What is a Billhook?

As a landowner, you know how important it is to find a satisfying tool that you can use for fencing, trimming plant branches, cutting extra vines, and sizing hedgerows. Of course, there are many tools available on the marketplace, but nothing is as versatile and functional as the billhooks. 

From the Bronze Age to modern times, billhooks have evolved tremendously and are widespread worldwide. So, what is a billhook, and why is it used? It’s a crying shame that many people don’t know the answer to these questions. 

Luckily, billhooks have made a comeback in various new forms. To ensure that you can take advantage of this iconic and handy tool, we will chat about the key features, usage, and types of billhooks. Let’s not waste much time and dive straight into it. 

What Is a Billhook? 

Billhooks are a traditional cutting tool with a long wooden handle and a metal blade featuring a sharp cutting edge and at the tip is the signature hook. The blade can be one-sided or two-sided, depending on its uses. 

In ancient times, billhooks started as an agricultural tool and later evolved drastically to be used as weapons in wars, against fierce animals, and chop softwood. 

As the tool is widespread in America, Europe, and Asia, there are thousands of variations of billhooks. Usually, in the United States, billhooks are commonly known as ‘Brush Axe’ or ‘Fascine Knife’ and are mainly used in agriculture and forestry. 

Parts of a Billhook 

Billhooks have undergone extreme changes since it was first constructed. And so, it’s difficult to address the unique parts of all kinds of billhooks. However, in its basic form, a billhook has five distinct parts given below:

Blade 

All the different types of billhooks compulsorily feature a long metal blade. Traditional billhooks are made from iron or steel containing moderate carbon levels. This way, the tool was durable, heavy, and cheap. 

On the other hand, modern billhooks are made from high carbon steel with thinner blades. The material used is lightweight, and some of them feature small circles to reduce the mass further. Billhook blades are diverse in lengths ranging from 7 to 12 inches. 

Hook 

The blades are mostly straight near the handles, and as you reach towards the top portion, you’ll notice the increasing curve that ends in a pronounced hook. The hook is the key identifying feature of billhooks. It saves the cutting edge from hitting the ground and losing its sharpness. 

Cutting Edge 

Usually, the billhook blade is sharpened and tapered on the curved side. This sharp edge helps you to do all the cutting tasks. 

Some modern double-edged billhooks have a cutting edge on both sides of the blade. Many of them feature a saw-like edge to improve the tool’s efficiency. 

Ferrule 

The ferrule is a metal ring or cap that strengths the joining portion of the blade and the handle of a billhook. This little ring holds the blade in its place and prevents it from detaching or wearing while in action. 

Handle 

Typical billhooks have a thick wooden handle that comes in various lengths from 4 to 9 inches. The length is often customized to suit the need of the user. Nowadays, you can find more lightweight handles made from plastic, fiberglass, and even steel. 

Types of Billhook 

Billhooks are found in thousands of styles. It’s the diversity of the tool that makes it unique and versatile. Here are the top five most common billhook styles:

Sussex 

It’s the most common type of billhook with a single curved edge and a distinct hook. The pointed hook is the main identifying feature of the Sussex billhooks. 

Devon 

Devon billhooks have a signature notch on the blade near the handle. Also, they feature a sharp cutting edge and a blunt hook. 

Kinghton 

This is a rather interesting billhook type that lacks a hook at the tip. Kinghton billhooks have a thick, straight, and wide blade with a long cutting edge. 

Double Edge 

As the name suggests, this one features a sharp cutting edge on each side of the blade. The curved main edge has a pointed hook, whereas the opposite one is straight and short without any hook. 

Yorkshire 

Like the previous one, Yorkshire billhooks also have two cutting edges on opposite sides of the blade; one is hooked, and the other is straight. The distinguishing feature of this type is the long, thin handle suitable for double-handed uses. 

types of billhooks

Uses of a Billhook 

The usage of billhooks is somewhere in between the uses of an ax and a pointed knife. Modern-day billhooks are made differently from the ancient ones for elevated functionality and efficiency. Here are some significant uses of billhooks:

Agriculture 

As we mentioned, billhooks were originally built for agricultural purposes. You can use the contemporary lightweight billhooks to harvest sugar cane, corn, buckwheat, rice, barley, and many other crops of that kind. 

Moreover, some billhooks feature saw-like blades, which are very appropriate for chopping compost so that it breaks down faster. Farmers use the tool to remove residues of dead plants and the woody vegetation growing around the roots of their crops. 

Traditional billhooks with their long handles are particularly useful for cutting down high tree branches to improve the plant’s growth. Additionally, long handles are used to shave unreachable tall grasses, unruly plants and to pluck fruits from top branches. 

Camping 

If you’re used to going into the wilderness camping, billhooks are the most versatile choice for doing all your cutting chores. Use the billhook to chop wood for making a fire and a suitable shelter. 

In case you want to build a decent house at your favorite campsite, billhooks will assist you in creating the woven lattice necessary for the wattle and daub method of housing. Moreover, you can also use it to split woody materials for roofing and making poles. 

This extremely versatile tool is perfect for making small holes on the ground for storing purposes. Also, billhooks can remove obstacles from the trails and act as an excellent weapon against dangerous animals, venomous critters, and snakes. 

Gardening 

Every gardener needs an efficient and multipurpose cutting tool just like the billhooks. In gardening, the main aim of using billhooks is to clear the bushes, remove small invasive plants, and prune the unwanted branches. 

Usually, woody and fibrous plants are difficult to cut with a knife. From shrubs to softwood, the heavy blade of a billhook can effortlessly cut any plant or tree. You can use a billhook to cut stakes for making fences, split hazel for creating hurdles, hedging, and coppicing greenwood. 

Wrapping Up 

So, that was everything about billhooks. Now you know the answers to the questions: what is a billhook, and how this versatile tool can be used effectively to make your life much easier. 

As we live in a modern era, you’ll find billhooks in the most advanced forms. We would highly recommend the latest versions of the tool if you are a serious gardener or an enthusiastic camper. 


Photo of author

Michael Culligan

I am a lumber worker who performs logging services for the forestry industry. I have spent years honing my skills and experience to become a well-rounded axeman. I'm exited to share my knowledge of axes and lumber tools with everyone to help.