The new Supertool list came out today. And there was what looked to me like a pretty nice adze (top in the photo below).
When I took the windsor chair class with Jim Van Hoven, one of the students had an Ox-Head adze. Jim had seen them before and quickly dismissed it as not useable for chairs. Of adzes with a curved cutting edge there are gutter adzes, ship-building adzes, bowl adzes, and chair adzes (what did I miss?). Each, apparently, is different.
Jim let us use his adze in the class and the way he showed us to use it was really cool. You put the seat blank on the floor and stand with your toes holding it still. Crouch down into a sitting position with your elbows on your knees, hold the adze in both hands and swing it mostly from your wrists. It’s yoga with a sharp chopping tool in your hands. So, naturally, I must be equipped to do this in my basement.
I’ve had my eyes open for an adze and wish id taken photos of Jim’s from ten different angles because I have no idea how to spot one appropriate for chairs. Jim’s had a pretty curvy handle, and the bevel on the outside. That’s all I remember. And that’s not enough.
It’s not that I haven’t put in some effort here either. On the web I can find a few accounts of how to chop a chair seat using an adze, but no info on the qualities of a good chair adze. In John Brown’s book there’s barely a mention, and just one photo of John using a short-handled adze on a seat blank held upright in a vise. I’ve read Drew Langsner’s chair book too, and (from memory) there’s not much in there either. It seems the adze is the “Men in Black” of the tool world. We’ve heard they’re out there. But they’re not talking.
I’m now aware of five premium tool makers who are making adzes. All but one says their adze is good for chair work. And one claims theirs was designed by self-proclaimed chairmaking royalty Mike Dunbar. For help in comparing by shape here are photos of each adze in order from cheapest to most expensive. The price about doubles from the Barr model to the adze offered by Country Workshops.
I sent email asking Barr about the bevel on theirs, and they replied saying it’s on the inside. I can see from the photos that it’s also on the inside of the Pfeil and Auriou adzes while the two most expensive models have the bevel on the outside.
I asked Jim what he thought about the looks of the Supertool adze. He said, “the sweep looks too straight to be good at saddling out a chair seat” and that he thought it was a ship-builder’s adze. Then about all the other new adze’s available Jim said, “take a look at the Barr hand adz, I like the looks but it is a little narrow but that may not matter, then put a longer handle on it. It does appear to have a bevel down grind but one could work around that, I think.”
Jim is trying to be as helpful as possible, and even invited me to his place to try his adze again and compare it to a couple of the lesser models he owns. I guess this boils down to the problem of buying tools without being able to actually hold them first.
More as this story develops.