[Insert snappy title here]by Randall Read on 01/05/12
Sometime in the early 70's, our company was remodeling a building for a new restaurant. It had an old world, medieval feel with grates of iron bars that once kept the riff-raff confined. Now they protected the wine collection as suits of armor stood guard. Dark and intimate, it was a popular establishment.
One of the features was a large fireplace that dominated a portion of the restaurant. The period cried for a mantle of hand-hewn wood of substantial proportion. At that time, we didn't have options like fiberglass molded replicas or Styrofoam, sculpted and coated to simulate the real thing. And if we did, odds are Dad wouldn't consider it anyway. Authenticity was the key and guess what - we had the tool to make it happen. It was the long handled adze like those pictured below.
First off, we needed a piece of wood with character; one with checks and knots and one I'm sure the lumber yard was glad to finally be rid of. Secondly, you needed the right tool for the job; one capable of delivering a blow with enough force to remove a sizeable chunk and sharp enough to do it cleanly. Thirdly, you needed someone to wield the tool for long hours and little pay, also reminiscent of the times.
So there I stood, perched on a tough, twisted piece of fir, swinging a razor-sharp hunk of iron at my foot. This was counter to the first rule of whittling, taught to me by my grandfather - 'Always cut away from yourself.'
Dad explained that it was perfectly safe as long as you used a little self control, common sense and had a good thick sole on your shoes. The method was to grab the adze with both hands and take short strokes, using the sole of your shoe as a stop. The action was much like you'd use a hoe in the garden, beating the weeds into submission. I've seen drawings of craftsmen using the adze like you would swing a croquet mallet - maybe a bit more aristocratic, but not near as manly.
Other than the longer handled standing adze, there are adzes made for other specialized trades. The cooper's adze, like the one pictured above had the short handle that allowed the barrel maker to swing the tool inside a barrel.
Bowl makers used an adze that had a curved head that allowed for a tighter radius. When rain gutters made of wood were all the rage, a specialized adze with a cupped blade was used to cut the 'U' shape.
Modern adzes are readily available today for those who want that hand shaped look.