What Is An Adze? What Is An Adze Used For?

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An adze consists of a slightly shaped, pole-like wooden handle and a metal blade. The blade head is fitted securely at one end of the handle by means of a hole in the blade head slotting over the end of the handle. The blade is set perpendicular to the handle.

There are a variety of types of adze. The variation of adze is determined by the blade and in some cases, the handle length. An adze with a short handle is known as a hand adze. Types of hand adze include bowl adze, guttering adze and a cooper's adze. An adze with a long handle is often known as a two handed adze.

The blade on an adze usually ranges in length of 10cm – 30cm, usually with widths of 5cm – 20cm. The blade can have a straight edge profile or any depth of gouge profile. An adze blade may be roughly at right angles with the handle or it may have been set an angle.

An adze is used for removing lots of wood stock very quickly and fairly accurately, it is used for carving, shaping and hollowing work, it can also be used for smoothing work. The adze has a very long history of being used by many civilisations through many, many generations.

During the long history of the adze the tool evolved in to many different forms to suit different jobs. The development of the widest range and advances of these tools occurred during the 18th / 19th Centuries to suit jobs such as shipwright’s, cooper’s and wainwright’s. The trades associated with these different types of adze have all-but-died-out, as such, many of the specialist adze are no longer made today.

What is a hand adze?

hand adze

A hand adze is a short handled adze that can comfortably be wielded with one hand.

What is a bowl adze?

A bowl adze is a type of hand adze usually with a very short handle. The blade is usually a gouge profile. There are examples of old bowl adze which can have very wide blades and which are often set at quite a steep angle to the handle (approx. 45 degrees).

gutter adze

What is a guttering adze?

A guttering adze is a type of hand adze. A guttering adze typically has a very long blade with a gouge profile.

coopers adze

What is a cooper’s adze?

A cooper’s adze is a type of hand adze. The tool has a curved blade one side and a hammer head the other side. The cooper’s adze was originally used by cooper’s to make curved containers such as barrels.

shipwrights adze

What is a shipwright’s adze?

A shipwright’s adze has a long handle and a long blade (unless obviously the tool has been well used). The blade is usually a flat profile, sometimes with a very gentle curve. The opposite end of the blade often has a metal bar. This bar can be of varying lengths. I have been informed this bar is called the ‘balance’. The user removed an amount of this metal ‘balance’ to get the optimal balance of the tool. I would therefore guess as the blade becomes shorter through years of use then so does the ‘balance’ (this does fit in with the many adze I have observed/handled which have the ‘balance’ bar).

Adze Parts

A typical adze consists of the following parts:

adze parts

  • A - Handle
  • B - Blade / Head
  • C - Cutting Edge
  • D - Balance (only on a few types)

Typical adze uses include:

  • Hollowing work - such as a bowl
  • Shaping wood in preperation for finer work
  • Preparing and shaping fencing
  • Removing stock quickly

What to look for when buying a adze?

  • When buying a adze you should make sure the tool is comfortable to hold.
  • Ensure the handle is the right length for the work in hand.
  • Ensure the blade is the right size for the job in hand.
  • Ensure the blade profile/orientation is the correct profile/orientation for the intended use.

Extra things to look out for when buying a secondhand adze

  • Make sure the head is tighly secured to the handle – a handle with movement will result in loss of control which will slow the process and may lead to mistakes. It will also be very dangerous as the head of adze could fly off.
  • Make sure the handle has no cracks or damage that may result in the handle breaking while in use. Of course a new handle can be refitted.
  • Check the cutting face for pitting and faults – if the flat face is full of holes and divots, especially near the sharp edge of the blade, it will make sharpening the tool to a good edge much more difficult and if the pitting is really bad it may be impossible to get a good edge. The reason being, when these pitting holes correspond with the edge of the blade being sharpened it will result in the cutting edge having nibbles and not having a complete uninterrupted sharp edge. If the cutting edge has nibbles then the adze will not cut smoothly.
  • Check the handle is free of woodworm holes. If there are woodworm holes, try to assess if the holes are fresh or old/treated. If there are any holes it is always best to treat them. If there a large numbers/clusters of worm holes, it can compromise the strength of the wood.

There have been many makers of adze past and present, below are a list of a few well known adze makers:

Old Adze Makers:

  • Gilpin
  • Marples
  • Sorby
  • Whitehouse

New Adze Makers:

  • Gransfor Bruks
  • Henry Taylor

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