Knives Illustrated - - Gear Up - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY WAYSUN JOHNNY TSAI

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.

First Im­pres­sions

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.

The Sheath

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


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


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.

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