Bilhooks - anyone use them?

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Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
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Lancashire
In my conservation volunteering days before commitments brought in 9 to 5 job we used various kinds of bilhooks a lot. Something nicely balanced in them. From small to double handed ones, different curved blades and even a straight chopping blade on the back. Very useful tools.

Do you use one and what for?

You hear of people using machetes for Bushcraft uses but would any type of bilhook not be as good?
 

Dave Budd

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i use one all the time, but then I normally need a big knife for woodland management rather than bushcraft. :D

I've long said that the billhook is the native British equivalent to the kukri, parang, panga, machete, etc. Some patterns will be of more use for bushcrafty projects than others (the hook can be as much of a hindrance as a help for certain things), something like a Knighton pattern would be spot of though. Interestingly I recently made a few 'bushcraft bills' after a request for one from a Belgian chap; they were more like a clever or japanese nata than a billhook though.
 

Paul_B

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Jul 14, 2008
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I used to like the Staffordshire or Yorkshire patterns depending on whether long or short handle was better. Probably totally misused them. Treated them as a strong knife for various cutting purposes. Definitely a machete / parang use. One chop to slice through undergrowth or scrub. The weight could slice through branches up to a certain thickness if you handled it right.

Very strong implement. A long time since I've used one now but from my recollection they seem to fit in somewhere between a knife and a type of axe. I found the flat back blade of the yorkshire/Staffordshire ones useful. Probably totally misused and abused them but they took a little sharpening and came back strongly for the next job.

I only started the thread because I wonder if there's a type of heavy duty blade that's from the UK. There's kukri, parang and machete from certain areas of the world and they're probably got a wide range of uses. They're all weight knives capable of slicing through undergrowth or branches up to a certain diameter. Is there anything like that from the UK other than billhooks in all their variety?
 

Janne

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Feb 10, 2016
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I use a billhook in the garden. Have two superb quality Finnish ones, an early 1970's Marttiini and an early 2000' modern Fiskars.

The Martiini is nicer to use, I prefer the Birch wood handle.
 

Paul_B

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Jul 14, 2008
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In our group it was the Yorkshire bilhook most wanted. Must be the long handle. Then the staffie which is the double bladed. Just adds more function to it I reckon.

Watching someone skilled in their use is good too. One guy in our group was a natural. He could make a very decent stake in less than a minute with just a few blows of a staffie. It was the angle he swung the blade at. Perfect every swing.
 

MartiniDave

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Aug 29, 2003
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I use a Morris made Newton pattern myself, and have a bulldog brand one, which is for lending.
Great tools, very versatile.
 

tracker1972

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Jun 21, 2008
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Matlock
It's a Morris Devon pattern for me. This one in fact https://woodsmithexperience.co.uk/shop/product/morris-devon-billhook/
Not nearly as nice as some of the old ones I've used (keep dreaming of stumbling across a bargain at a car boot) but perfectly serviceable for my needs... Children splitting wood in my forest school groups. The parallel blade and back of blade reducing the risk of a glancing blow hurting someone.

Sent from my Pixel 2 using Tapatalk
 

demographic

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Apr 15, 2005
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Not so much Billhooks but I've used a slasher quite a bit while tidying hedges.
I would say a slasher is a bit like that fiskars thing up the thread but with a long shaft.
 

Janne

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Feb 10, 2016
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I use one of these around the Farm - general 'hedge tidying', branch lopping etc.

Fiskars Brush Axe

Exactly the same as mine. Except mine is missing a large chunk on the pine.
That piece is nicely healed in an inch away from my Femural Artery.

That is what can happen if trying to split some well seasoned Black Mangrove timber, and a piece of wood does not give you enough 'whack'.

The Fiskars metal seems to be hardened all the way through.
 

Woody girl

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I love my billhooks and they are still used in preference to a hand axe. Many hours spent bramble bashing with a slasher too.
In skilled hands they can chop kindling split rods lay hedges coppice etc and once you have the knack sharpen up in no time keep a good edge for hours of hard working. All round good tool. I don't know of any other tool like a parang native to uk but there are many different designs all over the country. Old ones made by local blacksmiths are the best if you can find one. Modern mass produced are not so good though perfectly usable.
 

Janne

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I do not think any tools are native to UK (or a specific political entity in Europe).
The need is the same across the borders, so either there was a parallel development, or a fast spreading of the tool design..

Billhooks are imo safer and better to use than the exotic blades. Less risk of slipping and cutting yourself.
 
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Woody girl

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I do not think any tools are native to UK (or a specific political entity in Europe).
The need is the same across the borders, so either there was a parallel development, or a fast spreading of the tool design..

Billhooks are imo safer and better to use than the exotic blades. Less risk of slipping and cutting yourself.
Billhooks have a history dating back over 3000 years. Even the Romans mention them. They were the peasants weapon in medieval times. Stick a double edge billhook on a long pole and voila! Every farmer would have had one. Obviously nowadays frowned upon as a peasants weapon but you can still see peasants out in the fields using them as origionaly intended. :)
I'm proud to be a peasant! The landlords shotgun doesn't make very good firewood :) :) :)
 

Janne

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In that case I am a peasant oo!
A Tooth Fairy Peasant!
Who has been known to dispatch a Pheasant!

Some tools are universal and timeless.
Because our hand has not changed for hundreds of Millennia, and the task has stayed the same.

Materials can differ. Not the use.
 

Paul_B

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Jul 14, 2008
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I suppose the principle is the same but tradition in the UK was for a blacksmith or two in each village. Each smith made a variety of tools based on their own style often passed down in an apprenticeship (father to son). That's probably still the case in some places in the UK and overseas.

Each area probably had their own uses and requirements. It makes sense to vary design accordingly.

It's certainly a tool for the ignorant and untrained to get some kind of result with. 16 years old and handed a Yorkshire hook by a NT warden in Wales and told to attack the rhododendron and scrub. The other tools were a slasher that tbh was the Yorkshire bilhook but without the back, straight blade. Both allowed relatively safe cutting of the thin Rhody branches. Physical work but fun with it.

I would love to find an old bilhook somewhere to buy for my dad. I don't have a garden for one but they're such a handy tool I'd still like one. My dad has a decent sized garden with hedge on three edges. He's laid out enough times over 25 years living there despite no training. He never owned a bilhook. Funnily enough he did have a hand sickle. Short handled with a good curve to the blade. The blade is angled down so it'll cut grass with a simple sideways sweep. Definitely a righty tool. Not as useful but a tool you don't see around much.

Are there any other old tools used in the distant past (in the UK) that's on danger of being forgotten but are actually very useful?
 
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Jan 13, 2018
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In that case I am a peasant oo!
A Tooth Fairy Peasant!
Who has been known to dispatch a Pheasant!

.
I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's son
I'm only plucking pheasants 'till the pheasant plucker comes.

Me husband is a keeper, he's a very busy man
I try to understand him and I help him all I can,
But sometimes in an evening I feel a trifle dim
All alone, I'm plucking pheasants, when I'd rather pluck with him.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's mate
I'm only plucking pheasants 'cos the pheasant plucker's late !

I'm not good at plucking pheasants, at pheasant plucking I get stuck
Though some pheasants find it pleasant I'd rather pluck a duck.
Oh plucking geese is gorgeous, I can pluck a goose with ease
But pheasant plucking's torture because they haven't any grease.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, he has gone out on the tiles
He only plucked one pheasant and I'm sitting here with piles !

You have to pluck them fresh, if it’s fresh they’re not unpleasant,
I knew a man in Dunstable who could pluck a frozen pheasant.
They say the village constable had pheasant plucking sessions
With the vicar on a Sunday ‘tween the first and second lessons.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's mum
I'm only plucking pheasants 'till the pheasant plucker's come.

My good friend Godfrey is most adept, he's really got the knack
He likes to have a pheasant plucked before he hits the sack.
I like to give a helping hand, I gather up the feathers,
It's really all our pheasant plucking keeps us pair together.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's friend
I'm only plucking pheasants as a means unto an end !

My husband's in the forest always banging with his gun
If he could hear me half the time I'm sure that he would run,
For there's fluff in all my crannies, there's feathers up my nose
And I'm itching in the kitchen from my head down to my toes.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's wife
And when we pluck together it's a pheasant plucking life !