Adzes are ancient tools that have been used for various purposes since the Stone Age. Although power tools have superseded this hand tool over the last century, it still plays a useful role in several industries today. This guide will take a close at the adze and its uses.

What is an adze?

Adzes are versatile tools consisting of a handle connected to an arched cutting edge that is sharpened. In contrast to an axe, the blade runs at right angles rather than parallel to the shaft.

An adze is a simple tool that is best known for its use in carving and shaping wood. It can have a short handle that is swung with one hand or a longer handle that requires both hands for more power.

An adze lying on a work bench next to nails and a mallet
An adze is excellent for shaping wood.

Parts of an adze

The main components of an adze are the handle and a head which includes the blade, eye, and poll.

The adze head is the “business end” of the tool, usually made from metal. It has a blade that is perpendicular to the haft.

An adze on a white background explaining its parts.
Adzes are simple tools but are also effective.

At the other end of the head is a flat pole that can be used for hammering soft targets. Some adzes have a pin that has various uses including hammering in nails.

Adze handles vary in length from short one-handed tools to longer two-handed styles. The handle is usually attached to the head by wedging it into an eye, like an axe. Handles were traditionally made from wood like hickory that was strong yet flexible. 

Types of adze blade

The blades of an adze come in different shapes and sizes depending on the job it’s designed for.

  • Lipped blades: Shaped like a letter “U”, this blade has shoulders that curve towards the handle. Small versions of this tool are ideal for hollowing out spoons or bowls; larger blades are capable of shaping gutters or even canoes.
  • Flat blades: A perfectly flat blade that’s built to smooth wood surfaces and remove unwanted bumps. After squaring off a log with a hewing axe, a flat-bladed adze can smooth and refine the timber.
  • Curved blades: With rounded edges, a curved-blade adze has a pronounced cutting edge. It is great for shaping wooden furniture like chairs allowing the user to strike the surface from varying angles. 
  • Flared blades: An adze with a flared blade has a wide cutting edge as it broadens from the shoulder of the head. Large expanses of wood can be smoothed out quickly, such as planks of wood used to build ships.

11 types of adze

There is a wide range of adze types used for multiple purposes. To make life easier, it is important to use the right tool for different jobs.

1. Hand Adze

A short-handled hand adze has a short hoe and handle. It is light and easy to deliver precise cuts with pinpoint accuracy. Smaller projects like carving bowls and weapons are perfect for a lipped blade hand adze. Larger versions of this tool are called elbow adzes which are popular with coopers for smoothing barrels. 

An adze on a cooper's work bench
Coopers use an adze for shaping barrels.

2. Foot Adze

The food adze has a long handle and is best used for heavy jobs like shaping and leveling timber. The sharp blade is swung between the legs to remove material from wood at scale. 

3. Carpenter’s adze

A carpenter’s adze is a type of foot axe that typically has a flat, heavy blade to shave wood efficiently. The mechanics of this tool take advantage of weight, making downward swings easier. Holding this tool at head height quickly becomes a challenge.  

You may also like to check out our guide to carpentry axes.

4. Pocket adze

Pocket adzes are housed in a sheath and are compact enough to easily be carried outdoors. In an emergency, they can be strapped to a branch and used as a regular hand adze to help build a shelter, spears, traps, and lots more.    

5. Railroad Adze

A railroad adze is a type of carpenter’s adze with a longer blade. This meant the bit contacted the railway sleeper earlier in the swing, resulting in less stress on the handle.    

6. Shipwright Adze

A shipright adze has a lighter head and handle than a regular carpenter’s adze. It is designed for easier maneuvering in the confined spaces of a ship. Thanks to a flared blade, one stroke shaves large expanses of wood.

7. Ice Adze

An ice adze is used by mountaineers on routes covered in ice and snow. One end of the head has a pick while the other has a blunt adze blade that is wider and flatter. It is useful for digging holes and carving steps into compacted snow and ice. Unlike most adzes, an ice adze is made from materials that won’t rust.   

An ice adze stuck into the ice on a mountain
An ice adze can be indispensable on steep, icy slopes.

8. Gutter adze

A gutter adze had a lipped blade and is made for hollowing out large expanses of wood. They’re excellent for making gutters, canoes, and troughs.

9. D-Handle adze

A “D” shaped handle makes this adze unique as it doesn’t involve swinging. With shorter, less powerful hand movements, this tool is best for small jobs in a confined space.

10. Demolition adze

The demolition or Boston adze is an excellent tool for demolition. They can be swung with force to smash bricks and wood apart. Its long blade is also useful for prying.

11. 2-handle adze

A two-handled axe can be used in a similar way to other hand adzes. But its second handle provides added control and it can be used in a similar way to a hand plane.

Commonly asked questions

Does the adze have other names?

An adze is also known as an adz, ades, adese, addes, or ades.

Where does the name adze come from?

The term “Adze” originated from the English 12th-century word “adesa”. 

Adze vs. axe – what’s the difference?

Both tools have a handle with an attached head used for striking. An axe has a blade that runs parallel to the handle while the adze blade is attached at right angles. Axes are commonly used to split and chop while adzes are best for shaping wood.

An adze on a piece of wood next to some sticking out nails
Some adzes have a handy hole for removing nails.

Summing up

The adze has been used since the Stone Age as an effective tool for shaping wood. Combined with a broad axe and a couple of other simple tools, the user can embark on a project as large as a log cabin.

Although power tools have replaced the adze in many ways, it is still useful today. They’re often found in areas where power isn’t easily available like mountains, forests, remote worksites, and on highways in emergencies.

Even where power is available, people sometimes prefer the use of an adze. Power tools make easy work of shaping furniture, but there’s something satisfying about doing things slowly, the traditional way.

For those that love preserving woodworking techniques from years gone by, an adze is a must-have item. 

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