A cutter mattock, embedded in a lawn

A mattock is a versatile hand tool, used for digging and chopping, similar to the pickaxe. It has a long handle, and a stout head, which combines an axe blade and an adze (cutter mattock) or a pick and an adze (pick mattock).



A mattock has a shaft, typically made of wood, which is about 3–4 ft (0.9–1.2 m) long.[1] The head comprises two ends, opposite each other, and separated by a central eye; a mattock head typically weighs 3–7 lb (1.4–3.2 kg).[1] The form of the head determines its identity and its use:[2]

  • The head of a pick mattock combines a pick and an adze. It is "one of the best tools for grubbing in hard soils and rocky terrain".[2] The adze may be sharpened, but the pick rarely is; it is generally squared rather than beveled.[2]
  • The head of a cutter mattock combines an axe with an adze. Thus, it has two flat blades, facing away from each other, and one rotated 90° relative to the other. The blade is designed to be used for cutting through roots.[2]

The handle of a mattock fits into the oval eye in the head, and is fixed by striking the head end of the handle against a solid surface, such as a tree stump, a rock or firm ground. A similar action, while holding the head, allows the handle to be removed.[2] In the eastern United States, mattock handles are often fitted with a screw below the head and parallel with it, to prevent the head slipping down the handle; in the western United States, where tools are more commonly dismantled for transport, this is rarely done.[2]


The adze of a pick mattock being used to dig out a burrowing pit

Mattocks are "the most versatile of hand-planting tools".[3] They can be used to chop into the ground with the adze and pull the soil towards the user, opening a slit to plant into.[3] They can also be used to dig holes for planting into, and are particularly useful where there is a thick layer of matted sod.[3] The use of a mattock can be tiring because of the effort needed to drive the blade into the ground, and the amount of bending and stooping involved.[3]

The adze of a mattock is useful for digging or hoeing, especially in hard soil.[1]

Cutter mattocks (Swahili: jembe-shoka) are used in rural Africa for removing stumps from fields, including unwanted banana suckers.[4]


As a simple but effective tool, mattocks have a long history. Their shape was already established by the Bronze Age in Asia Minor and Ancient Greece.,[5] and mattocks (Greek: μάκελλα) were the most commonly depicted tool in Byzantine manuscripts of Hesiod's Works and Days.[6]

Mattocks made from antlers first appear in the British Isles in the Late Mesolithic. They were probably used chiefly for digging, and may have been related to the rise of agriculture.[7] Mattocks made of whalebone were used for tasks including flensing – stripping blubber from the carcass of a whale – by the broch people of Scotland and by the Inuit.[8]


The word mattock, pronounced /ˈmætək/, is of unclear origin. There are no cognates in other Germanic languages, and similar words in various Celtic languages are borrowings from the English (e.g. Welsh: matog, Irish: matóg, Scottish Gaelic: màdog).[9] It may be derived from the unattested Vulgar Latin matteūca, meaning club or cudgel. The New English Dictionary of 1906 interpreted mattock as a diminutive, but there is no root to derive it from, and no semantic reason for the diminutive formation.[9] Forms such as mathooke, motthook and mathook were produced by folk etymology. Dubious connections have also been suggested with words in Balto-Slavic languages, including Old Church Slavonic motyga and Lithuanian matikas.[9]

While the noun "mattock" is attested from Old English onwards, the transitive verb "to mattock" or "to mattock up" first appeared in the mid-17th century.[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Cathy Cromell (2010). "Tools of the Trade". Composting For Dummies. For Dummies. pp. 15–28. ISBN 9780470581612. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Robert C. Birkby (2006). "Tools". Lightly on the Land: the SCA Trail-building and Maintenance Manual (2nd ed.). The Mountaineers Books. pp. 75–102. ISBN 9780898868487. 
  3. ^ a b c d Robert D. Wray (2009). "The planting job". Christmas Trees for Pleasure and Profit (4th ed.). Rutgers University Press. pp. 75–92. ISBN 9780813544175. 
  4. ^ Björn Mothander, Finn Kjærby & Kjell J. Havnevik (1989). "Types of farm implements used in Tanzania". Farm Implements for Small-scale Farmers in Tanzania. Nordic Africa Institute. pp. 22–72. ISBN 9789171062901. 
  5. ^ Isabelle Kelly Raubitschek (1998). "Tools". The Metal Objects (1952-1989). Volume 7 of Isthmia: Excavations by the University of Chicago, Under the Auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. American School of Classical Studies at Athens. pp. 119–130. ISBN 9780876619377. 
  6. ^ Frederick M. Hocker (2004). "Tools". In George Fletcher Bass & James W. Allan. Serçe Limani: an Eleventh-century Shipwreck, Volume 2. Volume 4 of The Nautical archaeology series. Texas A&M University Press. pp. 297–328. ISBN 9780890969472. 
  7. ^ I. J. Thorpe (1996). "The introduction of farming to Britain and Ireland". The Origins of Agriculture in Europe. Material Cultures Series. Routledge. pp. 94–118. ISBN 9780415080095. 
  8. ^ Vicki Ellen Szabo (1997). "The use of whales in early Medieval Britain". In C. P. Lewis. Studies in Medieval History. Volume 9 of The Haskins Society Journal. Boydell Press. pp. 137–158. ISBN 9780851158310. 
  9. ^ a b c d "Mattock". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Mattock — Mat tock, n. [AS. mattuc; cf. W. matog.] An implement for digging and grubbing. The head has two long steel blades, one like an adz and the other like a narrow ax or the point of a pickax. [1913 Webster] T is you must dig with mattock and with… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • mattock — (n.) O.E. mættoc, probably from V.L. *matteuca club, related to L. mateola, a kind of mallet (see MACE (Cf. mace) (n.1)), but this is not certain, and synonymous Rus. motyka, Lith. matikkas suggest other possibilities. OED says similar words in… …   Etymology dictionary

  • mattock — ► NOUN ▪ an agricultural tool similar to a pickaxe, but with one arm of the head curved like an adze and the other like a chisel edge. ORIGIN Old English …   English terms dictionary

  • mattock — [mat′ək] n. [ME mattok < OE mattuc < VL * mattiuca < * mattea, back form. < L mateola, dim. < * matea < IE base * mat , hoe, club > Sans matyá , a harrow] a tool for loosening the soil, digging up and cutting roots, etc.: it… …   English World dictionary

  • Mattock — This is a surname of pre7th century Breton, Welsh and Olde English origins. There are at least thirteen modern surname spellings including Maddocks, Maddicks, Mattacks Mattock, Muttock, Mattick and Mattuck. In all cases and spellings the origins… …   Surnames reference

  • mattock — noun Etymology: Middle English mattok, from Old English mattuc Date: before 12th century a digging and grubbing tool with features of an adze and an ax or pick …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • mattock — /mat euhk/, n. an instrument for loosening the soil in digging, shaped like a pickax, but having one end broad instead of pointed. [bef. 900; ME mattok, OE mattuc] * * * Picklike digging implement, one of the oldest tools of agriculture. It… …   Universalium

  • mattock — noun An agricultural tool whose blades are at right angles to the body; similar in appearance to a pickax …   Wiktionary

  • Mattock —    1) Heb. ma eder, an instrument for dressing or pruning a vineyard (Isa. 7:25); a weeding hoe.    2) Heb. mahareshah (1 Sam. 13:1), perhaps the ploughshare or coulter.    3) Heb. herebh, marg. of text (2 Chr. 34:6). Authorized Version, with… …   Easton's Bible Dictionary

  • mattock — Mawdesley Glossary a heavy hoe, one usedfor hoeing willows …   English dialects glossary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”