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A brief history of Adzes

Cave man holding an adze

The word ‘adze’ originates from the 12th Century and evolved from the old English word ‘adesa’, which was the tool’s previous name. The adze itself is much older, though, and is believed to have been used as far back as the stone age.

stone age adze
Ancient egyptian adze

  Stone age adze blades were knapped from flint. Knapping is a process that uses hard rocks to chip away pieces of a brittle rock. The handles were made from antlers. The ancient Egyptians made advances in adze technology by using copper instead of flint for the blades and wood for the handles.

Egyptian Scripture showing adze

The adze even had its own hieroglyph, meaning “chosen”. It often appeared carved in the stone of pharaoh’s tombs as a part of the phrase “chosen by the gods”.

South America Totem Poll made from adze
Polynesian cermeonial adze
African adze used for chopping wood

There are also a range of other uses for an adze in history from around the world. In North America, adzes were used for carving totem poles.

 

Whilst in Polynesia, it was believed that the tree god, Tane, passed down the skill of tying a jade adze blade onto a carved piece of wood with coconut fibre. Ceremonial adzes were created as works of art as a way of gaining favour with the tree god.

 

Finally, in Africa, adzes were used for a wide range of purposes including chopping firewood, digging trenches for latrines and harvesting crops.


Find out more about What are Adze’s used for?

Adzes in modern culture

Adzes still hold symbolic value in some Oceanian cultures. In Papua New Guinea, adzes must be used for ceremonial jobs such as hollowing out canoes or making ceremonial items such as masks or shields.

 

In Maori culture, a jade adze-head shaped pendant symbolizes that the wearer has character traits that a warrior would be proud of.

Jade Adze
Maori Culture Adze Symbol

Adze heads on mattocks are used for digging or hoeing. Adze heads also appear on Halligan bars, which are tools frequently used by firemen in the United States when they need to prise open locked doors.

Modern day adzes

As technology has advanced a long way since adzes were first invented, other tools, such as the plane, are now more commonly used for smoothing wood.

Plane replacing an adze
Adze used in debarking and sculpting

However, adzes are still used in DIY. They are most commonly used for debarking, sculpting and shaping timber.


The marks they leave on timber beams can often create the impression that the beams are older than they really are. This is thanks to the fact that timber beams in old stately homes would have been shaped with adzes when the buildings were constructed and, therefore, bear the same marks.

Adzes in popular culture

Adze used in video game

Those DIYers out there who play online games will be pleased to know that DIY has made it into the fantasy world of Runescape!

 

Lighting beacons using spicy stew leads to being rewarded with an inferno adze, a mighty weapon of mass destruction that can both cut and burn logs at the same time!