The Great Adze Shortage of ’15

Adze cartoon_NEWIt seems that it is difficult to acquire a good adze these days.  I’m not looking, but I have been getting emails seeking advice on what to do about it.  These folks wish to carve bowls, and are willing to pay for a good adze, but they simply aren’t available.  It seems that the demand has outpaced the supply.  Think about that; in 2015 the demand for hand forged bowl adzes has outpaced the rate at which the makers can produce them! That is both somewhat amazing and quite encouraging.

Drew Langsner addressed this phenomenon in his most-recent newsletter from Country Workshops (scroll down just a bit).  And this is not simply a problem of importing Swedish adzes into the U.S.  Look at the adze page at Woodsmith, a tool retailer in the U.K.

Just to be clear, it is not that nobody knows how to make a good adze for bowl hollowing.  Just look at those made by Hans Karlsson, Svante Djarv, or Gransfors Bruks.  The formula is there.  They all feature the same basic components of a well-designed bowl adze:  good steel, a dense heavy head, thoughtful geometry with some degree of outer bevel, raised lips that won’t catch when taking a heavy cut, and a well-hung handle.  (Again, the Woodsmith page shows a clear comparison).  I discussed some of my thoughts on adze selection in this post back in February.  So this isn’t like a search for the Fountain of Youth.  This is attainable, but you’ll have to wait until the Swedish smiths can catch up; and don’t expect to find a used one on ebay.

By the way, let me explain the “well-hung handle.”  The process of putting a handle on an axe bit is called “hanging.”  This involves many variables that are well explained here.  As one can see, an axe can be hung more open or more closed, which effects how well it works.  This principle is, I believe, even more important when hanging an adze handle.  Since the cutting edge is perpendicular to the plane of the swinging motion (rather than in line with it, as with an axe), the relationship of the bit and bevel to the pivot point (usually near the end of the handle) of the swing is important.  If the hang is too open or too closed, the cutting edge will not enter the wood sweetly.

This is important to consider if one is planning to hang their own handle or replace one. A longer handle, for example, changes the hang (possibly making it too closed) unless the handle is shaped to account for this.  This is why, in the top photo here at Country Workshops, you can see how they have bent the longer handle back, letting the cutting edge enter the wood sweetly with the natural swing of the handle.

But back to the quest for a good bowl adze: I guess for now the only good answer is patience.  Lack of that may lead you to purchase a bad adze, and there are many being made, even by makers that otherwise make excellent tools.  These adzes may have light heads that cause fatigue and pain, bad geometry, bad bevels, or very poorly designed handles — possibly all of the above!  With a great deal of effort and time, these can be made somewhat serviceable, but they will never be great like the ones for which you now, apparently, must wait.

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28 Responses to The Great Adze Shortage of ’15

  1. pfollansbee says:

    Dave – it is surprising, isn’t it? – the demand for these handmade tools. If only some more smiths had the desire and chops…I have only ever used Hans Karlsson’s adzes – have you ever tried the GB or the Svante ones? The GB looks too straight along the top of the tool, but maybe it works fine. I did try the Pfiel adze recently, and was not surprised at how poorly it performed. Inside bevel; too bad – their carving tools are still mostly good. Maybe their adze is designed for something other than bowls.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dave Fisher says:

      Peter, Yes — a call to smiths! From what I gather from Drew’s article, I think HK and SD would welcome other smiths to give it a go. They have set the bar high, though. I have not tried a Svante adze, but they look to be much like the HK. I did try a GB once that a visitor brought (but just a few strokes), it was good as I recall, but I don’t remember much. Pfeil is a great example of a company that makes excellent carving tools, but, in my opinion, needs more development on their adze. I have one, and I had to go to great lengths to get it to work well. I use it for tighter arcs and refining smaller bowls.


      • Dave Fisher says:

        After taking a closer look at the Gransfors Bruks, I don’t know if they’ve changed it or what, but as you said, Peter, it looks maybe too straight. They seem to have compensated for this with a very abrupt outer bevel — looks like maybe too severe to enter the wood cleanly. Again, this is just going by pictures, I would need to try one for a while for a better assessment.


  2. Paul Anderson says:

    Dave – I do have a HK and a Pfeil adze. I prefer the HK, had to regrind the Pheil to make it work. There is a Black Bear Forge In Colorado who has an adze shown on their website. I have not seen, or used one. From the picture the adze looks like it may have potential. Has anyone tried it out? I would be great to have more smiths develop a usable adze for bowls.


  3. Dave Fisher says:

    Paul — thanks for the information. I had not heard of Black Bear Forge, but I took a look Looks like they do some nice work, but to my eye, the adze would have some problems in design compared to the HK, etc. In particular, the relationship of the handle to the head, and the low weight. Of course, I haven’t tried it out, but those are my impressions from the photo and the little bit of information provided.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      After exploring the Blackbear Forge site some more, John Switzer does some great work in hardware etc. (as you can click on at that page, he made the hardware for one of Chris Schwarz’s tool chests). I noticed that he also has some nice canvas tool rolls for sale This is an example of an American smith who definitely has the chops to make a top quality bowl adze and other tools (he even forge welds a steel edge into the mild steel head of his axes), with some adjustments to design. “If you build it, they will come.”


  4. John Switzer says:

    Thank you for the quick appraisal on my adze. One of the difficulties I, and I suspect many other smiths, have is that we don’t tend to be the end user of the tools we make. I really have to rely on input from those of you who know just what you need. Besides collaborating with other crafts people to make the tools they need. Thanks again


  5. Dave Fisher says:

    Thanks John. The constant collaboration between smiths and tool users in the past is what led to such refined and effective designs. I think we are also seeing a continuation/revival of that collaboration.


  6. Rudy Everts says:

    I´m in Germany, and there is no adze shortage here (fortunately). I am one of the lucky people that own the 600g Svante Djärv adze (the medium one), it is my favorite tool – razor sharp and the perfect size/weight for carving bowls. I have tried out the Gränsfors Bruk adze as well as they have it on display in a store here in Munich and I must say I prefer the Svante Djärv (even though the Gränsfors Bruk would probably to the trick as well). The Hans Karlsson I have unfortunately not tried yet.

    If anyone is planning a trip to Munich, Germany I know a great tool shop that stocks adzes (no SD but Gränsfors Bruk, Dick and Hans Karlsson) The Dick adzes aren’t bad either.

    David, you have a great blog that I follow with amazement, I have learned a lot from you and I think it’s great that you take the time to write it all down and take beautiful pictures. Keep up the good work!


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks for the insight on the adzes and the tip. I had not heard of Dick adzes. A great reason to go to Munich. What’s the name of that tool shop?


      • Rudy Everts says:

        The shop is called ‘Dictum’, they have a nice selection of woodworking tools that you can try out in the store. Here is their website (also in english):

        Dick is their house brand, their adzes and chisels are made by a local blacksmith.

        If you do come to Munich, please come visit my work shop as well!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dave Fisher says:

        Thanks, Rudy! What a great resource and easy to use website, even for English-speaking users. One of the best parts I discovered is this page that analyzes what makes an adze work well for different circumstances: And the variety of adzes available is impressive. They have a Hans Karlsson for sale (as you said they would). It is interesting to consider that, even with shipping to the U.S. for 31 Euros, unless I am missing something, the total price would be $240, which is relatively good. The shipping cost is offset by the dropping of the V.A.T. of 19%, so the final price is 215 Euros. Exchange rates are very positive for the Dollar vs the Euro right now, so that translates to $240. A year ago, 215 Euros would have been $292! Now there is an economics lesson! Anyway, thanks for sharing a great resource Rudy.


  7. Clifford Logan says:

    There was a real good reason the Vikings never killed, hurt / harmed any blacksmith(s) or his family whenever they raided a village. They knew that they needed him for tools, for boat building, and more important, weapons so they could raid another village.


  8. Jason Lonon says:

    From a North American adze maker

    It is very encouraging to see the renewed interest in traditional woodworking and high quality hand tools. My name is Jason Lonon and I am a woodworker and blacksmith. Over the years I have migrated more into toolmaking (first out of necessity, then because I enjoyed it so much.) Now I specialize in tools for green woodworking, axes, adzes, spoon knives, twca-cams, drawknives, etc. As has been mentioned, the adze is certainly one of the most elusive tools to get right. Even with my advantage of being a user as well as a maker, I have relied heavily on feedback from other woodworkers and because of that have been able to make a good useable adze. Unfortunately, my website is still being reconstructed and doesn’t reflect the tools I am currently making, but I’d love to share pictures with anyone interested.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks, Jason, that is good to hear. I think many people would be interested to see photos of the adze. Is there any way for you to put a link to an image in another reply?


  9. James Kuhn says:

    Interesting discussion. I’ve tried to do my part to alleviate the shortage. I returned a ‘spare’ Hans Karlsson Adze to Drew at “Country Workshops”. Having waited several months, I forgot I ordered it and then found one in-stock at “The Woodsmith” in the UK. Drew was kind enough to understand and refund my purchase price. Unfortunately, I don’t know a lot about Adze, being new to carving. As with most of my woodworking purchasing decisions, I am influenced by other Woodworkers, their experiences and reviews. I guess in another sense, I’m also part of the problem. I try to purchase the ‘best’ tools available. Being retired, money is always an issue. And, I hate buying twice. Plus there is a certain satisfaction in owning and using a fine tool. I don’t know owning a good tool makes me a better woodworker, but it certainly eliminates one of my many excuses. As the old adage says, “A poor Workman blames his tools.”


  10. Jason Lonon says:

    Thanks David,

    Try this link for a picture of one of my small bowl adzes.


  11. There is a new Hans Karlsson adze listed on eBay for another 6 days. Current bid is $280, $24 over Drew Langsner’s price! It will be interesting to see if it goes higher in the next week.


  12. Terry says:



  13. Tone says:

    Narex make a couple of Adzes. I have the larger one and it works very well. The smaller one looks like it will be good for bow lmaking too. Narex had some problems with the weld at the blade in some early ones – a consequence of the unusual steel they use and the modern manufacturing techniques used (poor welds – they are not forge welded). They withdrew them from market for a while but I think they may be back now. They are not as good as the Swedish adzes IMHO in construction/robustness but mine works as well and holds an excellent edge and they are much cheaper & more readily available when in production.


  14. Tone says:

    I started with the 600g/5cm HK adze, as recommended by Robin Wood. It is an excellent tool & could be used by anyone, including smaller folk (such as youths and smaller men & women). However, I now find it a little small & light, especially when mkaing bigger bowls & tougher woods (such as oak). If you are larger/stronger person and plan to make big bowls I would recommend buying/making a little bigger, heavier adze. {erhaps the slightly bigger/heavier 700g HK adze used by David or the even bigger and heavier short handled (single-handed) Gransfors adze used by at least one British professional.

    Some folk manage perfectly well with lighter, cheaper adzes of 480g/500g. HK came out with a really small adze of 380g. Seems to me that will make it easier to carry & wield but less weight also means, I think, more force & work is required from the user.

    As I already own the 600g adze, so I opted to buy a second larger adze for initial roughing out & tougher/dryer woods. Alas the lovely big 2 handed Gransfors Bruks gutter adze & the slightly smaller/lighter rather elegant HK 2-handed adze were prohibitively expensive (and can be hard to find). Instead I bought the larger Narex adze, which is much cheaper. It works very well for removing bulk quickly, esp. in larger bowls. The size & width of the head reminds me of Wille Sunqvist’s favourite adze – although his has a short handle, I don’t plan to change the long handle on mine.

    However, probably better to get just one adze that is a bit heavier to start off with IMHO 😉
    i.e. more than 600g


  15. Tone says:

    RE. adze shortage: This guy in the USA made his own 1lb (<500g) adze from an old lawn mower blade:
    There are also youtube videos that show how to make an adze (good luck! :D).

    There are also a few small scale blacksmith adze makers. One retired chap in the USA sells(/sold?) reasonably priced adzes for bowl-making & other uses that he makes from old leaf springs (a good resource for tool making) on A few blacksmiths sell adzes on their websites in the UK (often making the tools to order or in periodic batches), sometimes they just make an adze "blade" that must be fixed to a wood head and handle, like a more primitive adze; probably much easier to make without major investment in big hammers. In Europe, there is a very active seller of viking-style axes & adzes in Bulgaria – their adzes look good but seem a bit light to me. Perhaps they will make some bigger heavier ones one day? They also sell some old vintage adzes & axes from time-to-time.

    I believe Nic Westermann also produces adzes sometimes & might even teach those who want to make their own.


  16. Nvasive says:

    Seems like the shortage has continued into 2017. Has anyone used the Blackbear forge Adze or from Jason Lonon from above?


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