The adze is a carpenter's tool something like an axe but with the edge at right angles to the handle. The Maoris were the only people who used it regularly as a weapon. Their war adzes had Jade blades and elaborately carved handles, while those used as tools had plain ones.

It is also the origin of the term half assed.

If you imagine a tool that looks like an axe but the blade at a right angle to the handle you would have an adze (also adz). The adze was once a very common tool and came in many shapes and sizes and as such had a variety of uses. Carpenters used a two handled adze with a straight cutting edge to surface large wooden beams. It looked very much like a garden hoe with a much more robust head, a shorter handle and a sharper cutting edge. The shipwright's adze had a small protrusion on the head at the opposite end of the blade which was used for driving nails below the surface. Coopers used a small one handed version with a curved cutting edge to shape barrel staves. A similar tool was also used by furniture makers to cut a hollow into the seat of chairs. The adze was also a common tool for building wooden scoops, gutters, dugout canoes and basically any time a large concave cut was needed.

In usage a two handed adze is swung like an axe or pick usually in a downward motion. When surfacing a wooden beam the carpenter would stand on top of the beam and swing the adze over his head, bringing it down on the material directly in front of his feet. The result was a beam which was almost perfectly smooth. It was also very dangerous and required concentration and skill.

The adze is no longer in common use but a variety of tools are still available both new and used from tool catalogs and auctions. A cutaway view of an adze head can be seen below.

           .oOOO---------OOo.                       .oOOOOOOOO*            *OOOOOo.                          
   OOOOOOOOOOOOO         OOOo.              .oOOOOOOOOOOO*                    *OOOOOOOo.                   
   OOOOOOOOOOOOO         OOOOOo.     .oOOOOOOOOOOOOO*                                *OOOOo.              
   OOOOOOOOOOOOO         OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO*                                           *OOOo.          
            *OOO         OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO*                                                  *OOOo.       
             OOO         OOOOOOOOOOO*                                                         *OOOo.     
             OOO         OOOOOOOOO*                                                              *OOo.    
             OOO         OOOOOO*                                                                   *OOo. 
             OOO         OOOOO*                                                                      *Oo.
             OOO         OOO*                                                                            

Cutaway view of a shipwright's adze showing the "spur" or nail punch and the socket where the handle would attach. The curve in the blade was designed so that its radius was equal to the length of the handle plus the length of a person's arms.

Sloane, Eric. A Museum of Early American Tools. New York: Funk & Wagnal. 1964

Hack, Garrett. Classic Hand Tools. Newton: The Taunton Press. 1999

Adz, Adze (#), n. [OE. adese, adis, adse, AS. adesa, adese, ax, hatchet.]

A carpenter's or cooper's tool, formed with a thin arching blade set at right angles to the handle. It is used for chipping or slicing away the surface of wood.


© Webster 1913.

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