What Is A Billhook? What Is A Billhook Used For?

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A billhook is a traditional tool used for hedge laying, forestry and gardening amongst other uses. A billhook is a type of green tool called an edge tool; a tool with an edge that is generally used to cut green wood (living wood - wood which hasn't dried).

The tool is used in a chopping action to cut bushes, shrubbery and small branches.

A billhook consists of a handle and a blade with a bevelled cutting edge running along one edge, sometimes both edges. The blade is often curved at the top end to form a hook shape. The handle which is virtually always wooden and the core of the blade are inline. The majority of billhooks have a blade length between 7"-12", a billhook with an 8"-10" is a typical size.

The billhook is sometimes referred to as a 'bill', 'hand bill', 'hook bill', 'hedging bill' or 'hedge tool'.

The billhook has been used for centuries with roots back to Roman times. During the thousands of year of use in many different countries the tool has evolved in to many different forms.

In the UK nearly every region of the country developed its own pattern of billhook. Some of the variations in design were subtle and some of the variations were strikingly different. Given the relatively small size of the UK I find it quite amazing how many different types of billhook there are.

What is a 'Devon' Billhook?

The pattern of the 'Devon' billhook has a bevelled edge on one side of the blade with a blunt hooked end.

devon billhook

The distinguishing feature of the Devon billhook is it has a notch at the base of the blade. There has been much speculation as to what this notch was used for. There are two main theories, theory one is it was used to help tie a strap to the billhook so the user can hang the billhook from their wrist, theory two is the notch was sharpened and used for stripping material such as bark, willow and thorns. From attending wood shows, the majority of people I asked thought it would have been used for stripping. From speaking to a long standing maker of billhooks, he informed me he had found an old Devon billhook with a strap tied around the notch area. I have also heard of a Devon pattern billhook with a sharpened notch. My personal theory is originally the notch was invented to cater for one of these theories and from that invention it was later found the notch was very handy for the other theory.

double edge billhook

What is a 'Double Edge' Billhook?

The 'Double Edge' billhook design has a bevelled edge on both sides of the blade. One edged side has a hook to the end. The other side has a shorter length of edge which protrudes from the main structure.

knighton billhook

What is a 'Knighton' Billhook?

The 'Knighton' pattern of billhook is a bill without a hook. The Knighton billhook has a bevelled edge cutting edge on one side which is pretty much straight.

spar billhook

What is a 'Spar' Billhook?

The 'Spar' billhook otherwise known as a 'Spar Hook' or 'Sparhook' is a smaller version of billhook, it is effectively a mini billhook. Spar Hooks usually have a blade of about 5" - 6" in length. They have a bevelled edge on one side of the blade with a hooked end, usually quite a pronounced hooked. The end of the spar hook sometimes is made with a blunt end and sometimes with a point.

sussex billhook

What is a 'Sussex' Billhook?

The 'Sussex' billhook design has a bevelled edge on one side of the blade with a pronounced hooked end. The hooked end is finished to a point.

yorkshire billhook

What is a 'Yorkshire' Billhook?

The 'Yorkshire' billhook has a blade very similar to the Double Edge billhook design with a bevelled edge on both sides of the blade. One edged side has a hook to the end. The other side has a shorter length of edge which protrudes from the main structure. The Yorkshire billhook has a longer handle which allows the user to wield the two with two hands.

Billhook Parts

A typical billhook consists of the following parts:

billhook parts

  • A - Cutting Edge
  • B - Blade
  • C - Hook
  • D - Handle
  • E - Ferrule

What Material Does A Billhook Cut?

The wood the billhook is usually used to chop is green wood.

Typical Billhook Uses Include:

  • Coppicing / Forestry Management
  • Gardening
  • Hedge Laying
  • Hurdle Making
  • Thatching

There have been many, many, many makers of billhooks in the past, suprisingly there are only a few present makers. Below are a list of a few well known billhook makers:

Old Billhook Makers:

  • Brades
  • Elwell
  • Gilpin
  • Nash
  • Parkes
  • Swift (William)
  • Whitehouse

New Billhook Makers:

  • Bulldog
  • Morris (of Dunsford)


(i) This review/article may give warning(s) / advisory notes / cautions / guidelines given in good faith, any such information should not be solely relied upon and seen as the exhaustive list of warnings / advisory notes / cautions / guidelines. Refer to good safety practices for the safety of you and others. Refer to good practices for the good health of your tool and property.
(ii) The details here are given in good faith, the details are constantly growing and evolving, there is scope for error and shouldn't be fully relied upon, please confirm any details for yourself by performing additional research from reliable sources.

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