. The plastic handle is molded in place with a D-shaped hand guard. I find it pretty comfortable and like the hand guard. Like the HF machete, it came as dull as a spatula with a very uneven edge. Unlike the unfinished HF machete, it is parkerized. The Ontario has a secondary bevel next to the edge, while the HF does not. As you can see in the picture, I removed most of the parkerizing from the secondary bevel, to reduce drag when cutting. I sharpened the Ontario using files and sandpaper. It's sharp, but not as sharp as the HF machete. The sheath shown with it had to be ordered separately; all it came with was a cardboard blade cover.
With that out of the way, onto the results.
I started out with the Trail Hawk. It penetrated well into an arborvitae but because of the short edge, took a fair amount of effort to cut through the ~5" diameter trunk.
I switched to the Ontario machete next. It penetrated well in the wood and cut a wider swath than the Trail Hawk. It didn't take long to chop down another arborvitae. The longer blade also made it better than the Trail Hawk for limbing the downed trunks. I was quite impressed with how well it chopped.
My use of the HF machete today was minimal. It's better at cutting thin vegetation than the Ontario because (a) it's sharper, (b) it's thinner, and (c) the longer blade achieves higher tip velocity. I used it last weekend on some weeds and forsythia, which it went through like a razor. It also handled some arborvitae well. It has a reach advantage over the Ontario 12" machete, of course.
Naturally, which one of these three choppers is "best" depends on the use. The CS Trail Hawk is handicapped by the short cutting edge. It would probably make a pretty decent thrower, though.
The Harbor Freight machete is great on light brush and even does well on softwoods. With the 18" blade it has a good reach.
The Ontario 12" machete impressed me today with it's chopping ability on softwoods. It's a bit harder than the HF machete so would probably handle batoning a bit better if you hit a bad knot. The length is handy and the handle is comfortable. IMO it would make a very handy tool out in the Pennsylvania woods.
i have 5 of the Tramontina 12" machetes from Smokey Mtn. Knife works. VERY INEXPENSIVE at i believe $5.99 or thereabouts. i swear by them at edge holding and hardness, and length for ease of swinging. they have other lengths but the 12" models i prefer. a few strokes on any coarse sharpening stone and they could take an arm off with a good swing. [well worth checking out]http://www.eknifeworks.com/webapp/eCommerce/product.jsp?PriceEnd=&order=Default&CatalogName=&range=21&list=10&Feature=&Cat=7&SearchText=machetes&Submit.y=5&Submit.x=8&Mode=Cat&Brand=&PriceStart=&SKU=TR260412