Not so long ago I went to the Bodgers Ball which is the AGM of the Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Green Woodworkers and whilst I was there I bought a nice billhook for myself. A billhook is an old tool which used to be common throughout Britain and Northern Europe and were used for a variety of different tasks such as hedgelaying, brush clearence and coppicing. It’s the Euro version of the machete or parang.


Page from the 1950 ed. Elwell catalogue

Traditionally they would have been made  by local blacksmiths to the requirements of the craftsman and over time many of the shapes and weights were established as local patterns. This picture gives you an idea of some of the variances in regional patterns.

The billhook I now own is an Elwell 3901-9 which is a ‘Tenterden’ pattern from Kent. It’s lighter than most i’ve seen, being designed for hurdle makers, and makes it less tiring when using it for clearing brambles etc.

 As with most edge tools I needed something to protect it and carry it about in so I made a new sheath for it. Again it’s made from veg-tanned leather but for this one I tried dying it with very strong coffee, you just make some coffee and then reduce it to 1/3 its original volume. The result is very natural and characterful I think, I may use it more in the future . . .


The sheath before I start stitching


The back of the sheath with the belt-loop stitched


Finished billhook sheath stained with coffee