AskDefine | Define adze

Dictionary Definition

adze n : an edge tool used to cut and shape wood [syn: adz]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  • , /ædz/, /

Extensive Definition

An adze or adz () is a tool used for smoothing rough-cut wood in hand woodworking. Generally, the user stands astride a board or log and swings the adze downwards towards their feet, chipping off pieces of wood, moving backwards as they go and leaving a relatively smooth surface behind. Adzes are most often used for squaring up logs, or for hollowing out timber.
The blade of an adze is set at right angles to the tool's shaft (like a hoe or plane), unlike the blade of an axe which is set in line with the shaft.



In central Europe, adzes made by knapping flint are known from the late Mesolithic onwards ("Scheibenbeile"). Polished adzes and axes made of ground stone, like amphibolite, basalt or Jadeite are typical for the Neolithic period. Shoe-last adzes or celts, named for their typical shape, are found in the Linearbandkeramic and Rössen cultures of the early Neolithic. Adzes were also made and used by prehistoric southeast Asian cultures, especially in the Mekong River basin.


The adze is shown in Egypt from the Old Kingdom onward. Originally the adze blades were made of stone, but already in the Predynastic Period copper adzes had all but replaced those made of flint. While stone blades were fastened to the wooden handle by tying, metal blades had sockets into which the handle was fitted. Examples of Egyptian adzes can be found in museums and on the Petrie Museum website.
A depiction of an adze was also used as a hieroglyph, representing the consonants stp.
The ahnetjer, Manuel de Codage transliteration: aH-nTr, depicted as an adze-like instrument, was used in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, intended to convey power over their senses to statues and mummies. It was apparently the foreleg of a freshly sacrificed bull or cow with which the mouth was touched.

New Zealand

Prehistoric Māori adzes from New Zealand, used for wood carving, were made from nephrite, also known as jade. At the same time on Henderson Island, a small atoll in Polynesia lacking any rock other than limestone, natives fashioned giant clamshells into adzes.

Northwest Coast America

American Northwest coast natives traditionally used adzes for both functional construction (from bowls to canoes) and art (from masks to totem poles). Northwest coast adzes take two forms hafted and D-handle. The hafted form is similar in form to a European adze with the haft constructed from a natural crooked branch which approximately forms a 60% angle. The thin end is used as the handle and the thick end is flattened & notched such that an adze iron can be lashed to it. Modern hafts are sometimes constructed from a sawed blank with a dowel added for strength at the crook. The second form is the D-handle adze which is basically an adze iron with a directly-attached handle. The D-handle therefore provides no mechanical leverage. Northwest coast adzes are often classified by size and iron shape vs. role. As with European adzes, iron shapes include straight, gutter and lipped. Where larger Northwest adzes are similar in size to their European counterparts, the smaller sizes are typically much lighter such that they can be used for the detailed smoothing, shaping and surface texturing required for figure carving. Final surfacing is sometimes performed with a crooked knife.

Modern adzes

Modern adzes are made from steel with wooden handles, and some people still use them extensively: occasionally those in semi-industrial areas, but particularly 'revivalists' such as those at the Colonial Williamsburg cultural center in Virginia, USA. However, the traditional adze has largely been replaced by the sawmill and the powered-plane, at least in industrialized cultures. It remains in use for some specialist crafts, for example by coopers. Adzes are also in current use by artists such as Northwest Coast American and Canadian Indian sculptors doing pole work, masks and bowls.
"Adze" was frequently mentioned by William F. Buckley as one of the most obscure words in the English language.
One of the most common tools used in the fire service today is the Halligan. This is a multipurpose pry-bar used most commonly in forceable entry of a structure. One end of the halligan is called the adze end. It has an adze along with a 4 inch spike on one end and the other end has a pry fork.


  • Carpenter's adze - A heavy adze, often with very steep curves, and a very heavy, blunt poll. The weight of this adze makes it unsuitable for sustained overhead adzing.
    • Railroad adze - A carpenter's adze which had its bit extended in an effort to limit the breaking of handles when shaping railroad ties (railway sleepers). Early examples in New England began showing up approximately in the 1940s - 1950s. The initial prototypes clearly showed a weld where the extension was attached.
  • Shipwright's adze - A lighter, and more versatile adze than the carpenter's adze. This was designed to be used in a variety of positions, including overhead, as well as in front on waist and chest level.
    • Lipped shipwright's adze - A variation of the shipwright's adze. It features a wider than normal bit, whose outside edges are sharply turned up, so that when gazing directly down the adze, from bit to eye, the cutting edge resembles an extremely wide and often very flat U. This adze was mainly used for shaping cross grain, such as for joining planks.
  • There are also a number of specialist adzes once used for barrel stave shaping, chair seat forming and bowl and trough making. Many of these have shorter handles for control and more curve in the head to allow better clearance for shorter cuts.
  • Another group of adzes can be differentiated by the handles, the D handled adzes have a handle where the hand can be wrapped around the D, close to the bit. These adzes, follow closely traditional forms in that the bit or tooth is not wrapped around the handle as a head.
  • The head of an ice axe typically possesses an adze for chopping rough steps in ice.
  • A firefighter tool called the halligan has an adze on one end of the bar. This bar is a multipurpose pry-bar with a fork on one end and an adze on the other with a spike that sticks out next to it.

Footnotes and references

adze in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Adesa
adze in Aragonese: Ixolón
adze in Danish: Skarøkse
adze in German: Dexel
adze in Spanish: Azuela
adze in French: Herminette
adze in Italian: Ascia
adze in Pampanga: Daras
adze in Malay (macrolanguage): Beliung
adze in Polish: Topór ciesielski
adze in Russian: Тесло (оружие)
adze in Serbian: Тесла (алатка)
adze in Swedish: Skarvyxa
adze in Ukrainian: Тесак
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