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I Forge Iron

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Hello everyone!


I've always liked these tools. To me they seem extremely useful for camping, help with yardwork and feed the fireplace at home.

I want one, but have never handled one in real life. Unfortunately buying a used, high quality example from the UK or Italy would be prohibitively expensive.








There is not a lot of information about how to forge them online, and even then, some of the information is contradictory....Some say that annealed high carbon or mild steel is suitable to make a hook, but others say properly tempered high carbon is the only way to go.


Since most of my blades have been forged from 5160, I think using a thick spring from a large truck would work, but am open to suggestions to any other recycled/scrap items which would lend themselves well to being made into a billhook without expending the huge amount of fuel and labor it would take to hammer out a hook from a 3/4" thick leaf spring.


If anyone has had any sucess forging a bill hook, please share your experiences.

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Forging billhooks and other allied tools as in your pictures is pretty straight forward, use spring steel, forge to shape required, and harden and temper for their usage. 


Most billhooks I made had tangs on that passed through the handles, and the end rove over to hold them on securely,


Then sharpen and hone if required


Larger Slashing type tools had sockets forged to fit the shaped handles rather than a tang.



Bill hooks have so many variations because they were originally made for specific tasks and for the craftsman using them, for instance when used in hedging, they can be for right or left handed use, the angle of the blade to the handle determining which way the tool is used.


Similarly in thatching, basketwork, or or even sickles, size, weight and proportions being made to suit the user and the situation.

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I have no idea why any one would recomend using mild steel for any blade.  I would not listen to such people, they have no clue about any blades, just arm chair makers parroting garbage.  Use good steel get a good blade, If we use mild steel we get junk.

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No mild steel! Steve I know the next thing your going to say is that a rail road spike will not make the best knife in the world, one that would surly cut the moon in two if you could reach it! 


haha I had some one tell me the other day how grand rail road spikes were. He would not believe otherwise. I guess facts are subjective these days with the internet wizards 

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Hey all, thanks for the responses!

The reason that was given for using softer steel/Annealed HC is that softer steel could be sharpened more easily in the field, and that the billhook would be only used for chopping green wood. Tougher, more expensive HC steel didn't need to be used.

I suppose this *used* to make more sense back in pre-industrial revolution days when good steel was harder to come by.


I hear that getting the distal tapering correct is tricky, and important....This is where having a well made used antique billhook available to reverse engineer would come in handy.


John B. If you are inclined to show off some of your finished hooks, that would be great...Should I consider the ergonomics of a billhook to be similar to a meat cleaver?  The thickness of the blade thinner near the handle and thicker on the chopping end, with the spine being very thick?

What size/shape stock do you start off with?

Please understand that I have probably read waaay too much about them recently, and am likely over-complicating them in my mind's eye :-)

That being said, I do want to do it right the first time, and the information provided is much appreciated!

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Adding to what John has already said about the shapes and sizes varying with the specific craft activity (also individual smiths and local geography).  The thickness and distal taper will vary according to the use not just the shape and size. Some are weighted with thickened tips, others are pretty well uniform thickness and some are thicker at the handle end. All depends what you are using it for ;)  Most modern ones are either flat (very cheap to mass produce) or only have a distal taper (such as Bulldog hooks, more costly but not so much as tapering from edge to back.).


I've made more than a handful and they are not a lot of fun to make by hand, especially if you are making a 10-12" Devon pattern such as I often get asked for (living in Devon and all). That size I normally start with something like 40x8mm stock, with it tapering from 10mm at the handle (I thicken it there) and 4mm at the tip (the 8mm start gives the extra width I need here). They are normally down to a couple of mm at the edge before sharpening. The hardest part is the bend at the front, especially if you are forging the bevels in as I do.

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Sorry B, I have no pictures of the items I made, most were made at craft shows where the local hedgers were demo'ing and wanted something making specifically for them, so they worked alongside me telling me what they needed to suit them.


Never got to take any pictures, ( after all it was only a basic billhook,) due mainly to cost and inconvenience at that time, Thanks for the digital age, less expensive, more convenient, and less technical ability needed.


Materials I used similar to Dave but sometimes dropping down to 50mm or 40mm x 6mm which I carried as stock for rotovator/cultivator blades,

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We had a neighbor for awhile from England, wife beater first class, and he used a bill hook to trim his trees while all of us used loppers. I was surprised how fast he could trim compared to those of us with loppers, a real smooth cut too. I kept waiting for the sheriff to come over for him decapitating his wife with that thing.

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