Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Pocket Adze

Bushcrafters know that cutting tools are some of the most important pieces of equipment needed in the woods. The quintessential bushcraft knife is touted as the most indispensable blade and a hierarchy of supportive blades follows.  Depending on personal preference, the axe, machete, adze, hook knife, crooked knife, saw and pocket knife enter as second, third, fourth and on down the line. All the while, the merits of each cutting tool is discussed and debated seemingly ad infinitum. But let’s face it: With the exception of a pocket knife you can’t carry a four-inch blade bushcraft knife or an axe or crooked knife or any of those other tools in your daily lives. Besides, how many of us actually strap on a US Marine combat knife or a belt axe or even a little Mora knife when we’re on vacation and decide to take a short hike away from the tour bus or at the roadside park or even when sauntering out to sit by a stream behind the cabin? 

I recall however seeing a TV show where a young couple nearly died when their planned five minute hike turned into a week’s ordeal after they got lost in the woods.  Aside from the fact that neither one possessed even minuscule woodcraft skills I wonder if their nightmare might have been less traumatic had they had a folding knife and a pocket adze. In a pinch the pair can save your life assuming you’ve taken the time to acquire some know-how and are prepared to tough it out.

 The pocket adze measures 5” x ¼” x 1” and can be carried, as the name implies, in your pocket. Or it can be carried in a small leather pouch or even in a compartment sewn under your belt.

 I usually carry it with a simple blade guard and a thick leather pad secured with a rubber band. I’ll show you below why the leather pad is important.

 Get in the habit of always carrying some sort of multi-tool. I prefer the Swiss Army Knife because it’s compact, lightweight and ergonomically superior (at least in my view) to other types of multi-tools. The main thing is that your multi-tool contains a good quality saw blade. Actually, I always carry two folding knives. The SAK and either a muskrat style, trapper style or canoe style folder.

If God forbid something happens—you get lost, for example—then with the pocket adze and your multi-tool you can survive indefinitely.  I’ve lived nicely for several days in secluded woods with nothing more than my pocket adze, SAK, some heavy nylon trot line and a tin cup. It’s not that hard to do assuming you don’t get snake bit or stung by a black widow spider or scorpion which are a few of the things we contend with in the Southwestern parts of The United States.

An adze needs a handle and it should look something like this. This is a piece of chaparro prieto (Acacia rigidula) that I’ve already sawed with my SAK. Remember to keep the angle of the blade between 45° and 50° in relation to the handle as an angle greater or smaller will make the tool difficult to use.

It’s important to note, however, that the pocket adze is much more than an adze. You can use it to baton firewood, as a scraper, and even as a mini-broad axe if you simply haft the blade at a right angle parallel to the handle instead of attaching it like an adze.

 Here I’m using the pocket adze to shave the bark off the handle. I keep the blade paper cutting sharp so removing the bark takes only a few minutes.

 Here’s the adze handle after I shaved off the bark.

 Let’s review the basic things you’ll need. First you need the pocket adze blade and a Swiss Army Knife. Remember as well that I carried a pad of leather attached to the blade via a rubber band. I also carry a roll of heavy nylon trot line but not as much as in the photograph. I simply included the large roll in the photo so you could see how it comes from the sporting goods store.

NOTE: I used the SAK knife blade to cut a shelf on the top section of wood that juts outward from the main handle. It’s important that you keep the shelf exactly perpendicular to the handle section otherwise the blade will cant either left or right. Work slowly as you cut out the shelf.

 Here’s the finished product. The little adze blade you carried in your pocket can now be used to build a camp, make traps and construct a bow. The leather pad rests securely underneath the blade and acts to both stabilize the blade and cushion the wood (particularly on the rear of the blade) when using the tool. It’s important to keep the handle and blade in proportion. This is a small adze and therefore does not require a huge handle. The handle pictured is 15 inches long from top to bottom. The handle is about 3 ½ inches in circumference making it a nifty, lightweight tool that’s extremely practical and fun to use.

A view from the business end of the pocket adze. Wrapped tightly and secured over the leather pad keeps the blade from moving.

 Here’s another larger adze blade I make that’s carried in my pack. Of course, I call it the “pack adze blade.” A little bigger and heavier its only advantage is that it cuts faster and covers more area than the pocket adze.

So now it’s time to make something and in this case it was a spoon. Remember when using an adze always work the blade in a downward direction. That’s why the angle of the blade in relation to the handle is important. Every one has a slightly different swing thus the five-degree range (45° to 50°) that you will need to determine for yourself. You carve by moving the object you are carving and NOT by trying to adjust your swing. The swing always stays the same. You move the piece of wood forward or backward as you carve. That’s important to remember. Also remember that you’re looking directly at the things you are carving and though this is advantageous it requires caution. Because you are looking directly at the wood instead of from an angle—as you would do if using an axe—you are able to judge proportions and dimensions much easier. This comes in handy when making things like bows because you’re less likely to corkscrew around the stave, as neophytes often do, when attempting to “axe out” their bow. On the other hand, the fact that you’re looking directly at the piece of wood also means that the blade is coming down in front of you and if you’re not careful you might accidently hit your hand. (You’ll notice that in the picture above.) So you must be careful. I always wear gloves and suggest you do as well. Tucking a pair of leather gloves in your back pocket anytime you plan to go into the woods is a darn good idea.
Here’s another note: Some of you might be wondering how to judge the correct angle for the blade and handle attachment especially if you’re in the woods with no angle measuring tool handy. Just remember that a 45° angle is midway between a 90° angle and no angle at all. So anything on you that has a 90° angle can be used to get your 45° angle. For example, the cross on your SAK has four 90° angles. Your wallet has four 90° angles as do your credit cards or a dollar bill or you can simply open you knife to form a 90° angle or even use your hand and make a 90° angle with your thumb and pointing finger.
So there you have it. The little pocket adze is simple to use and easy to carry. No one will hassle you about having something so tiny and nonthreatening. The pocket adze is a multiple tool in itself and the more you use it the more things you’ll find it can do.



  1. Very powerful info. Once again I thank my lucky stars for running across this blog :)

  2. I was out West a couple of weeks ago and used my pocket adze to make some tent stakes. It comes in handy.

  3. Suggested sources for adze blades....?