Sculpting Glossary

What is an Adze?

August 29, 2023 by

Are you a woodworker or a hobbyist who enjoys working with wood? Then you might be familiar with the adze, a woodworking tool that has been used for centuries. But do you know what an adze is, or the different kinds available, and how they can be used?

In this article, we will explore the world of adzes, taking you on a journey of discovery to understand the basics, the variations, and the practical applications of this ancient tool.

We’ll be covering the following topics:

Table of Contents

What is an Adze?

An Adz is a tool similar to an axe that has arched blades that are at a right angle to the handle. It was an ancient and versatile tool that was used in the era of the Stone Age. It was used for cutting and sharpening wood commonly used in horticulture and hand woodworking.

There exist two broad examples of the Adz tool:

  • Hand Adz: Swung with hand. A short-handled tool.
  • Foot Adz: Used by both hands. A versatile long-handled tool is capable of powerful swings.

But there are various examples of the Adze tool, depending upon their application. These are as follows:

  • Carpenter Adz
  • Railroad Adz
  • D-handled Adz
  • Shipwright Adz
  • Pocket Adz
  • Two-handled Adz
  • Demolition Adz

Sometimes an Adze tool is also called a hand tool for shaping wood. In the Stone Age, this tool looked like a handheld chipped stone like a blade.

During the Egyptian era, it took the form of a wooden handle with a blade of copper or bronze attached at one end.

what is an adze

What is an Adze Used For?

An adze is mainly used for woodwork like carving and smoothening the wood into various shapes. It is also used in agriculture and horticulture for cutting rows of plants in fields.

However various forms of Adzes have a different use, depending upon their usage in the workplace.

Let’s dive into some of the different kinds.

1. Hand Adze

The hand adze has a short hoe and a short handle. This type of adze is usually used handheld, hence the name “hand adze.”

Along with woodworking, they’re also used by craftsmen coopers, wainwrights etc. 

2. Foot Adze

While using these types of adzes, the applicant has to stand on the surface and continue to swing the tool between his feet, chipping off the required material and then shifting his position backward.

To see a foot adze in action, we recommend this video:

3. Carpenter Adze

A carpenter’s adze is very heavy and this makes its use unsuitable for continuous use.

To see a carpenter adze in action, check out this video:

4. Railroad Adze

The railroad adze is used for breaking the handles while shaping railroad ties or sleepers. 

5. Shipwright Adze

A shipwright adze can be used from overhead, in front of the waist, and also from chest level.

To see a shipwright adze in action, check out this video:

Why is it Called an Adze?

The word “adze” has origins in the 12th century and it is claimed that it evolved from the English word “adesa”.

Is it Adz or Adze?

An adze is also a variant of Adz, which are both the same tools used to shape and dress the timber.

From Old English to Middle English, the term Adze has encountered a variety of spelling modifications like adese, ades, ads addes, adze.

Thus the word has no cognates, so it has the same word resemblance of adze and hammer in many languages.

History of Adze

The brief history of Adze is discussed as follows:

1. Earliest Adze

About 700,000 years ago, woodworking tool kits emerged.

An adze was first used in the stone age.

Archaeologists suggest that adze was used by ancient farmers for every purpose, from harvesting crops to shaping wood.

Some of the archaeological records being collected revealed stone tools identified in middle stone age sites such as Bomplaas caves and Upper Paleolithic sites.  

2. Upper Paleolithic

Ground stone and flaked adzes records are also found in upper paleolithic sites in Siberia and the Russian far east.

According to the archaeologists they make up the portions of hunter-gatherer tool kits.

3. Dalton Adzes

From early Archaic Dalton sites in the united states, adzes are flaked stones like Dalton Adzes. The studies reveal that these types of adzes were heavily made, recycled, used, and resharpened by various groups.

The major use of adzes as analyzed in technological studies reveals that they were used for felling trees and manufacturing canoes.

4. Neolithic Evidence for Adze

There is no doubt that the concept of woodwork using adze is very old. However, building structures, making furniture, and clearing woods are the central part of the European Neolithic set of skills. 

German archaeologists revealed that early Neolithic carpenters built huge corner joints and constructions using huge varieties of adzes modifications.

example of an adze

How to Use an Adze?

If you are interested in using an adze, we recommend this video by Scott Wunder:

Final Remarks

Adze has been the most prominent wood shaping tool used since Stone Ages.

However, as time elapsed, this tool has undergone various variations and modifications in terms of application and shape. Thus, it is still used in areas of the world, carrying out huge work tasks.

Frequently Asked Questions

What replaced the adze?

The adze is still used today in many parts of the world, particularly for traditional woodworking projects. However, in modern woodworking and construction, the adze has largely been replaced by power tools such as saws, routers, and planers, which are faster and more efficient for large-scale projects.

Were adzes used as weapons?

Yes, adzes have been used as weapons throughout history, particularly in many African and Oceanic cultures. They were sometimes used as a kind of war club, with the sharpened blade used to strike enemies, or as a thrown weapon, similar to a tomahawk.