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What metal woodworking tools should I expect to find in the household of a 14th century well-off peasant farmer from Hampshire? (Answering more broadly is acceptable, but it might help to give this question a frame as narrow as I could think of, in order to allow weighing of evidence.)

In particular, how specialized are his tool possessions? Would a household own an felling axe and a chopping axe and a billhook? Multiple ones, even? Or would they have to do with fewer, less specialized tools?

I know of one medieval inventory from 1297 listing both an axe (unspecified) and a bill, http://www.uv.es/consum/briggs.pdf. I know that in the easily searchable databases for both manuscript illuminations and archeological finds axes are far more prevalent than bills, but those are not restricted to the agricultural context (eg. illuminations showing the carpenter Joseph, who is shown with an axe as a tool of trade). Is this due to the fact that one of the main applications of bill hooks, hedge laying, only became a major agricultural activity post middle-ages?

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Billhooks were used for a large variety of work on the farm including pruning grape vines, fruit and nut trees and hedges. They date from Roman times and illuminations from a variety of sources across several centuries and many countries show the billhooks in wide use. You've likely already found this site in your own researching but just in case ... http://www.billhooks.co.uk/history/billhooks-from-the-medieval-period-to-the-renaissance/ I'm unfamiliar with the credentials of the organization but they show a range of images with sources listed that are good.

If you're looking for wood working tools I'm not sure if you mean those used to craft harvested wood into other tools or shingles or fences or if you mean agricultural tools used when dealing with orchards, woody crops or clearing land.

Of the former, based on my own research I'd add augers, draw knives, spoke knives, and chisels.

A decent quick hit online includes St. Thomas' Guild blog at http://thomasguild.blogspot.com/2012/05/medieval-toolchest-drawknife.html

Two decent books I can think of off hand that might give some information are "The Medieval Garden" by Landsberg and "Eighteenth-Century Woodworking Tools: Papers Presented at a Tool Symposium" edited by James M. Gaynor which has many references to Medieval tools with citations.


Also I would suggest that the particulars of what tools were owned depends largely on the specific circumstances of the individuals. There were certainly farmers who did their own farrier work as Tyler suggests above but there were also communities that offered incentives to attract blacksmiths who shod the horses.

Another point that I do not have citation for off hand but I think is relevant to your question is that, depending on the specific situation, the lord of the manor or the community itself might own expensive tools that are used by several people instead of a peasant owning the tool himself. I will pull my books out tonight and see if I can track down the text I'm thinking of.

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Primary uses of metal for tools on a medieval farm from "A History of Agriculture and Prices in England: 1259-1400" by Rogers and other sources:

  • the coulter, plough foot and plough share (parts of a plough)
  • spades were tipped with iron or bronze
  • scythes
  • pitch forks
  • axes
  • pickaxes
  • knives

Things like rakes and harrows were usually made of wood.

  • Would a farm have farrier implements, or would that only be the local blacksmith? – CGCampbell Feb 10 '15 at 18:01
  • @CGCampbell In the same source I listed above account books are cited which list horse shoes and nails as separate line items, so that would suggest the farm would be shoeing their own horses. – Tyler Durden Feb 10 '15 at 18:27

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