Heritage Crafts

Edge tool making

The making of edge tools, including billhooks, sickle blades and scythe blades, and woodworking tools such as froes, axes, chisels and gouges.
Currently viable
Craft category
Metal, Wood


Between the 1850s and the 1920s there were upwards of 20 woodworking hand tool manufacturers in the Sheffield area (in the late 1800s, for example, there ware around 7 Marples’ companies alone in Sheffield).


  • Axe making
  • Billhook making
  • Chisel making
  • Scythe making
  • Sickle making
  • Woodworking tool making

Issues affecting the viability

  • Training issues: There is no formal training or qualification, such as City and Guilds – all training must be done in-house
  • Training issues/recruitment issues: Very difficult to find trainees – problems with knowing where to recruit, how to identify individuals who want to come into these types of industries etc. It would be good if there was an organisation which could help with identifying potential trainees and matching them up to potential employers.
  • Training issues/recruitment issues: It is very difficult to find apprentices/trainees – very hard to find suitable people with the right work ethic.
  • Training issues/recruitment issues: It is very hard to find the right type of apprentice/trainee – people may have trained as an ‘engineer’ or as a ‘woodworker’ but don’t have the specific skills needed so training has to take place completely in-house.
  • Training issues/recruitment issues: The UK doesn’t promote crafts enough – schools don’t teach woodwork anymore, school-leavers aren’t aware of crafts as a careers opportunity, ‘industry’ is becoming a dirty word
  • Training issues/recruitment issues: Lack of woodworking, metalworking and exposure to craft skills in schools, and no technical schools/colleges
  • Legislation: Legislation regarding health and safety, taking on apprentices etc. can put people off – obviously something needs to be in place but the legislative burden can be off-putting to potential employers
  • Foreign competition: Competition from cheap foreign imports
  • Market issues: Consumer price expectations when competing with Chinese prices
  • Market issues: The internet means that customers focus on price rather than value
  • Business issues: Increasing bureaucracy for small businesses such as insurance, health and safety, pensions, electrical certificates etc. take up the time of the limited number of staff in a small business, and take their time away from making or from business development.

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

  • Thomas Flinn & Co, Sheffield. Have a department specialising woodworking tools.
  • Richard Carter Ltd, Huddersfield. Primarily manufacture spades, shovels and handles, but also manufactured edge tools and other tools. Twenty people working in the factory in total.
  • Henry Taylor Tools Ltd, Sheffield. Manufacture wood turning, wood carving and woodworking tools. Have seven skilled employees.
  • Robert Sorby, Sheffield. Manufacture wood turning, wood carving and woodworking tools. Twenty people involved in manufacturing, including three apprentices – metalworking, woodworking, and hand grinding.
  • Joseph Marples Ltd, Sheffield. Specialise in gauges, bevels and squares for woodworking. Four skilled craftspeople.
  • Ashley Iles (Edge Tools) Ltd, East Kirksby, Lincolnshire. Manufacture wood turning, wood carving and woodworking tools.
  • Crown Hand Tools, Sheffield

Other information

Whilst there would seem to be several manufacturers of these types hand tools in the UK judging by the many brand names on the market, this is not the case; those listed above tend to be the primary manufacturers of nearly all the UK-made tools.

National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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