Thursday, 24 March 2016


The billhook is a tool with a long history and an important future. It’s been around since the Bronze Age, so, In Britain, that means over 4,500 years of continuous use. A billhook has a wooden handle (preferably ash) and a wide blade that curves out, ending in a sickle shaped hook. The top of the tool is usually dull and heavy, but is sometimes supplemented by a straight, shorter, projecting secondary blade. The tool is usually no longer than 16” long (including the handle), but can vary in length – and weight. In Britain, there are a number of regional variations that add or subtract to the basic design, and this is repeated across Europe. The billhook is both a general and specialist tool, and these area-specific refinements reflect this.

The billhook is traditionally used for cutting and hacking shrubs, branches and vines. When The Crisis comes, as come it must, finding secluded places to live and farm will become important, and the billhook will come into its own in clearing a path. But it is also a weapon of some note.  As we say in Essex: ‘no-one ever fucks about with a bloke holding a billhook’ (I can’t remember the original Latin), as it lends its owner a sense of unfuckwithability, which isn’t a word but perfectly encapsulates the sense of invincibility and confidence this wooden handled wonder can inspire.

Like the much later smatchet, the billhook is both a blunt instrument and a sharp blade, and can be very useful in hand to hand combat. In the middle ages, with much longer handles, billhooks were often used against attacking cavalry. Its use requires a little technique, but it can be effectively employed in a hurry without training, as long as you have brute strength and a will to win. It is a fearsome looking weapon, and brandishing it with feeling may be enough to defer conflict: it looks like it can do immediate damage, and few would relish the thought of being struck with either side of it. It is a great off-putter, or a putter-off-er, if you prefer. There is no stabbing point, of course, so be prepared for things to get messy if things escalate to an actual scrap.

Unlike the specialist (and expensive) smatchet, billhooks are readily available, especially if you can find an agricultural market. A well-worn, well-used second hand billhook is a thing of great beauty, an ergonomic wonder that will make you feel like you were born with it in your hand. Keep the blade sharp and clean, and the handle oiled. You might want to add a wrist strap to minimise the chance of it being used on you. When The Crisis comes, as come it must, your billhook will be your best friend, replacing the dog that you had to eat when times first got tough. Treat it carefully, deploy it decisively, it’s a tool and weapon of proud lineage and infinite usefulness.  

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