How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

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How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by cyruspace » Wed Dec 10, 2014 3:25 pm

Limited blade knowledge.

In the blade discussions I am always considering bad times and a time without guns.

How effective a weapon is a machete? Does it make a good sword, or does it come up short? The quality of manufacture would be very important. What types would make the best pure weapons? Would it be classified as a short sword or medium sword? It would appear to be mostly a slashing weapon, are their types that would have good thrusting characteristics? I guess one could sharpen the end to improve the thrusting characteristics?

Looking at this site it would appear the bowie, bush, tanto and spear point would make the best pure weapons. If armor plate were to make an appearance the hook bill might gain in value because you can hook the armor and pull your opponent to the ground. With the hook bill it may take on characteristics of tomahawk fighting techniques.

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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Sworbeyegib » Wed Dec 10, 2014 3:56 pm

I own, use and have a slight obsession with machetes and big choppers. I've also done FMA off and on since I was a kid, and have pretty good understanding on the use of short swords as a defensive weapon. I'm quite verbose, so I'll do my best to keep it short.

A machete is not a sword, but can be wielded very effectively by a motivated and trained individual. Machetes have been used as both offensive and defensive weapons all over the world.

The biggest, and most glaring difference is the thickness. By nature of their design, machetes are typically thin and flexible. Thicknesses will vary by design and manufacturer, but typically they are only a few mm thick. You will find some "big choppers" out there that are much thicker, and these designs are typically designed with heavier and hard materials in mind.

The lighter and more flexible a blade is, the more it will tend to deflect easier off of a harder surface (like bone) compared to a sword. This means that you have to be smart with your swings, and understand it's limitations.

Right now, Cold Steel makes a lot of machetes, patterned after sword designs. Many of these designs do not lend themselves for utilitarian tasks, as much so as a "traditional" machete, and it is Cold Steel's way of getting "budget swords that won't break" out there. I won't lie, I own a few.

I have to go back to work, so I'll continue my rant in just a bit.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Sworbeyegib » Wed Dec 10, 2014 4:24 pm

Cold Steel makes a gladius machete that is pretty damn cool for the price. It's about as pure "fight" as they come.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Murphman » Wed Dec 10, 2014 4:40 pm

For lack of anything else, a machete works. To use as a primary melee weapon, nope, not a chance, if given the choice.

BUT...The Hutu's used machetes very effectively in Rwanda not too long ago.

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If thinking about a time with out guns, look to the times in history without guns and prepare accordingly, and remember. The best swordsman in the world has to hope the crossbowman 20 feet away doesn't hit something vital as he is rushing him, but the good news is, he only has to take one shot.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by chenessfan » Wed Dec 10, 2014 4:53 pm

A machete is a tool. While it can be (and often is) pressed into service as a weapon, it can never be as effective a weapon as something designed with only combat in mind. If you consider getting a machete for a melee weapon, forget about it. Get a good sword for that (or some other device designed for the job) and use the machete for what it's intended, wood work, etc.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by ShooterMike » Wed Dec 10, 2014 5:36 pm

I don't know. I'm of two minds on the machete being a good weapon. It's kind of like the near-sighted one-eyed man in the land of the blind. If all anyone else has is a knife or another machete, then the machete is a very plausible edged weapon.

Just be aware that in flesh and bone, even the sharpest machete comes up short compared to a decent sword, and WAY short of a good sword. The big drawback to machetes when actually used as swords is that they are too thin and flexible to be effective in typical swordly defensive maneuvers. The blades flex offline and allow an opponent to get around them to land strikes that a decent sword would have deflected. And good machetes typically don't have a serviceable thrusting tip. So they're mostly limited to slashing styles of fighting.

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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Halfapint » Wed Dec 10, 2014 6:08 pm

My modified parang I got from StormCrow, would be a VERY effective weapon. I would trust it completely if I had nothing better than a blade to defend myself. Now it is not the first choice because it is up close and personal I prefer to keep them at a distance with a spear or something a bit longer, if we are talking about just melee weapons.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by White Bear » Wed Dec 10, 2014 6:23 pm

I'm not as knowledgeable as some here, so maybe you guys can help.

How does the machete differ from the German messer? Couldn't a machete be used in the same manner? I'm told the messer was used both as a tool and a weapon.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Sworbeyegib » Wed Dec 10, 2014 7:02 pm

White Bear wrote:I'm not as knowledgeable as some here, so maybe you guys can help.

How does the machete differ from the German messer? Couldn't a machete be used in the same manner? I'm told the messer was used both as a tool and a weapon.
There have been plenty of single side bladed weapons used as both tool and weapon over the years, like the falchion.

The size and thickness difference is what really makes sets it apart.

Typical machetes are designed with light growth in mind, and are thin because of that. A thin and sharp blade will make very good slashes and cuts. But all that extra weight and beefiness of a real sword won't just slash... it will cleave, hack and crush thru objects with a lot less effort.

Of course, their are thicker machetes on the market, just like what Storm Crow makes and sells, he calls them bush swords. I tend to call thicker machetes "big choppers", since in my opinion a true machete is has some flex to it.

The best place to look for martial techniques that would best apply to a machete, would be the Filipino Martial Arts. Kali/escrima/arnis, whatever you want to call it. It is primarily a weapons based system, with the idea that the similar movements can be translated and applied to sticks, knives, open hands, or short swords. Most traditional Filipino swords are short and for use with one hand. Very "machete-ish", but they are still much thicker than the typical machete. The short swords that I own are anywhere between 3-4x as thick.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by ShooterMike » Wed Dec 10, 2014 7:05 pm

White Bear wrote:I'm not as knowledgeable as some here, so maybe you guys can help.

How does the machete differ from the German messer? Couldn't a machete be used in the same manner? I'm told the messer was used both as a tool and a weapon.
German messer techniques can be done with a machete, but some critical attributes of the messer are commonly missing from the machete. Those are mass and rigidity of the blade, hand protection, and a sharpened false edge with a good thrusting tip.

This video is fairly basic and also a bit long at 11 minutes, but Skallagrim and Cara get around to showing some important points. While watching it, the weaknesses of a machete become pretty apparent.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36KwfFZsnik

Here is a neat disarming technique that would work fine with machete:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZSFS6kM6tU

This is a favorite of mine. No explanation, but a lot of clear technique and action. And it shows why a messer needs to be robust.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38sVdx7nzhQ

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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Sworbeyegib » Wed Dec 10, 2014 7:22 pm

Ray Dionaldo does some very interesting short sword techniques. It heavily involves getting much closer to a person, controlling their body, and make a "big knife" work in close distances. Notice how he relies heavily on his forearms and own body, pushing against the spine of the blade to create more force in controlled cuts, rather than "hack and slash". The technique he shows was actually often used traditionally by women, and weaker men, who did not have the strength to swing a large blade very fast over and over again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5ltL33ClKk

Personally not my cup of tea.... But I think it is a cool video that shows some versatility to a short sword. The training I have done and prefer to do doesn't really follow this style. But the way he does it is just so damn pretty and fluid. It looks like he's butchering a pig instead of chopping down a tree.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Woods Walker » Wed Dec 10, 2014 7:30 pm

Regrettably there are many people in Rwanda who have some horror stories as to how effective a machete can be as a killing weapon.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Sworbeyegib » Wed Dec 10, 2014 7:47 pm

Besides the thickness/beefiness issue in the machete vs sword comparison, there are lots of other design differences that set the two apart between a utility blade, and a fighting blade. Obviously, with SO many different designs of machetes and swords in the world, this is just a gross overview.

The tip. "Workhorse" machetes to not tend to have a tip suitable for thrusting. And there are reasons for that. First off, there really isn't much need of a sharp and fine tip on a machete. Many cultures and designs of machetes utilize and weight forward design, to maximize the thin blades potential for chopping. Also, many people use to wider tips to do things such a dig holes.

Most machetes do not have any sort of handguard. That is because this offers much more versatility when it comes to choking up on the blade for fine work, or using the "pinch grip" method. This is a tool before weapon.

Of course, nowadays companies are pumping out lots of different, non traditional designs. Mostly to appeal to a wider market, not really based on pure function.

Honestly, if you want a "faux-sword" you can thrash on, and still chop firewood if you need to... Get one of the Cold Steel machetes. I own a bunch of them. Some are dedicated work/camp knives, some I just bought for the hell of it because I will fully admit, I like big choppy things. The steel is very decent, and the grind they use is very efficient and practical. They even sharpen them to a decent enough edge from the factory nowadays.

But it has been in my experience, that the "sword-chetes" they pump out don't make as good of a dedication tool. Some designs just work better than others. For instance, I have one of their two handed katana machetes I bought purely for shits and giggles. It is quite the impressive cutter when I'm breaking down boxes and having fun in my backyard, but it is far from a "practical" field blade.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by ShooterMike » Wed Dec 10, 2014 10:09 pm

Sworbeyegib wrote:Ray Dionaldo does some very interesting short sword techniques. It heavily involves getting much closer to a person, controlling their body, and make a "big knife" work in close distances. Notice how he relies heavily on his forearms and own body, pushing against the spine of the blade to create more force in controlled cuts, rather than "hack and slash". The technique he shows was actually often used traditionally by women, and weaker men, who did not have the strength to swing a large blade very fast over and over again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5ltL33ClKk

Personally not my cup of tea.... But I think it is a cool video that shows some versatility to a short sword. The training I have done and prefer to do doesn't really follow this style. But the way he does it is just so damn pretty and fluid. It looks like he's butchering a pig instead of chopping down a tree.
Nice post and a very interesting video. I love watching impromptu videos of masters teaching. Watching that guy wield that barong is like poetry in motion. :clap:

There are many elements in that video that I find common to my HEMA training, though I've never done escrima. The part about cutting from the hips especially stands out to me. That's something I stress to anyone wanting to learn how to properly employ a sword. You don't cut with arm strength. Just like throwing powerful punches, it's body dynamics that makes powerful yet controlled cuts and thrusts, not arm strength.

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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by JeeperCreeper » Wed Dec 10, 2014 11:41 pm

Woods Walker wrote:Regrettably there are many people in Rwanda who have some horror stories as to how effective a machete can be as a killing weapon.
^^THIS^^

It is a sad truth, but in today's world the machete has taken too many lives to claim it as ineffective. No, it will not be good for a duel or a medieval battle, but in today's world, it might be the best all around option for a regular joe IN TODAY'S WORLD!!!!

When it comes to the blade being flexible and "thin", that does not mean they are bad choppers. If a machete can cut through a tree, it can cut through bone (possibly... depending), they just won't snap if you do it wrong. You have to remember the blade is "deep"... the spine to the cutting edge is long for a reason. Now, I may be overanalyzing physics and mechanical engineering, but that extra metal on the depth of the blade should help when it comes to delivering force to a small point via the wedge of the blade. Just like a meat cleaver vs a chefs knife, or an axe vs a bushcrafting knife. The extra metal helps.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by doitnstyle1 » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:51 am

I have used a machete since I was a child and I know I can use it with great confidence to "Disarm" among other things, an opponent with any other hand wielded weapon with skill. I also have unique skill in throwing it at distances over 20 ft and penetrating 1/2" plywood. It requires a unique throwing style that is still deadly today.I assure you with enough practice it and any other weapon can become deadly against other weapons.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_I61ThtVG8

Granted this is with a specialized khukri but I have actually seen this done with a machete. The cut was not completely through but made it 85% of the way through.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by zero11010 » Thu Dec 11, 2014 4:06 am

cyruspace wrote:How effective a weapon is a machete? Does it make a good sword, or does it come up short? The quality of manufacture would be very important. What types would make the best pure weapons? Would it be classified as a short sword or medium sword? It would appear to be mostly a slashing weapon, are their types that would have good thrusting characteristics? I guess one could sharpen the end to improve the thrusting characteristics?
I'll try to answer your questions as directly as possible.

How effective a weapon is a machete? The effectiveness of the weapon will depend more on the skill of the user than the weapon itself. Also to consider would be the situation in which it is used.

What types would make the best pure weapons? You should start with learning how to fight. Don't worry about what color race car you want before you've gotten a driver's license. The effectiveness of one design over another will be more a matter of personal opinion/style/comfort. Weapons aren't like computers or whatever. You don't buy the new model because the old one is obsolete. When you pick a tool to perform a function it's often best to pick one that most suits the task at hand.

Would it be classified as a short or medium sword? That doesn't really matter, does it? Start by learning how to fight, then apply what you've learned to include a weapon.

It would appear to be mostly a slashing weapon, are their types that would have good thrusting characteristics? A classic machete is almost exclusively a slashing weapon.



Rather than looking for a new toy to buy, go for some classes in a martial art that teaches weapons at advanced levels. If someone hands you their idea of "the perfect machete" it won't matter much if you don't really know how to use it. And, once you've learned how to fight you'll start to see that pretty much anything can be a pretty devastating weapon.

If you're particularly fond of machetes, you can look into a martial art that is known for machete usage. A lot of the Filipino styles are very well respected for their usage of machetes, but it's hard to go wrong with picking a style. Most of the negatives about a martial arts school will be from the school itself rather than from the style they try to teach.

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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Sworbeyegib » Thu Dec 11, 2014 5:30 am

I don't think anyone is denying that a machete, especially in the right hands, is a very capable and deadly weapon. It is after all... a long sharpened piece of steel designed to cut things with. But the original post asked about comparing a machete to a sword, and even brings up armor in the post.

Obviously the personal capabilities of the user is going to be the biggest factor in how well a machete can be used as a weapon. But bringing up the structural and design differences between a machete and a sword, should give someone with minimal experience a better understanding of the physical capabilities and limitations of whatever they choose to use and/or train with.

Machetes, and other machete like tools come in so many different shapes, sizes and quality of construction. You should choose a style that fits your needs. Whether it be primarily as a tool, as a defensive weapon, or some compromise between the two. Many different utilitarian designs are done so because they shape the tool, tot he job at hand. I own lots of machetes, and various makes and models. I have certain ones for certain jobs, because certain styles just happen to lend itself to different things. The same can be said about "combat" blades, specific designs tailored around a certain cultures style of fighting.

Trust me when I say that there is no "best of both worlds".

The wonderful thing about machetes, is the price. They are so cheap, that you wont feel bad splurging on one now and then for whatever reason you want. Whether it be for using in the field, or playing out the "Dies the Fire" fantasy. For under $30 you can get something cool just for the hell of it. And if it's from a reputable company, you can feel assured it is meant to be used, not just looked at.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by doitnstyle1 » Thu Dec 11, 2014 9:47 am

Actually, No He wasn't.

"How effective a weapon is a machete? Does it make a good sword, or does it come up short? The quality of manufacture would be very important. What types would make the best pure weapons? Would it be classified as a short sword or medium sword? It would appear to be mostly a slashing weapon, are their types that would have good thrusting characteristics? I guess one could sharpen the end to improve the thrusting characteristics?"


But if you must compare, it is like comparing a foil and a claymore sword. They both serve a specific purpose and both can be deadly in the hands of the right user.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by polliedes » Thu Dec 11, 2014 11:05 am

JeeperCreeper wrote:
Woods Walker wrote:Regrettably there are many people in Rwanda who have some horror stories as to how effective a machete can be as a killing weapon.
^^THIS^^

It is a sad truth, but in today's world the machete has taken too many lives to claim it as ineffective. No, it will not be good for a duel or a medieval battle, but in today's world, it might be the best all around option for a regular joe IN TODAY'S WORLD!!!!

When it comes to the blade being flexible and "thin", that does not mean they are bad choppers. If a machete can cut through a tree, it can cut through bone (possibly... depending), they just won't snap if you do it wrong. You have to remember the blade is "deep"... the spine to the cutting edge is long for a reason. Now, I may be overanalyzing physics and mechanical engineering, but that extra metal on the depth of the blade should help when it comes to delivering force to a small point via the wedge of the blade. Just like a meat cleaver vs a chefs knife, or an axe vs a bushcrafting knife. The extra metal helps.
We had a patient that an assailant tried to take his hand off with a machete. The blade broke his radius (not cut but broke) and did nothing to his ulna. The blade was not injured.
Definitely it was effective in dealing damage but did not do very well against the bone, but still good enough to break it.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Sworbeyegib » Thu Dec 11, 2014 3:05 pm

I know I've been touting the Cold Steel machetes for the most part so far, but I'd also really like to bring up Condor machetes and choppers. Condor makes a variety of traditional style machetes and cultures based on a lot of different cultural designs, as well as some "modern" designs that lend itself as more of a fighting knife. Condor makes many of their big choppers with thicker steel than you average machete, usually between 1/8th-3/16th of an inch. Many of their blades also come with a very nice convex edge. I tend to prefer a convex edge for my big knives, and tend to reprofile my blades after I buy them. However, the Condor blades pretty much come exactly how I want them from the factory. The price is a little steeper, but you can still generally buy them for under $60.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by JeeperCreeper » Thu Dec 11, 2014 6:04 pm

polliedes wrote:
JeeperCreeper wrote:
Woods Walker wrote:Regrettably there are many people in Rwanda who have some horror stories as to how effective a machete can be as a killing weapon.
^^THIS^^

It is a sad truth, but in today's world the machete has taken too many lives to claim it as ineffective. No, it will not be good for a duel or a medieval battle, but in today's world, it might be the best all around option for a regular joe IN TODAY'S WORLD!!!!

When it comes to the blade being flexible and "thin", that does not mean they are bad choppers. If a machete can cut through a tree, it can cut through bone (possibly... depending), they just won't snap if you do it wrong. You have to remember the blade is "deep"... the spine to the cutting edge is long for a reason. Now, I may be overanalyzing physics and mechanical engineering, but that extra metal on the depth of the blade should help when it comes to delivering force to a small point via the wedge of the blade. Just like a meat cleaver vs a chefs knife, or an axe vs a bushcrafting knife. The extra metal helps.
We had a patient that an assailant tried to take his hand off with a machete. The blade broke his radius (not cut but broke) and did nothing to his ulna. The blade was not injured.
Definitely it was effective in dealing damage but did not do very well against the bone, but still good enough to break it.

I think with almost all blades, going through bone will depend on the situation. Think butchering, if you have a thigh of a critter and want to cut through its critter femur, it will need to be on an immovable flat surface, and hit it nearly perpendicular with a great force. But if the critter leg is just hanging around swinging freely, it will be hard to actually get a solid hit. But bones are tough, human bones are said to be as hard as concrete in adults, so I don't think many blades can cut through like the movies. That's why they make bone saws.
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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by ShooterMike » Thu Dec 11, 2014 7:47 pm

JeeperCreeper wrote:I think with almost all blades, going through bone will depend on the situation. Think butchering, if you have a thigh of a critter and want to cut through its critter femur, it will need to be on an immovable flat surface, and hit it nearly perpendicular with a great force. But if the critter leg is just hanging around swinging freely, it will be hard to actually get a solid hit. But bones are tough, human bones are said to be as hard as concrete in adults, so I don't think many blades can cut through like the movies. That's why they make bone saws.
A good sword blade, properly wielded, can cut cleanly through pretty decent sized bones. But given a good sword blade, the three big variables are:
  • Whether the bone is living or dead. Bones of living animals seem to be much more elastic and able to be sliced through than bones in dead tissue. I don't know why, but that's been my observation.

    Whether the bone is anchored in such a way as to provide a stable platform for the cut to penetrate. For instance, a leg that is firmly planted and bearing weight is much easier to cut than a leg that is moving away from the cut.

    How well aligned the cut is with the edge. To cut bone, a sword blow must land in such a way that the edge reaches the bone and slices through it.
There are a number of finds by archeologists of skulls from Viking and medieval battlefields showing cleanly cut bones, and many skulls with good sized bits cleanly severed from the crowns. These have been pretty clearly shown to have been caused by sword strikes.

One of the living bone analogs I regularly use in practice is one or two mats of Mugen Dachi tatami omote, or Hanwei tatami wara, wrapped around a central core of either 3/4" or 1" hardwood dowel rod. These are placed in a cutting stand and used to represent an opponent standing firmly in stance. Some swords will cut through to the dowel and stop somewhere in the dowel. But good swords with proper fighting edges are capable of cleanly slicing the central cores and completely severing the target while continuing to properly hang in the next guard position.

I have some video of this around here somewhere. Will see if I can find a few clips...

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Re: How Effective is the Machete as a Weapon?

Post by Sworbeyegib » Thu Dec 11, 2014 8:05 pm

Cutting technique is incredibly important from a utilitarian aspect as well. It's all about knowing the angles, and having the proper follow thru will give you maximum results with minimal effort. Whether it be cutting thru thin vegetation, delimbing a branch, or taking chips out of a log.

I've used a 12 inch machete to harvest lots of piece of bamboo for a project I was working on awhile back. Even with a somewhat diminutive 12" blade (it was a very dense and thick bamboo forest that made it impossible to swing anything larger), proper technique and cutting angles made it a breeze. I blasted thru anything 2.5" or thinner with one cut, and anything in the 3-4" range in just two.

But as JeepersCreepers and ShooterMike mentioned, that was partly because of the incredibly stable platform. Cutting them to length near the top of the lengths is much harder to do because of the flex.
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