What is an Adze?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An adze is a tool which is used to shape wood. It consists of a curved blade mounted perpendicularly on a long handle or haft. Depending on the type of adze, there are a number of ways to use the tool, ranging from hollowing out canoes to shaping wooden shingles. Many hardware stores carry adzes, along with plain adze blades which can be mounted on old handles or hand-made hafts.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

The adze is probably one of the earliest tools developed by humans. The first adzes were made from stone, and they were designed as hand tools. Users fitted the adze into their hands and used it for various shaping tasks; numerous archaeological sites across the world uncover adzes on a regular basis. Once humans began working in metals, metal adzes began to replace stone, because metal was easier to shape and it could be easily ground to create a sharp edge. Many cultures also independently realized that the adze blade could be fitted to a haft, creating leverage, and the modern form of the adze was born.

One of the most classic ways to use an adze is as an overhead tool. The user stands on the object he or she wants to work on and then swings the adze from behind his or her back and into the wood. This technique is used for things like shaping poles and hollowing out canoes. Smaller, more lightweight adzes can also be used for finer tasks, and it is not unheard of for an adze to be used as a hand tool in detail work.

There are several variations on the adze, including the carpenter's adze, a very heavy tool designed for overhead use, and a shipwright's adze, a more lightweight tool used by coopers and woodworkers on smaller projects. Someone who is good with an adze can roughly shape wood with the tool and then smooth it, cleaning up the details and coaxing out the desired form.

Some adzes have a blade on one side and a pick or a similar tool on the other. Many people who climb mountains and work in ice carry modified versions of adzes with ice picks, for example, as the adze can be used to quickly break through chunks of ice. The material of choice for modern adzes is stainless steel, which can hold an edge well while it resists corrosion and rust.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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