Project complete: Finnish Billhook Jungle Tools

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C_Claycomb

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Oct 6, 2003
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Nine years ago Stuart showed me a tool that he had acquired on a trip to Sweden, which he thought was possibly the best jungle blade he had seen or used. It was a Finnish military issue billhook. These were out of production then, and those that are now in production are missing one of the key features, namely the integral guard.

So, why did Stuart think this tool so wonderful, well, paraphrasing, in use it had reach, the hook could be used for picking wood up from the ground, saving energy, and for catching and deflecting rattan tendrils and other spiky jungle flora. In addition, it was safer than a parang in that it had no point and either the guard or hook would tend to hit a careless user before the edge reached them, making accidents much more unlikely.

This is one of the few pictures anywhere on-line of what the tool looked like, only the one I saw had an olive coated blade and ferrule.
2021008_M011_128508.jpeg

Sadly, this unique tool was lost during a capsizing while crossing a jungle reservoir.

Rather foolishly, I offered to have a go at making a replacement. I got the blades cut out about seven years ago, then for various reasons, didn't get back to it. The main reasons were that Stuart had got himself a nice Ben Orford Parang, which he was doing well with (and not losing!) and there were a number of challenges to overcome with the design. How to grind it and how to mount it in a handle where the big ones. Followed by questions about materials and sheath design.

This year I finally pulled my finger out and got to it, having decided go with ash for the handle, Kydex for the sheath, a hidden tang, pin and wire wrap instead of the welded ferrule of the original, no powder coating, and a convex grind, that wouldn't be so fussy about me maintaining a clean even line around the curves.

Billhook comp by Last Scratch, on Flickr

After all that time, I mislaid my drawing of the handle, so modelled it after a GB SFA and some of the parang handles I have seen. I did the deep blind hole using a pen drill and home made handle broach. Went pretty quick and had a mostly rectangular hole that lined up well with the rough profiled blank.

Wire wrap was 0.5 locking wire, used to secure bolt heads. Two layers, applied under tension and covered with heat thinned slow cure epoxy. There is a single 1/8 brass pin through the end of the tang to insure against the blade exiting the handle in use.

Before finishing the handle I took the first tool out for a bit of a test. It cut so well I rather fancy one of these myself now. So far, no failure of that blade/handle joint.

Handles were soaked for days in Danish oil, kept wet. Handle life is something that bothers me, the jungle tends to be hard on wood!

Billhook Sheath by Last Scratch, on Flickr

For the sheath, I ordered an A3 size sheet of "orange" Kydex from a UK company on Ebay. Was slightly disappointed in the colour. While technically it IS orange, it is not the bright "hunter" orange that you get from all the US suppliers when they advertise materials as "orange". It is closer to fallen leaf colour than I would have liked!

Shaping a sheath for such an odd blade shape was interesting. I needed a lot of blocking out, basically in-filling all the hook, and the bevel, using cardboard and tape. If one had a number of these to do, it would be better to use a dummy blade, without hook or bevel, to shape the end of the sheath, then swap for the real one to shape the area near the handle. The keeper strap was made from Biothane, webbing coated in plastic. Not so easy to find. The place that had great prices on Ebay was based in Germany and wanted £12 to ship to the UK. If one was ordering from the US, they sell "inside the waist band" holster straps that come ready made with snaps, screws and plastic webbing. Chicago screws have an 8-32 thread, and I happened to have some 8-32 x 1" button heads that I could cut and grind down to fit inside the 15mm snaps.

I am pleased with how they all turned out. They are not pretty, and not the best finished of my work by any means, but as a gift of working tools, they will do.

Now, if someone else were to fancy making things like this, that would be great...I could point Stuart in their direction when he needs some spares! :D
 
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Toddy

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Jan 21, 2005
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Your's look so sound :) and you've turned a mass production kind of bog standard thing into something very 'right'.
Stuart's going to be so very chuffed :)
 

Janne

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Feb 10, 2016
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I have one of the originals. Made for the civilian market, and exported. Bought mine in Sweden in mid 1970’. No doubt they made them for the Finnish army too.
Excellent stuff, superior to the Fiskars model. Better steel, better handle, that hand protection is useful.

If you want, I could do some measurements so you can do anither, more authentic one next time!
 
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Ooops

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May 11, 2017
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Nine years ago Stuart showed me ...... a Finnish military issue billhook.
What a cracking tool. I wish I had some of your talent
tiphat.gif
 

C_Claycomb

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Oct 6, 2003
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Yeah, we looked at the Fiskars. No guard, no point to the hook. Haven't compared one in use though. I have used the Fiskars axes and splitting mauls and they have been good. I do like the idea of a rot resistant handle. Stuart did give me a tool with a blade a lot like the Fiskars, but the straighter handle wasn't as good as the more shaped wood version.

Forgot to mention, blade stock is just 1/8th inch, so not too heavy.
 

C_Claycomb

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I have one of the originals. ......

If you want, I could do some measurements so you can do another, more authentic one next time!

Thanks for the offer, but (as is often the way) I found my full tool tracing AFTER I finished gluing up and shaping everything! The handle was a lot shorter than the first one I made, and a little shorter than the second. Will just have to hope that the longer reach makes up for the less convenient carry. I think that for a hand made item, the handles I have are better, but they would be a pain to make on a machine, as the original could be.
 
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sunndog

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May 23, 2014
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Man alive that's a cool build

Love the handle on that longer one it's gorgeous. Heck of a tool to by the looks.
I use a thin and light billhook when clearing brush esp thorny stuff and It works great with the extra speed the light weight gives you
 

Janne

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Feb 10, 2016
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Funny enough, we used our yesterday, we had to remove a thick branch on one of our mango trees, to lop it off halfway up so the stump could be cut with less of split damage by the tree trunk.
I started with the Fiskars, it is heavier, but went over to the Marttiini, easier to swing and hold.

I saw I need to do a bit of tlc, it has started to rust and the edge is no good.

Your re-creation looks of course stunning visually, I am sure it cuts and slashes extrememely well too!
 

Janne

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Feb 10, 2016
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Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
I think the original ferrule/ sleeve should be stronger. I have used mine to pry apart wood, no damage or cracks in handle. The sleeve is welded to the blade. Super strong!
It has a straight brained birch handle.

I have a couple of Tremontina machetes, but this Finnish classic is better in many ways.

The edge protector ( yellow plastic) is not as good as the scabbard you have made. East to forget, but fairly easy to find.
 
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Dave Budd

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I have to admit that the original is butt ugly and a very modern manufacture (compared to a rolled socket), but it is a tool made to do the job and is solid. Your version has a touch more class to it :) I like

I've used the wire ferrule on large seaxes that I've made (it's a fairly common feature historically) and is surprisingly strong and effective, so long as it doesn't come unwrapped. I've used super glue to stop any movement in the wires, but the ends are tucked into holes to keep the wire in place, the wire is also much thicker (normally I make a two ply twist from 0.7mm brass, silver, copper, brass or combination thereof).
 

Glass-Wood-Steel

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Jul 31, 2016
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Those look really good, great job!
I have one of the Fiskars brush hooks ( older model) and find the long handle very useful. You can get a good swing while keeping the fingers away from the sharp end. Or use a 2 hand grip.
I expect the swell in the middle of the blade improves the cutting power somewhat. What steel did you use?
 

C_Claycomb

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Oct 6, 2003
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Thanks for all the encouragement!:beerchug:

I don't doubt that the original welded ferrule would be stronger, but without welder or anvil, it wasn't something I was prepared to tackle.

I finally decided to go for the wire wrap after talking about ferrules a bit with Dave at last year's Moot, and with Stuart, who described the locals in Borneo wrapping prarang handles in telephone wire, which can't be as strong as stainless locking wire. To stop it unravelling I drilled holes through to the tang hole, poked the wire in so that the tang would fold it down, and pegged the holes with slivers of bamboo and cyano glue. Thicker wire would have been harder to handle, and harder to get tension on, but I might have happily gone to 1mm thick if I had it. On the first one, I got enough tension that the tang hole went from an easy, slightly loose fit, to a tight push fit on the tang.

I read that about Biothane being used for equestrian stuff too. Also used, apparently, for a lot of dog leads and collars. Still pretty rare material if you want a couple of metres. Found it here,
https://www.artisanleather.co.uk/biothane-super-strong-synthetic-leather-effect-webbing.html
but even so they had a limited selection, most stuff pictured wasn't in stock..

I am a big fan of curved edges for wood cutting. These things did indeed cut! Steel was not the best choice. O-1. I did a multiple quench, then tempered in my kitchen oven till they were dark bronze colour, then did a draw on the spine and tang with a MAPP torch while keeping the edge in water. I don't expect they will break, but I would have much preferred to be able to do something in a spring steel. If the design works out, and I ever try again, I may look at some more impact resistant steel. Having said that, the Orford Parang is O-1, and there have been more than one fellow competing in BladeSport with O-1 choppers, so while not ideal, it isn't terrible either.
 
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Janne

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Feb 10, 2016
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Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
I am sure your choice of steel is fully sufficient/ perfect.

The steel used in the Marttiini blade is vastly fifferent from the Fiskars blade.
Marttiini rusts easily, and the spine deforms when using a hammer or axe spine to bash it.
The Fiskars spine chips when the same is done. And does not rust much.

I still have a couple of chips of the Fiskars steel embedded in my leg, about a centimeter from my right Femoral artery.
I needed to split a piece of local Black Mangrove for a knife handle and was lazy to use a saw.
Last years Christmas Eve I think I had to visit the hospital.

You learn as long as you live.
 

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