They’re not ideal, but the basic design is solid. The
biggest issue is the materials it’s been made from. Depending on that answer,
then if it uses an odd or even number of prongs in its design may also be
Pronged polearms were a thing. Off hand, the Ransuer and
Spetum come to mind. The designs vary, between bladed wings or additional
tines. To an extent, the pitchfork looks, relatively, like an actual weapon,
and can be used as one in an emergency. The wings or tines help to prevent
overpenetration and migration, which can make pulling the weapon back out of
the victim more difficult. Basically, the cross guard will catch on the outside
of the victim. With polearms that lack this design, it’s possible to lose your
weapon in a foe, because you can’t pull it back out.
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest concern is what the
pitchfork was forged from. If it’s simple pig iron, it’s probably not going to
hold up in combat. This doesn’t mean the pitchfork can’t be used in combat,
just that it probably won’t survive heavy battle. Tines (particularly along the
edge) are more likely to break off. That said, even if just the central spine
survives, the pitchfork could probably still be used. Though, at that point,
looking for an alternative might be a good idea. The material it’s forged from
will also affect how well the pitchfork’s tines will hold an edge. If it’s just
being grabbed because it’s convenient, then that’s not much of an issue, but if
it’s a persistent weapon in a hardscrabble militia or resistance, this becomes
more of a consideration.
While you will see bifurcated polearms, a pitchfork with an
even number of tines is at a disadvantage for surviving combat. This is
because, if there’s a tine mounted in line with the central shaft, that will
take the bulk of the force on impact, and stress to the other tines should be
reduced. If there is none (and the shaft mounts between two tines), then the wings
will take additional stress. It’s not much of an issue if you’re talking about
an actual weapon, but, if it’s an iron farming implement designed for moving
hay that sees extended combat, this could become a real consideration.
The curve of the tines doesn’t do the pitchfork any favors,
but again, there were multi-tined polearms.
I’m not sure how much
abuse a pitchfork would take. Mostly, because it will come down to the
individual tool’s condition and original quality. A good one, made from decent
iron, should hold up pretty well. A cheap one forged from pig iron is more
likely to break. A modern steel one would probably be roughly as durable as a
dedicated weapon. If your character’s just running someone through, it should
be fine. If they’re intending to couch pitchforks against a cavalry charge,
then I’d expect some would be breaking on impact.
The really basic takeaway is that, unlike the scythe, the
pitchfork is similar enough to a weapon that it could see practical use.
Another, similar option, is the shovel. Usually people think
of using shovels in combat as striking with the flat of the blade, but an
in-line thrust against a living foe is an entirely viable combat option. It’s
arguably a more versatile option than the pitchfork, because it can be employed
in multiple strike patterns. Something the pitchfork has issues with. It’s also
likely to be more durable, because the blade is a solid chunk of metal, instead
of the tine structure. Depending on how the blade was forged, it may be more
vulnerable to getting stuck in an opponent, however. It’s just less popular
among the villagers with torches crowd.