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What are adzes made of?

Ancient decorated adze

Adzes have been made from a variety of different materials since they were invented. Ideally, the handle will be made of a strong material that can absorb impact, and the head will be made out of a material that can be sharpened.

 

A potted history of adze making

Stone Age

stone age adze

The earliest known adzes had antlers for handles and sharpened stone blades. The stone blades were sharpened through a process called knapping, in which a hard rock is used to smash away pieces of a more brittle rock.

 

Over the years, different stones were used for blades in different parts of the world, including flint, jade, obsidian and shale. In places like the Solomon Islands and the Philippines, clam shells were even used for adze blades.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient egyptian adze

As more was learned about making tools, adzes began to evolve. The ancient Egyptians used wood for their adze handles and replaced the stone blades with copper or bronze blades.

Iron Age

As time progressed, adzes evolved again. Adze blades forged from iron became widespread as metal forging techniques developed.

Modern adzes

While it goes without saying that tools have advanced a long way since the Iron Age, many modern adzes are hand forged rather than mass produced.

Handle

hickory adze handle

Adze handles are most often made of hickory. Hickory is a strong, hard wood that can absorb the shock of impact without splitting or cracking due to its straight grain.

 

Other flexible woods, such as ash or cherry, can be used for adze handles. They are less durable, however, and will not last as long.

 

Some adzes have fibreglass handles. These are also capable of absorbing shocks from impact. They are strong and lightweight. but not as easy to find as wooden handles. 

Blade

Adze blade forged steel

Adze blades are hand forged from high quality (high carbon) fine grain steel. Fine grain steel is made through a complex process that includes compression, heating and controlled cooling.

 

The steel is also exposed to other materials during this process such as boron, aluminium and niobium to allow greater control over the refining process. The end result is a steel with a very dense structure that is optimised for resistance to bending or breaking.

Hand Forged

Adzes tend to be hand forged rather than mass produced. This allows manufacturers more opportunity to guarantee quality in their products.

 

This is because adze manufacturers also usually make high quality axes and already have the right set up to allow their blacksmiths to forge other woodworking tools.

Hand forging of an adze
Hand forging of an adze with flames