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Tool collection at Finch Foundry

Traditional agricultural and mining tools on a bench at Finch Foundry, Devon
Traditional agricultural and mining tools on a bench at Finch Foundry, Devon | © National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Finch Foundry was one of the largest tool manufacturers in the South West, mainly supplying tradespeople such as farmers, miners, thatchers and gardeners. Among the collection of tools now on display here are a selection of hooks, forks, shovels and spades that provide an insight into the nature of these tradespeople's work and how it changed throughout the year.

Winter tools

Furze hook

Furze is an old West Country name for gorse. This long hook was used for clearing gorse from pastureland. Its size and weight made short work of the dense, prickly plant.

Turnip hook

The pointy hook on the end of a turnip hook was for lifting the vegetables, while the blade was used for cutting the leaves off the top of the turnip. A skilled turnip harvester was able to lift the turnip, flip it in the air on the upward stroke, and cut off the top in a swift downward stroke as it fell.


Finch Foundry produced more than eight types of spade and shovel, each destined for a different job. The curved blade of the Devon shovel is best suited for loose, sandy soils, while the sharp-edged, narrower Cornish shovel is ideal for dense, clay-bearing soils.

Coke fork

The Finch Foundry fork range varied greatly, from two-tined hay forks up to the monstrous ten-tined coke fork. Each fork could be produced in a range of lengths, from nine to 13 inches.

The coke fork was preferred over a shovel, as it was easier to get into a coke pile, would carry more than a shovel, and would leave any dust and small particles behind.

The pulley mechanism operated by the waterwheel which powers the grinding wheel at Finch Foundry, Devon
The workings of Finch Foundry | © National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Spring tools

Bulb planter

When growing season started, it was important to get as much done as quickly as possible, and the bulb planter allowed the gardeners of Devon to get their bulbs in the ground while the ground was dry, often a rare occurrence in spring.

Digging tools

Ground preparation is essential work before planting out, and a wide range of digging tools including mattocks, root-removal tools and turning forks were made at Finch Foundry.

Sharpening stones

If your tools ever went blunt, the foundry could provide a solution by offering a while-you-wait sharpening service; or they could even sell you a small sharpening stone to take home. When the large stones used in the grinding shop reached the end of their usable life, they were split and mounted in wooden boxes to be sold locally.

Summer tools

Grass hook

Grass hooks were often made to order in the specific shape and size required by the buyer, meaning there are many possible styles. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference between a hook and a sickle is, it’s that a sickle has a serrated blade.

Weeding fork

With a double prong at one end, a weeding fork looks quite deadly, but was particularly useful for lifting dock and thistle. 

Weeds were so problematic during the 19th century that you could be fined simply if it could be proven that any on your property had crossed the land boundary into your neighbour's garden.

Numerous tools on display in the Carpenter's shop at Finch Foundry, Devon
The Carpenter's Shop at Finch Foundry | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Thatcher's shearing hook

This relatively narrow hook was used by sweeping the blade across and towards the body to gain a very flat finish, and was available in both left and right-handed versions.

These were, and still are, mainly used for pruning and lopping branches and vegetation, and are particularly useful for hedging. The design, size and shape vary widely depending on what they're going to be used for. 

Most of the billhooks made at Finch Foundry had a small notch in the handle where a leather strap could be attached. This enabled it to be held on the wrist.

Autumn tools

Barley winnower or hummeler

Barley is a very useful winter feed for livestock. However, it needs to be processed before it can be eaten, as the chaff can get lodged in the throats of animals. A barley winnower was used to beat the cut plant to separate the barley from the chaff.

Hay knife

Once hay had been produced for winter feed, it would be bundled into stacks, and to make it easier to move it needed to be cut. A very sharp and weighty blade was the best tool for the job, and so the hay knife was produced.

Trenching spade

A common autumn job would be to repair or lay fencing, for which a deep narrow hole was required. Finch Foundry produced a strong, specialist spade that was narrow, curved and sharp.

Other avenues of work

Funeral services

When business was slow, the Finch family looked for other opportunities to make a profit, and one service they provided was funeral directing.

Wood for coffins

The sawmill at Finch Foundry cut planks for coffins, and in the forge itself they made handles, bosses, nails and grave markers.

They even offered a wake and transport service through family members who ran catering and cart/car rental businesses.

Black and white archive photo of a group of workers at Finch Foundry, Devon

Finch Foundry's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Finch Foundry on the National Trust Collections website.

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