Asian Billhooks

The billhooks can be found in most (probably all) Asian countries, from the Indian subcontinent to Japan. In Asia Minor, the Gulf States and North Africa the development probably mirrored the spread westwards into ancient Greece and later into the Roman Empire, from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia (now modern Iran and Iraq). However, in the Far East it is likey that like other basic tools such as the axe or sickle, or weapons such as spear or sword, it is a case of parallel, or independent, development (i.e. creating a tool to fulfil a basic requirement)...


The range of shapes varies from country to country, and region to region - again mirroring development in the West, where the shape refelected the usage and the type of materilal to be cut. A Japanese nata or kama, used to cut bamboo, a hollow grass like plant, will require a different blade to one used to cut hazel in England - yet at the same time both will have as many similarities as there are differences - both are billhooks...


Below some images taken from the web, or sent to me by fellow enthusiasts etc - it is not always possible to name them accurately or to place their origins exactly as often the website is in a language that even Google struggles with.... Just the tip of an almost unknown iceberg... Every country has its poorer regions, and in each tools are often made and sold locally...

This image, and the ones below, were taken in 2013, and kindly sent by Phillip Wareham are of billhooks being made locally and sold in the Guizhou region of China; a poorer region with large ethnic populations: the Miao and the Dongs.

Also from the Guizhou region, but from the stall of another blacksmith.. Note both tanged and socketed hooks are being made, those with a tang are sold without handles. Those with a socket can be used with a handle, like a slasher, or without...

These woven baskets, also from the Guizhou region, are used to carry billhooks. The thin ribbon strap is probably just to hang them for display, and would be replaced by something more substantial in use.

A knife seller at an Indian market. Location unknown, but a range of different patterns of billhooks is offered for sale.

This and the following image were taken at a market at Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka by Friedhelm Nischik in 2012. The large bladed 'catte' at the top of the image is found only in Sri Lanka.

Market traders often sell a mix of hand-made locally sourced tools, and bought-in factory-made products.

A Vietnamese woman from one of the hill tribes selling billhooks at a market.

A Taiwanese billhook (similar are found in Laos and China) - not a native carrying it, but a tourist or ex-pat.

A maker in South Formosa (probably from a town or city as he has an electric belt sander)

A straight bladed billhook from the Maldives, probably used to chop open coconuts

This one from the Philippines.

An 'arit gedhe' (big sickle) or 'bendo' from Java

An modern Indonesian 'arit' or 'bendo'

Another form of 'bendo' or 'kudi' from Indonesia. The bulbous base may be to stop the cutting edge striking the ground when chopping through the wood (see the Chinese one below), although in the image it appears to be sharpened, like a curved axe...

The image of this Chinese billhook was found in the 1960's Whole Earth Catalogue. It was taken from Rudoph P Hommel's book 'China at Work' (published in 1937 after a trip to China in 1921 with Henry Chapman Mercer'). The projection at the end of the blade is to stop the sharp cutting edge from hitting the ground when splitting kindling wood for the oven or stove.

Chinese socketed billhook, (blacksmith made in south China), a recent purchase (2008), costing approx £2 (GBP) - but unfortunately not by me (see Phillip Wareham, above)... 

A Chinese tanged billhook, bought in Kowloon approx 2000. Private collection.