Well folks, you can’t win them all. Just a couple weeks ago, we published this article on whether or not you can trust online reviews, and how one of the things that sets us apart is that we’re willing to write a bad review when it’s called for.
Ironically, today is the day we’re forced to put our money where our mouth is.
To be fair, it’s not all bad news when it comes to the Cold Steel Bolo Machete. There’s a lot of potential here, but you’re going to have to invest some time and effort if you want to transform this into a great machete.
Cold Steel Bolo: First Impressions
Let’s get right down to it. We actually bought two of these things, and they each came with two very different issues.
The first one had one of the worst sharpening jobs I’d ever seen. We’re talking burrs and shavings all down the length of the blade. It was a mess. Picture down below.
The second hadn’t been sharpened at all. The matte black anti-rust finish covered the entire blade right down to the cutting edge, leaving it so dull that I’d feel confident letting a toddler play with it without fear of them hurting themselves. You can see a pic of it in the gallery below.
What gives? I know that some machete manufacturers leave their blades unfinished so that the user can give them their own desired edge. But I’m truly mystified by getting two Bolos with their blades in two different, but equally unusable, states.
Ultimately, we were able to sharpen them both to paper-slicing sharpness without two much trouble (the completely-unsharpened Bolo took a little more work than the badly-sharpened one). But it’s something you should be aware of before you buy one.
With that out of the way, let’s get down to the rest of the review. Fortunately, the Cold Steel Bolo also has some redeeming qualities!
Measurements and Specs
This thing is massive! The Cold Steel Bolo Machete has an 18-inch blade, with an overall length of 23 ⅝ inches. The blade is 2mm thick, and the whole thing weighs 19 oz. The blade is 1055 high carbon steel with a “black baked-on anti rust matte finish.” The handle is made of black polypropylene plastic.
I’m not sure if it’s a full tang. It feels like it could be, but it doesn’t say on Cold Steel’s website whether it’s a full tang or not (normally I would assume that if it was, they’d say it was). Regardless, I’ve given the Bolo a lot of serious wallops without any indication that the blade is anything less than secure in the handle. It’s also a very agile blade for its size.
You can order the Cold Steel Bolo with or without a sheath. Mine came with a handy black nylon sheath that holds the blade nice and snug.
Blade Shape & Steel
Sharpness aside, I really like the blade of the Cold Steel Bolo Machete. It has a graceful taper starting at the handle, which increases toward the tip as it bulges out. The forward end of the cutting blade has a significant belly to it, and the top of the blade similarly flares out at the end.
This makes the Bolo a very weight-forward machete, which enables it to be both an effective slicer and a good chopper. The curvature of the blade essentially carries the material being cut along the edge of the blade, and the bulge absorbs impact.
Having the weight toward the end also makes it easy to swing repeatedly without wearing yourself out. You just don’t have to work as hard to make a good cut.
The 1055 steel is not high-end steel by any means, but it’s a good choice for a machete. It has excellent strength and impact resistance, which is important for a tool that does a lot of cutting and chopping. It has more manganese and less carbon that your typical “high carbon” steel.
That makes it a little softer and also less brittle. As a result, it’s harder to break or chip, but will require more frequent sharpening. Luckily, 1055 steel also sharpens very easily, and not to keep beating a dead horse, but thank goodness for that.
Handle Shape & Ergonomics
The handle of the Cold Steel Bolo fits my hand fairly well, and has some decent grip to it. A fine diamond-checkered pattern is molded into the grip. The polypropylene used to make it is a fairly rigid plastic, and I would probably prefer something a little softer and, for lack of a better word, “grippier.”
It’s not bad, by any means. It hasn’t gone flying out of my hands on a swing or anything like that. But it also never feels truly locked in the way I want a machete to feel. Wrapping the handle with some grip tape would probably help.
The issue might also have something to do with the length and weight-forward nature of the blade; it’s hard for the handle to be completely secure in my hand when there’s so much weight on the opposite end.
Still, it doesn’t detract from the ease of use, and I find the Cold Steel Bolo to be very easy to wield, and the handle does fit in my hand a little more firmly with gloves on than it does bare-handed. The whole design also absorbs shock well.
What’s it Good For?
Traditional bolo machetes originated in the Philippines, and they’re still in wide use there today. They’re mainly used for farming and agricultural purposes, and their long blades make them adept at cutting crops like rice, soybeans and peanuts.
The bulge at the end of a bolo’s blade gives it some extra chopping power for tough tasks like opening coconuts. And like any large blade, it can also be used for combat or self-defense, should the need arise.
Cold Steel’s Bolo Machete is very much in line with its predecessors when it comes to best uses. It’s most suitable for slicing through tall, soft vegetation like grass and brush, making it a great choice for clearing undergrowth, cutting trails, or even harvesting corn and similar crops.
The weight-forward blade also gives it some serious bite, making the Cold Steel Bolo a pretty good chopper. It handles thin branches easily, and does a good job cutting through modest-sized trees and limbs using a series blows in a V-pattern.
You can also baton with it, though it probably wouldn’t be my top choice for that; and the length of the blade makes it a little awkward for finer tasks like shaving tinder. For those kinds of jobs, I’d probably prefer a smaller kukri-style machete.
Final Thoughts on the Cold Steel Bolo
The Cold Steel Bolo really shines as a tool for farming, landscaping, trail maintenance and backyard use. There’s a lot I like about it, despite certain drawbacks. To be honest, if it had come properly sharpened, I’d have very little negative to say about it.
And look, having to sharpen your machete isn’t the worst thing in the world. If you’re going to own a blade like this, you should know how to sharpen it. It’s just worth mentioning that for the average joe who wants to take this thing right out of the box and start swinging, that’s probably not going to be the reality.
At the end of the day, the Cold Steel Bolo Machete is a very budget-friendly tool, and I don’t personally mind having to put a little elbow grease into a machete that only cost me around $30.
Blair Witkowski is an avid watch nut, loves pocket knives and flashlights and when he is not trying to be a good dad to his nine kids, you will find him running or posting pics on Instagram. Besides writing articles for Tech Writer EDC he is also the founder of Lowcountry Style & Living. In addition to writing, he is focused on improving his clients websites for his other passion, Search Engine Optimization. His wife Jennifer and he live in coastal South Carolina.