When I first learned to saddle seats in 2003, it was with a gutter adze. I stood on the chair seat and swung the tool between my legs. I never developed a knack for the gutter adze, unlike the scorp (sometimes called an inshave), which has always felt at home in my hands.
After working with Chris Williams, however, I was determined to give the adze another chance. Chris learned to saddle seats from John Brown using a small adze. And instead of standing on the chair seat, JB propped it up in front of him at the workbench.
Then Chris told me about an adze made by one of John Brown’s sons, blacksmith and woodworker Matty Sears. It was based on an interesting African tool. The handle was hafted to the head in an ingenious manner. The more you used the adze, the tighter the handle became. But you could easily pop the handle off to make sharpening the interior bevel easier.
Matty had made the adze for his father, who used it on chairs he built after the publication of “Welsh Stick Chairs.”
Chris had one, and after using his I decided it was a significant upgrade from my Dictum adze.
As with any striking tool (a hammer or a hatchet, for example), it’s not just about the quality of the steel or the comfort of the handle. It’s about the balance of the tool, which can make it easy to control or make it unwieldy. This is where Matty’s adze excels. The balance is exquisite. And after saddling only a couple chair seats, I found it incredibly easy to place my strikes right where I wanted them. Plus, the weight of the head removes a sizable chip of oak without a lot of upper body strength.
So, instead of swinging the adze with my arms, I merely lift it up and use my thumbs to steer the edge right where I want it, letting the tool’s weight do most of the work (you do have to put some umph behind it). I’ve now made four chairs with Matty’s adze, and I’m a convert.
The tool came beautifully sharpened, and the hand-forged head keeps a wicked edge. All you have to do is maintain that edge, which I do with fine sandpaper wrapped around a dowel, plus a strop. Separating the head from the handle is easy, and that indeed makes sharpening safer and easier. Its primary bevel is on the inside, but there is a shallow bevel on the outside as well. The edge geometry works well, and is easy to maintain.
It is, like the best axes I’ve used, an incredibly elegant tool, even though its job is coarse work.
Like all handmade things, it costs more than mass-manufactured tools. The adze is $400 plus shipping. The bottom line is that, like all my favorite tools, I look forward to using it. Holding it. Wielding it. Even sharpening it. It is a thing of beauty and is also (as a bonus) a direct link to John Brown, one of my woodworking heroes.
The best way to contact Matty about making an adze for you is by sending him a message through his Instagram account, mattysearsworks. Note: You can send Instagram messages through a mobile device, not a desktop machine.
— Christopher Schwarz
Full disclosure: I paid full price for my adze. Matty also receives some royalties from Lost Art Press from sales of “Welsh Stick Chairs,” but that is the entirety of our business relationship.