KING POPPA CHOPPA
TOPS KNIVES’ EL CHETE SETS A NEW STANDARD FOR CLEAVERS
The buzz was off the charts. This year, like every year, fans and collectors of TOPS Knives gravitate toward their booth at the SHOT Show and BLADE Show, hoping to peek at their newest edged tools. And the excitement was overwhelming at both the shows and online. El Chete, one of their newest offerings, almost shut down the internet with all the chatter.
This is TOPS Knives’ first offering to ever feature their new Acid Rain finish and sandwiched Micarta scales. The size, balance, and aesthetics of the blade, combined with two different sheath options, has had the TOPS Knives Users Facebook page filled with so many positive posts from anxious collectors, it just made sense to write this article. TOPS Knives set out to create a new knife that could cause a ton of destruction. By the looks and feel of their new El Chete, they weren’t playing around.
The El Chete is a big knife. If you are looking for a small camp knife, this is not the knife for you. TOPS Knives’ current president and wizard lead blade designer, Leo Espinoza, did not hold back on this 17.5-inch beast of a blade. Leo is a big guy, so I can see why he went the direction he did with this big, beefy blade.
The knife boasts a 0.25-inch thick, 1095 high-carbon steel blade that is a full foot long. It has thick scales that were designed to make it feel and chop similar to a small axe. While the knife is large, it weighs just under 2 pounds, so it’s not impossible to imagine having this knife as a permanent piece of kit for one’s bug-out bag or hiking pack. Adding this knife would eliminate the additional need and weight of having a camp axe or tomahawk.
I really like the look and feel of the new sandwiched Micarta scale material that TOPS Knives is making. It’s well-rounded for comfort, and the black canvas Micarta underneath the green canvas Micarta adds even more comfort and undeniable aesthetics. I wear a medium-to-large glove and the swell on the handle fits my short, wide hand just right. I decided to take the El Chete out to the local forest preserve by my home to give it a chopping test, to see if it would perform as good as it looked.
Through the Paces
There is a nice wooded area right next to the forest preserve by me that I like to use for chopping and playing with knives. I don’t know if people are used to seeing me there or not, but I sure turned heads walking through the field with this monster of a blade—camera in hand.
After locating a fallen tree and setting my camera down, I started to play with the grip on the El Chete. I found the finger choil placement was just right, allowing my short, stubby fingers to get a good grip on the handle for solid control of the knife.
Due to its size, I was concerned about fatigue from chopping the log I found, since it is somewhat of a heavy knife. But the balance of the blade and comfort of the scales soon extinguished any burning concerns.
At first swing, I noticed a good 1-inch deep bite into the wood. The weight of the knife is so balanced that it almost wants to do the chopping for you. The rounded sandwiched Micarta scales proved to be very comfortable and I did not notice any hot spots as I chopped along. About 15 to 20 chops later I had gotten roughly around 50 percent through an 8-inch log. To no surprise, the El Chete was smashing through this tree like the Hulk and chunks of wood were flying everywhere. I didn’t notice any fatigue or hotspots, so this was a good sign.
I wanted to see how tired I would get using the knife, so I decided to take it up to my cousin’s house in Wisconsin for his son’s second birthday party. I planned to use it to clear brush, chop and split wood for a bonfire. With the comfort of the blade I could have easily kept going, but after roughly 30-40 minutes of chopping, I felt I had enough wood to get a good blaze going. Satisfied with its ability to do heavy work, I decided to get some tinder to test its capability to handle finer work.
Being designed as a chopper, the edge geometry didn’t lend itself well to making a feather stick, nor was it meant to. But I was able to get sufficient shavings for a good tinder bundle and I got my fire going.
I tested the El Chete on some other tasks as well, such as making an improvised spear. I was able to carve my spear head to a nice pointy tip with ease and had no problem controlling such a large blade with the finger choil. Then I used the El Chete as an improvised trenching tool to dig holes for traps. It was easy to dig with because of the size and width of the blade. I don’t recommend digging with your knife, but in a survival situation the El Chete proved capable of the task.
What can I say? This is probably the best sheath that I have seen made by TOPS Knives.
It’s a black Kydex sheath that comes with two different carry options, a rotating belt clip or a leather Dangler. I chose the leather Dangler.
The Dangler is made from nice, thick, high-quality leather and it attaches securely to a belt with two snap buttons. There is also a thick rubber beta-loop strap that wraps around from behind the sheath and secures into place with another pull-the-dot snap closure for added retention. When worn on a belt, the El Chete is drawn by simply pulling the knife up and then forward, out from the open front of the sheath.
Historically, TOPS Knives has been known to bore its fans with their basic sheaths. It left many customers seeking out custom Kydex sheath makers for aftermarket sheaths for their beloved knives. I don’t think that’s going to be the case with the El Chete sheath. This is one rock-solid knife sheath. The only reason I can see someone upgrading this sheath is because they want a fancier, more dressed-up pair of pants for their knife.
Serious Piece of Kit
After spending a couple of days outdoors with it, I must say that I like this knife. I like this knife A LOT.
Anyone that knows me, knows that I like big choppers. I have a couple of my own big choppers that are on the market. I enjoy chopping all kinds of stuff with them, and I thoroughly enjoyed chopping things up these past couple of days with the El Chete. This is a knife that I can see me keeping in my truck, ready to go on spontaneous adventures.
The El Chete is one serious piece of kit. It grips well, has the right amount of weight balanced forward and screams to destroy things as soon as I wrap my palm and fingers around it.
My mother (God rest her soul) was a true mountain woman who lived off
“ADDING THIS KNIFE WOULD ELIMINATE THE ADDITIONAL NEED AND WEIGHT OF HAVING A CAMP AXE OR TOMAHAWK.”
our land most of her 69 years of life, in El Campo in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. She carried her Machete and a big walking stick everywhere she went. I wish she were here so I could gift the El Chete to her. Due to her experience, she recognized quality when she saw it and I feel the El Chete would have become her favorite knife and she would have used it every day. KI
“THE WEIGHT OF THE KNIFE IS SO BALANCED THAT IT ALMOST WANTS TO DO THE CHOPPING FOR YOU.”
Above: I requested the Dangler sheath with my test knife, but you can also request a swivel clip style sheath.
Left: The El Chete bit deep into this fallen log with every swing.
Right: The two-tone sandwiched Micarta handle scales with red spacer not only looks great, but is extremely comfortable.
Above: The El Chete bites deep, making quick work of small limbs. Below: The beta loop retention strap holds the sheath closed tightly at the top, ensuring that the El Chete will not come out unexpectedly.
Left: Even for its overwhelming size, the El Chete still maintains a very sleek look.
Above: I was able to get a really fine point on this spear, even with the hulking size of the El Chete.