The Golok Mala




After using wide bladed goloks, a question that has been on my mind for some time is how a narrow bladed golok would make out for cutting through brush. I wondered if there were any special advantages of a narrower blade. To be honest I wondered how long the blade would stay in one piece given my use on a variety of materials! This is one of those blades that come with many questions, and I figure that I got my money's worth repaid many times over just by keeping me amused trying to answer those questions.

Firstly, let's have a look at what we're talking about.

Here we have the Mala and some of the soft thick vegetation that I'd be expecting it to work well on, if it didn't pan out for chopping heavier stuff. This type of growth only occurs at the edge of logging roads where it can get enough sunlight, so you don't have much of it to get through before the trees begin and it gets shaded out. If I just wanted to get through it, I'd beat it down with a long stick - but clearing areas to get some plant pics takes a bit more work. You don't just push through the stuff, though, because while you can probably pick out the hedge nettles, the stinging nettles here grow above head height. Add to that the red elderberry which has cyanide compounds, the cow parsnip which causes sensitivity to sunlight, and the various spikey stuff - well you get the idea.

The Mala is two feet long, so as you can see stuff grows fast and tall around here. The devil's club shown grows so far that you can almost watch it. Long needled stems grow along the ground until they find a nice break in the cover and then start growing up. Large leaves start showing, and they'd make great rain hats if they weren't so spiky. [Skunk cabbage leaves are used for rain hats - they have a waxy coating and are often called Indian waxed paper.]. Here's a close up of devil's club:

Like the Mala, the devil's club is deceptive until you think about it a little. Anything that can grow a horizontal stem up to twenty feet long and then have that stem grow vertically up to ten feet and support a whole bunch of huge leaves must have some toughness to the stem. Unfortunately lots of us have taken a swipe at it with a less than sharp blade and had it spring back to impale us. You have to be pretty careful if you do cut it too - in case it falls on you! So you need a blade that will easily cut through the stems at 30-45 degrees, allow the stem to fall vertically, leaving enough time to push it aside with the blade. You get pretty good at this, given the alternative of a spiking - but a long light blade is just the tool to use.

When I first got the Mala, I got it together with a couple of very large goloks, the XL, and the XXL, These are heavier, and the horn handles fitted me just fine. While the Mala worked well, it was really outshone by these. There had been some heat treating issues with the prototype XXL's too and since I had a good one - everyone was wanting to hear how it would do. How the Mala was at first outshone, and then came to be really special to me is the subject of this page. Sometimes there's a lot more to things than initial impressions!


So What Does a Person Get - and Why Get a Mala?


Here's the picture from the Valiant web page:

If you are interested in blades, then you get 19" of forged 3/16" steel with a fancy handle and scabbard. It actually looks as good as the picture, so you wouldn't have any problems putting this one on the wall. The same old doubt comes up for me every time, though, and I'm sure that everyone else goes through it. Simply if this much work has been put into the carving the wood and polishing the blade - then there wouldn't seem to be much left of the $40 for actually making something that is going to work well and for a long time. It's a very valid concern given a lot of people's experiences with replica swords. But you see, this isn't one of those.... Nope, I bought this blade to see how it worked out on light vegetation, and to see just what it would handle in the way of tougher tasks. The one thing that no-one can help with though, is a person's attitude toward hand made blades in this price range. For sure you will see where it has been beaten to shape, and while it's polished - no attempt is made to flatten out all hammer marks. Some people won't like this at all, as they don't like natural imperfections in anything. Other people will hold such a blade in high regard because it's obviously different from any other. So they feel a higher attachment for the blade.

I'm still working with the Mala - and will be for some considerable time to see what it's all about. When I first opened the package I was very impressed - more so because I was in the bush at the time and was able to try it out. That enthusiasm soon was diminished when the finger grips started to bite and I moved on to the other blades. That night I spent a couple of minutes with a drum sander, and I've been fairly happy with the shape of the grip since. I would see where I will have to apply finish to the grip to cover my handiwork - and I'll probably end up stripping the finish and applying a tung oil finish. While I was happy to work with the original grind, and it was sharp enough to work well on softer or thin stemmed vegetation, it didn't work as well on stuff with hard parts like devil's club - as the other blades which were heavier and better profiled. Despite the fact that I ought to know better, I at first concluded that the blade was a bit light for such tasks. The sharpness did hold quite impressively, though - on stuff like hardhack, which is well named. This stuff is pretty hard to cut with any blade that isn't very sharp, and dulls softer steel fast - so you don't get too far with it using a stock machete. The Mala went through it with incredible ease, though.

A quick rub down with emery paper, showed pretty uneven bevels, and secondary bevels. Naturally fixing that was the next step and actually took a fair bit of time with the belt grinder - since it's a long blade meeting a little belt grinder.. I usually make a lot of this stuff, but the fact is that I've really come to enjoy doing it. It takes a bit of skill which even I was able to pick up with practise. by the time that you've finished grinding a blade though, grinding a bit, then looking at the edge through a lens, considering the bevels, then grinding again - you really know the blade. Perhaps it's best to say that you are on the way to knowing the blade. All this on a $40 blade? For me yes! It's kind of like with people - you have the choice of spending time and effort getting to know real people and accepting their special virtues and faults - or you can just live in a fantasy world and only be interested in the canned stories of famous celebrities. Enough philosophy, though, stage two ended up with me going out to chop through some devil's club and finding that I was handling a very different blade this time around. Naturally I met a tree overhanging the logging road and felt that the time had come to see what would happen with chopping something big. With high level chopping shocks, you get things like handle problems with grip blisters, edge failure, and bending or fracturing blades. I got to go looking for some more trees, since the blade worked out much better than expected and I wanted to begin puzzling out why. It wasn't such a huge shock since my friend Jean Marc has found similar results with similar blades, but it does leave one puzzled.

An even more intriguing puzzle came when I came to polish the scratches out of the blade. This is a zen like process where you go out into the bush light a fire to brew up, put a mousepad over a stump, lay on the emery paper and go for it. Every few minutes you take a break and admire the scenery and wildlife. Not everyone can get out into the bush for a while to do this and the temptation will be to polish while watching TV. I guess as long as you remember that you are dealing with a long razor sharp blade that everything would work out fine. Forget that simple fact though, and things won't be fine at all! The puzzle that came up is in two parts. The temper appears to be different on this blade with more of the blade's width being hardened. I maybe should have guessed that from the fact that it didn't bend. I also soon saw that I hadn't got the uniformity of edge that I'd thought. This one surprised me because of the efficiency of cutting. I'll be learning about the tradeoff of work required to put things into order - against added efficiency as I go.


Some Sharpening Stuff:

Jean-Marc (singularity) has written the real guide to sharpening here:

I'd just add that large sheets of emery paper may be the way to go with this blade if a person doesn't own a belt grinder. Just lay a mouse pad over something, emery paper over this and go for it. What I have found vitally important is that these blades leave a large and VERY tenuous wire edge. So you sharpen and then might not be totally impressed with the end result. A little stropping on a piece of leather loaded with some valve grinding compound will remove the wire edge and do a final hone on the edge. Suddenly things come together, and you find that you have a blade that will slice though paper with great ease. It holds up for chopping too! It is a lot of work, as I've mentioned - but you get lots in return. With any of these blades, you have to not only remove any secondary bevels and create a proper primary bevel - but you have to straighten the edge and remove metal from the original factory edge. So for sure it's a lot of work! The more work you put in - the better things get!


Conclusions:

A person will have some decisions to make in getting this blade. For those who simply want to try a more sword like blade - the simple advice is to get one and be prepared for some work in sharpening, and handle sanding. I doubt that anyone is going to be disappointed if they put in the work - and that's without consideration of the price! I certainly think there's room in the Valiant blade lineup for a high quality/cost version of this blade. Given how impressive this one is, in terms of looks and performance. I doubt if performance would be improved, but the blade would be more consistent and easily sharpened - and I'd be interested in seeing the carving with other woods.

If a person is going to be doing a lot of chopping of thicker saplings and seasoned wood, then the fact that the blade will handle these chopping tasks well - simply isn't enough. In that case, you pick a survival golok, which will handle those tasks with greater efficiency: you have to consider how you will hold up too! In the end, though, a person might consider the price of the blades and pick up both for comparison. I believe that a person would learn a lot from this. Obviously if I believe that I could by with a Mora for survival purposes this blade would offer a lot more. You can easily swipe down some shelter poles, cut browse, etc. With wet conditions, though, firewood gets to be a real problem around here. Then a person would see the difference between the survival golok and the Mala. The SG will easily chop through large wood and you'd have a fire started with the chips and be loading on large pieces before you really got started with this blade. Sometimes it's not what a blade will do but how fast you get results that counts!

The bottom line with this blade is that it's fun to have and quite useful if you are taking a stroll and want to clear back thin stemmed vegetation. Being light and long it clears a wide lane with very little effort. The longer wider goloks will do about the same job, and handle thicker stuff better - but being heavier, they're more tiring to use. The exception to this is the Survival Golok XXL. If this is produced with a full spring steel blade, then it would be the blade to beat. The prototypes had problems with heat treat - and while I've chopped through 6" trees with mine, it is showing signs of bending - being harder to sheath. This blade will be reviewed to the point that I've got to with it - but for now, it's enough to say that it's very impressive. It's well designed for use on soft thin vegetation, and because of the thinness of its blade will easily swipe through 2" plus saplings.

If you have questions, criticisms, or things to add - email me please.


Jimbo

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