Billhook Found in an Ancient Layed Hedge
I was asked recently to replace a wormy old stick that had been the handle of this rather lovely old Elwell billhook. The client, who I’ve done quite a few strange woody things for, remembered his grandfather talking about a billhook that vanished whilst he was having his lunch in the orchard in Cambridgeshire. Apparently he talked of this tools right up until his death at the ripe old age of 92! So he must have thought it was an awesome piece of kit. In fact this billhook became a bit of a legend in the village and a lot of the younger folks in the pub who’d heard the story so many times thought it had probably never existed.
However one fine spring day an old hedge was being thoroughly inspected and it had been decided that rather than hacking it all down with a chain saw it should be restored and layed professionally to make it sheep proof once again. It was during this prickly look see expedition that a rather lovely billhook was discovered grown deep into the hedge where it had been purposely put and then forgotten. So the mystery of the vanishing tool was solved two generations later. Word went round the village like wildfire and I understand there was a mini full on party in celebration of the discovery.
I roughed out the handle with some excellent fast grown ash from and overgrown coppice in Brentwood and having had it drying out for a couple of months to allow for shrinkage I fitted it and it feels great. The balance is superb and with a new edge it’ll hopefully be around for at least another hundred years if not longer – that’s as long as it doesn’t do that vanishing act again.
I think that tools were often mislaid in the woods and in hedges, I always keep my eyes open when I’m walking along old outgrown layed hedges, I’ve found several small hatchets and billhooks. Sometimes in the thick of blackthorn and hawthorn. They are well and truly knotted in with strong branches and it’s not an easy job to extract them but very satisfying. The handles are nearly always rotted but the blades generally in good condition and just needing a little tlc to bring them back up to par. The main thing to remember when making the new handle is to keep it oversize so that when you go to fit it you can carve it down to give a good snug fit – nothing worse than a loose handle on a sharp tool…
For new handles and courses on how to make & fit them www.treewright.co.uk