Billhooks

Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
4,747
734
Lancashire
I've been looking at buying a billhook. It amazes me how so few DIY, hardware and garden centres stock them. So far I have found no retailer near me that stocks them. They are very useful tools I think and whilst being especially useful in forestry and hedgelaying occupations I think I will find one useful in our future garden. It has a lot of trees and shrubs and undergrowth. I reckon I will find a use for one.

Which leaves me with online ordering. So far the nearest places to me offer a kind of modern take on a billhook. It has an angular hook end with the blade on the inside like a real billhook. That made me think whether there is an alternative to a billhook that is better? A kind of modern billhook? If not then what style of billhook makes the most useful for a gardener with a lot of trees and shrubs? I have used single bladed, double bladed, two handed/long handled and a few other patterns too in conservation work but never really had a preference. On an NT holiday at 16 years it was IIRC the Yorkshire or staffordshire pattern billhook with the long handle that was most popular. That was scrub clearance without power tools. The long handle made it better for chopping down Rhodedendrons and other scrub/shrubs that shouldn't be there. The double blade ones were good for chopping a stick to make a pointed stake using the flat blade.

Which is your favourite billhook and where can you buy new ones online? Or if you know anywhere in north Lancashire or south Cumbria please advise on that too.
 

TeeDee

Full Member
Nov 6, 2008
6,365
773
46
Exeter
Take a look around your local recycling / tip depot - most down here have an area where items that arn't complete trash can be purchased by the public for pennies - I tend to see Billhooks and old tools there to be picked up.
 

Wildgoose

Full Member
May 15, 2012
365
105
Middlesex
I have a itailian billhook made by Rinaldi. It’s longer in the blade than regular UK hooks. When the in laws had a place in France I cleared many a tree/shrub with little effort.

I have a Bulldog billhook I bought from eBay and wasn’t impressed at all. The finish was awful. I’ve oiled the handle and filed the blade but it’ll never be my go to tool
 

Broch

Full Member
Jan 18, 2009
3,933
3,116
Mid Wales
I'll be honest with you, I am working in the wood a lot (several days a week) and don't get on with a billhook. The main reason is that I'm switching tasks a lot more frequently than someone that is hedge laying or coppicing all day and the billhook is not ideal for all of them. I am in the middle of making myself a tool that I think will work better based on what I want - it won't be ideal for others. It is basically just a big knife but that's what I need - a small knife is not right, an axe is not right, a billhook is not right and a machete is not right!
 

TeeDee

Full Member
Nov 6, 2008
6,365
773
46
Exeter
I'll be honest with you, I am working in the wood a lot (several days a week) and don't get on with a billhook. The main reason is that I'm switching tasks a lot more frequently than someone that is hedge laying or coppicing all day and the billhook is not ideal for all of them. I am in the middle of making myself a tool that I think will work better based on what I want - it won't be ideal for others. It is basically just a big knife but that's what I need - a small knife is not right, an axe is not right, a billhook is not right and a machete is not right!


"a small knife is not right, an axe is not right, a billhook is not right and a machete is not right! "

I've said it before , Form follows Function.
 

Stew

Bushcrafter through and through
Nov 29, 2003
5,483
505
Aylesbury
stewartjlight-knives.com
If you go back to earlier days of BCUK, Jack (who is a coppicer by trade, if I remember correctly) always recommended the Newton pattern billhook quite vehemently. Rated it over an axe, to much ribbing.
He organised a group buy and I got one. Worlds apart from any I had used before. I’ve recommended to a number of people since and no complaints.
 

punkrockcaveman

Full Member
Jan 28, 2017
590
412
yorks
Love my bill hook :) but it doesn't get loads of use. I bought one of evil bay and did it up. Great for working down long limbs. I use mine for working long twisty branches into a size that will go through the chipper.

It's got a curved tip which you can hook around branches on the floor to get them up, saves your back quite a bit.

Edit: looks like I have a Devon pattern. Similar to a newton.
 

Billy-o

Native
Apr 19, 2018
1,492
630
Canada
These people are good

I particularly like the Knighton and the riving iron. I am sure they used to have more in stock than this

 

Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
4,747
734
Lancashire
Take a look around your local recycling / tip depot - most down here have an area where items that arn't complete trash can be purchased by the public for pennies - I tend to see Billhooks and old tools there to be picked up.
They don't do that here. Everything worth anything gets collected at least once a day by a recycling charity/ training organisation. You can't buy anything off them not even below the books.
 

The Frightful

Full Member
Apr 21, 2020
254
39
Essex
Take a look around your local recycling / tip depot - most down here have an area where items that arn't complete trash can be purchased by the public for pennies - I tend to see Billhooks and old tools there to be picked up.
Great call, going to have a nose myself
 

The Frightful

Full Member
Apr 21, 2020
254
39
Essex
I'll be honest with you, I am working in the wood a lot (several days a week) and don't get on with a billhook. The main reason is that I'm switching tasks a lot more frequently than someone that is hedge laying or coppicing all day and the billhook is not ideal for all of them. I am in the middle of making myself a tool that I think will work better based on what I want - it won't be ideal for others. It is basically just a big knife but that's what I need - a small knife is not right, an axe is not right, a billhook is not right and a machete is not right!
Like an XL MOD ?
 

Paulm

Full Member
May 27, 2008
1,064
124
Hants
I'll be honest with you, I am working in the wood a lot (several days a week) and don't get on with a billhook. The main reason is that I'm switching tasks a lot more frequently than someone that is hedge laying or coppicing all day and the billhook is not ideal for all of them. I am in the middle of making myself a tool that I think will work better based on what I want - it won't be ideal for others. It is basically just a big knife but that's what I need - a small knife is not right, an axe is not right, a billhook is not right and a machete is not right!

I'm in the same situation and find the skrama a good all round practical tool. only downside is it's not the lightest but that helps with performance https://www.varusteleka.com/en/product/terava-skrama-240-carbon-steel/30189

Still like using my bill hooks, but generally only for sessions of hazel coppicing :)
 
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Buckshot

Mod
Mod
Jan 19, 2004
6,213
161
Oxford
This is my Billhook collection.
I inherited all but the single handed wooden handled one at the bottom
this one lives in my day pack and is surprisingly useful.
I got it from Jack years ago, it's a Newton style but i struggled with the beak so took the tip off with a grinder.
It's much better now.
Basic Kydex covers made for the two i use most.
Basically a large meat cleaver which has a lot of uses in the bushcraft world.
2020-10-23_08-49-50 by Mark Aspell, on Flickr

Very useful bits of kit in the right circumstances.
 
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chimpy leon

Full Member
Jul 29, 2013
410
68
staffordshire
I’ve used many billhooks over the years in various jobs, some were truly awful - poor blade geometry, uncomfortable to use and woefully off-balance etc. I never bothered to check who they were manufactured by but I certainly never looked forward to using them.
Some were passable, some were OK but the one I favour by far the most is my Fiskars X3. It’s not traditional or old School looking, it is a modern take on a traditional design but it does the job of clearing through woody plants and weeds more efficiently than all the others put together. It lasts as well too, had mine for about 6 years, it gets used a lot and is still solid as the day I bought it. I’d be lost without mine, especially since I don’t think Fiskars make this particular model any more.
 
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Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
4,747
734
Lancashire
That last comment is interesting. It's what I'm wondering about right now.

I'm in the process of buying a house with a decent sized, sloping, tree/shrub covered garden. It's overgrown and a lot to cut back. It will be our first garden too.

I'll be getting bow saw, folding saw and possibly a few other tools like mattocks. We have loppers, secateurs, various digging tools, etc. In my past life, before family, I did a bit of conservation volunteering and used various bill hooks for woodland management (cutting things down and back) obviously bow saws and loppers were the mainstay but I found billhooks great too. They felt great in the hand and worked when you learnt how to use them.

Is it worth getting a billhook for this garden? Or am I guilty in just wanting a tool that's in decline and no longer sold in gardening or diy or hardware stores? Should I get one or not for this garden? If I am advised to get one, which pattern would be my best bet?

Btw one tool I've never found a use for was an old grass sickle my dad had. He found a use but tbh he mostly didn't use it.
 

Paul_B

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jul 14, 2008
4,747
734
Lancashire
The x3 is still around but the old, more curved edge has become more angular at the end. It's looking like it's morphing into a patio weeding tool but with the cutting edge on the inside of the angled end. No longer a true billhook I think but works as on so perhaps still is.
 

chimpy leon

Full Member
Jul 29, 2013
410
68
staffordshire
C05A2AEF-8BDD-478A-AFE3-459B5E09EF69.jpeg

This is my earlier version. I believe the new x3’s are a different design.
Again, Brilliant tool. It must be said that the Edge retention has been outstanding, as has its ability to resist a proper rusting.
 
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Billy-o

Native
Apr 19, 2018
1,492
630
Canada
Is the "riving iron" the same thing in service as a "froe?"

Sort of, though you can see the leverage and packability are completely different, as is the nature if not the degree of control. I tend to think of it also as a heavy leuku. I suppose it is what you 'should' use for making sticks if you have a worry about damaging a knife or in place of an ax. But, yes, the principle of splitting wood along the grain is what's at stake. Lots of ways of doing it. This offers one.

Tidbit: I remember from one of my design courses that during WW2 the government insisted that all furniture produced under the Utility project be made from riven not sawn timber.
 
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