The tool known as the adze serves for smoothing rough-cut wood in hand woodworking. Generally, the user stands astride a board or log and swings the adze downwards towards their feet, chipping off a piece of wood, and walking backwards as they go, leaving a relatively smooth surface behind. However, in general usage, the adze can be used for other cutting operations.
The head of the adze is oriented to the haft like a hoe, or plane, and not like an axe, whose cutting blade would be perpendicular to the blade of an adze.
In central Europe, adzes made by knapping flint are known from the late Mesolithic onwards ("Scheibenbeile"). Polished adzes and axes made of ground stone, like amphibolite, basalt or Jadeite are typical for the Neolithic period. Shoe-last adzes or celts, named for their typical shape, are found in the Linearbandkeramic and Rössen cultures of the early Neolithic. Adzes were also made and used by prehistoric southeast Asian cultures, especially in the Mekong River basin.
The adze is shown in Egypt, from wall relief scenes from the Old Kingdom onward (about 3000 BC). It is also used as a hieroglyph, and from the 19th Dynasty onward was used in the names of various pharaohs. Examples of the Eqyptian adze can be found in museums.
Māori adzes from New Zealand, used for wood carving, were made from nephrite, also known as jade. At the same time on Henderson Island, a small atoll in Polynesia lacking any rock other than limestone, natives fashioned giant clamshells into adzes.
- Carpenter's adze - A heavy adze, often with very steep curves, and
a very heavy, blunt poll. The weight of this adze makes it unsuitable
for sustained overhead adzing.
- Railroad adze - A carpenter's adze which had its bit extended in an effort to limit the breaking of handles when shaping railroad ties. Early examples in New England began showing up approximately in the 1940s - 1950s. The initial prototypes clearly showed a weld where the extension was attached.
- Shipwright's adze - A lighter, and more versatile adze than the
carpenter's adze. This was designed to be used in a variety of positions,
including overhead, as well as in front on waist and chest level.
- Lipped shipwright's adze - A variation of the shipwright's adze. It features a wider than normal bit, whose outside edges are sharply turned up, so that when gazing directly down the adze, from bit to eye, the cutting edge resembles an extremely wide and often very flat U. This adze was mainly used for shaping cross grain, such as for joining planks.
- There are also a number of specialist adzes once used for barrel stave shaping, chair seat forming and bowl and trough making. Many of these have shorter handles for control and more curve in the head to allow better clearance for shorter cuts.
- Another group of adzes can be differentiated by the handles, the D handled adzes have a handle where the hand can be wrapped around the D, close to the bit. These adzes, follow closely traditional forms in that the bit or tooth is not wrapped around the handle as a head.