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The Stone Implements of the Maori

Common Form of Adze

page 220

Common Form of Adze

(See Diagram, p. 221)

The most common form of Maori stone adze, the type most frequently met with, may be described as follows:—

The sides taper off gradually from the cutting-edge backward to the poll; thus the tool is widest across the cutting-edge. In forms possessing a curved or segmental cutting-edge, such a curve has, of course, the effect of making the chord of such arc the widest part of the tool. Specimens in which the widest part is across the shoulder are rarer than the above. A straight cutting-edge is more frequently seen in small adze-shaped tools, many of which were used as chisels, and hafted as such, than in the larger forms.

The sides are convex transversely and longitudinally. The longitudinal edges are rarely sharply defined and rectangular, but are somewhat rounded, a form probably caused in some cases by the implement being rubbed in a more or less deep groove in a block of sandstone when being ground. The transverse convexity of the face—and, in many cases, of the back also—naturally tends to impair the rectangular appearance of the implement, and to impart a rounded aspect to its longitudinal edges.

The face of the tool is convex longitudinally, and in many cases transversely also. The usual form of the back is also convex in the majority of specimens, but the straight form of back is not rare, and some have the back concave longitudinally. There are two types of convexity seen on the backs of these adzes. In some it extends the whole length of the tool, but in others the apparently persistent convexity is caused by the longitudinally convex bevel to form a cutting-edge at the one end, and a tapering-off of the butt end at the other. Thus, in some cases the back is straight in its middle part, but the appearance of uniform convexity is given to it by the tapering shape of the two ends.

The thickness of the adze usually diminishes toward the butt end, the thickest part being at the shoulder, or in some cases the tool preserves a uniform thickness from the shoulder back to the middle, or further, here it diminishes in size.

The poll (reke) is rarely flat, but is usually rounded off both ways, though not conical. In most cases it is not ground. On the east coast the term poike is usually applied to the butt end of a stone adze or axe, and is there held to be a more suitable term for it than reke.

page 221

The average form of adze has a blade formed by two bevels, on face and back, the latter being the principal one. That on the back is the true bevel, having a sharply defined shoulder-limit, as a rule. Still, in a good many cases the shoulder has been ground off, and the longitudinal convexity of the blade merges into that of the back imperceptibly. This convex form of the blade is exceedingly common, save in the diminutive implements of adze-form. The average angle of the bevel of the blade is about 50° or 55° on its lowest part. It is this heavy bevel pn the back of the implement that forms the adze-like blade. The bevel on the face of the tool is usually not a facet with a sharply defined shoulder-limit, but is simply an accentuated Sketch of axe heads page 222 continuation of the longitudinal convexity of the face. This curve or convexity of the face is equivalent to that seen in the modern steel adze, and it is equivalent to the slight curve seen in the blade of a steel hewing or squaring axe near the cutting-edge. Both of these are introduced for the purpose of causing the tool to cut freely, to free itself, and not bind or stick in the timber.

Apparently there is no Maori form, save in diminutive types, wherein the cutting-edge is in exactly the same plane as the face, even in cases where the face is not convex longitudinally. Such a form would be awkward to use, either in stone or steel, and that drawback might be remedied either by a slight bevel on the blade or the continuation of a slight longitudinal convexity of the face.

The cutting-edge of the ordinary type is somewhat curved, either intentionally so or as the result of grinding. It is easier to grind such an edge to a point than it is in the case of a straight edge.

The average length of these stone adzes is probably about 7 in., not taking into account the very small forms, many of which were really used as chisels. The usual width of a 7 in. adze is about 2 in. to2½in.

In those specimens that are of axe-form—that is, that have the blade formed by two equal bevels, thus bringing the cutting-edge into the axial centre of the blade, as in our steel chopping-axes—the thickest part of the tool is at the middle, from which the face and back curve gradually to form the blade and cutting-edge, no sharply pronounced shoulder being visible on either face or back, save in rare cases.

The Faces

The most marked feature in the faces and backs of Maori stone adzes is convexity. Longitudinal convexity of the face is practically universal in all forms, and transverse convexity the rule in the same feature. The back is often of a similar shape, but is sometimes flat or even concave longitudinally. A truly plane surface was, however, apparently abhorred by the Maori adze-maker, and presumably for two very good reasons—it entailed much extra work in grinding the tool, and also impaired its utility. Even in cases where the back is flat transversely, the habit of rounding off the longitudinal edges imparts an appearance of convexity to the back of the tool. In such specimens as have the cutting-edge in the centre—that is, in a line with the axial centre of the tool—both face and back are markedly convex longitudinally.

As a rule, the width of an adze increases gradually from the poll to the cutting-edge. In some specimens the widest part is at the shoulder, page 223in others across the middle. Other aspects are occasionally seen, as will be shown when describing triangular and abnormal forms.

The longitudinal and transverse convexity of the face has also its utility, and, in regard at least to the blade part of the tool, the old-time Maori had evolved the correct and most useful form for an adze-blade, one that is seen in the best steel adzes of the present time. In this wise: The convexity of the face imparts to the cutting-edge a slight curve downward-that is, it leaves a cut like that of a very shallow hollow gouge, thus Shape of adze gouge . This means that the corners of the cutting-edge would not keep digging into the surface of the wood when the tool was being used, thus impeding the work and marring the appearance of the dressed surface. The result would be a chip with sharp edges, and a clean cut. In like manner, if the face of the adze was straight and flat longitudinally, the tool would be almost useless as an adze, for the cutting-edge would tend to stick in the timber, and would not perform the scooping lift so desirable in an adze when the operator is dressing the face of a baulk of timber.

The Sides

Forms with parallel sides are vary rare among adzes, though more common in chisels. There is nearly always a certain amount of tapering in width toward the butt end. In some of the long narrow adzes, however, this tapering is but slight. One such is 10 in. long, 1¾ in. wide at the cutting-edge, and 1⅜ in. wide at the butt end, near the poll. Another is 15 in. long, 2 in. wide at the cutting-edge, and carries that width to within 2 in. of the poll. This is an extremely uncommon form.

Even diminutive forms, from 1½ in. in length and upwards, have sides usually tapering from the cutting-edge, or shoulder, to the butt end. The wedge-shaped or axe-shaped type carries its width throughout more than does the adze-form, but is often widest in the middle. In describing the stone chisels we shall note a good many cases of parallel, or almost parallel, sides. We may state that in most cases in the implements of adze-shape, which are far the most numerous, the width of the tool diminishes from the cutting-edge back to the poll. In some cases the sides taper from the middle to the poll; in yet others, from the middle toward each end. In very few cases are the sides parallel; the 15 in. one quoted above is a rare example. Occasionally one notes a specimen in which the sides are parallel for about three-quarters of the length of the adze, when they taper somewhat toward the poll.

page 224

Occasionally we note a specimen in which the sides are not vertical, but are inclined inwards, making the back of the adze narrower than the face. In a few cases this inclination is quite pronounced, and in a thick tool it results in a curious form—midway between the rectangular and triangular, or subtriangular, shapes. Some of the most symmetrical and best-finished adzes are of this form. A form with the face narrower than the back is much rarer. In one item of the first-mentioned type the face of the tool is 2½ in. wide in the middle, but the back is only 1⅞ in. Another shows a difference of 1 in. In a good many specimens the sides incline inwards slightly to the back, making the latter a very little narrower than the face. A few adzes with inclined sides have a transverse ridge on the shoulder-line. It is quite probable that some, if not all, of these tools acquired their sloping sides from the form of the roughly chipped stone ere it was ground, albeit we have no proof that it was not intentional.

In a few cases the sides taper gradually both ways from the shoulder, which is thus the widest part of the tool. Occasionally is seen a specimen with a side or sides somewhat concave longitudinally, which may not have been intentional on the part of the fabricator. As a rule, the sides are convex, both longitudinally and transversely. Specimens with perfectly flat sides are usually of a small type, or have narrow sides. The convexity of sides and faces has probably been caused by grinding more at and near the edges than in the middle, and not by chipping. This is the easiest way of grinding a surface, and results in a bevelling of the edges and the imparting of a convex outline to the ground surface. It is not so tedious a process to grind a narrow edge perfectly flat; and we shall meet with such edges among the thin tools. In the specimens chipped ready for the grinder, but not yet ground at all, we note no convexity, the sides being flat and straight; hence such convexity is evidently the result of grinding—and grinding by the easiest and quickest method. In the few cases where perfectly flat sides and rectangular edges are met with in the larger type of adzes we may note that such are of the highest type of form and finish. Some such items resemble polished metal in appearance.

Another form, in which the inclined sides are not bounded by any well-defined upper edge, but merge into a rounded back, is described elsewhere. This form shows a semicircular cross-section, and is rare.

In a good many cases among medium-sized and small adzes the sides are much rounded, and a cross-section would be of a flattened oval form. To show a rectangular section would entail much more labour and care, and the tool would have to be ground by rubbing page 225it on a plane surface of sandstone, the usual method of rubbing it in a groove tending to round the longitudinal edges.

The thickest part of an adze axially is usually the centre, owing to the transverse convexity so common in these tools.

The Blade

By inspecting a number of local stone adzes, or perusing the descriptions thereof in this paper, it will readily be seen that, in New Zealand forms, the widest part is generally at the cutting-edge, but sometimes in the middle of the tool, and occasionally across the shoulder.

In most specimens the blade is formed by a heavy bevel on the back of the tool—i.e., the face confronting the operator-and a much slighter and longer bevel or, rather, curve on the face. The intersection of these two bevels forms the cutting-edge. The face-bevel is usually but a continuation of the longitudinal curve or convexity of the face, but this convexity is in most cases somewhat accentuated at the blade end of the implement. On the back, however, the bevel is a heavy one, more or less abrupt, often forming a prominent shoulder where it intersects the plane of the back, but sometimes rounded off by grinding so that the bevel merges gradually into the line, flat or curved, of the back. The angle formed by the two bevels at the cutting-edge differs considerably in some hundreds of specimens observed, as will be seen by referring to the descriptions of divers types given elsewhere.

As a rule, the blade-bevel on the back of the tool is curved or convex longitudinally, but is much steeper or more pronounced near the cutting-edge than it is higher up. The angle of inclination may be 50° or 60° near the edge, and drop to 25° or 30° on the upper part of the blade. This thickness near the cutting-edge is to prevent it breaking or chipping when used.

One of the lightest face-bevels noted is on a specimen 1½ in. wide, 1⅛ in. thick, and 6 in. long, the face of which is almost a plane surface, the bevel at the cutting-edge amounting to about ⅛ in., an unusually light one. The blade is in almost every case somewhat convex transversely on the face and convex longitudinally on the back. In some cases it is concave transversely on the back.

The other, and less frequently met with, form of blade is described in detail elsewhere. This is quite a different form of tool, inasmuch as in this type the two faces—i.e., face and back—converge gradually and equally to form the cutting-edge, which is in a plane with the axial centre of the implement.

page 226

Evans thinks that the obliquity of the cutting-edge seen in some stone tools may have been connected with some peculiar method of hafting, but there seems to be no proof to support such a supposition in connection with our Maori stone adzes. Such an oblique form of cutting-edge is occasionally seen in local specimens, but may have been produced by grinding out a flaw or gap in such edge.

The gradual expansion in width from the butt to the cutting-edge, so often noted in our descriptions, may also be seen in certain steel forms, such as the tomahawks supplied to the Maoris by early traders on these coasts. In like manner the stone cutting-tools with parallel sides, as found in divers lands, seem to have given their shape to a certain type of iron axe, such as the long-bitted old-fashioned English axes. In fact, every form of modern and mediaeval iron or steel axe, single and double bitted, expanding blade and parallel sides, straight and curved cutting-edge, seems to have borrowed its shape from the primitive stone axes and adzes of neolithic man. The curved cutting-edge seen in stone tools becomes the rounded edge in modern steel chopping-axes, and the " timber spring " of our hewing axe and adze. The longitudinal and transverse convexity seen in stone forms may also be observed in the blades of our steel axes. Some of the stone axes illustrated in the works of Evans and other writers are startlingly like modern steel forms. When the axe-makers of old acquired metal, about all they had to do was to reduce the thickness of the stone implement and take it for a model.

One of the longest blade-bevels we have noted in the Museum collection is 5 in. This is on an unusually long adze.

Sudden expansion at or near the cutting-edge is not noted in New Zealand forms as it is in America and Europe. Expansion toward the cutting-edge is gradual in local forms, usually commencing at the butt.

In most cases the blade seems to have been formed by a chipping and bruising process, but in some cases the stone has been flaked off to form the bevel, until the desired angle of inclination was attained. Some of these flakes were upwards of 3 in. in length. Some forms of slate, and other stones, seem to so lend themselves to flaking.

When in this account mention is made of the shoulder, the shoulder formed by the junction of the blade and back is meant. When the shoulder formed by pecking or bruising down the face of the butt end is spoken of, it will be termed the "butt shoulder."

As a rule, the cutting-edge is somewhat curved, save in the very small adze-shaped tools. In some cases it is semicircular, but generally of not so pronounced a curve. A few specimens have an oblique page 227cutting-edge, but it is usually at right angles to the length of the tool. In the former cases such obliquity may well have been caused by the grinding-out of a gap or notch at one corner, as it is often so produced in our modern steel tools.

Many adzes have the cutting-edges broken; in some cases the whole point has been broken off. This may have been due to accident, or the action of fire. Again, when iron tools were introduced the common stone adzes became worthless, and were discarded, left lying about, and, in many cases doubtless, were broken or destroyed by children. Cases are known where not only native children, but also adult whites, have wantonly destroyed stone implements. The saying of the men of yore was He potiki whatiwhati toki (an adze-breaking child). The saying applied to white vandals by collectors is different, and contains more adjectives.

Evans speaks of celts with almost semicircular cutting-edges as having probably been used as gouges. He also states that the blade of some British specimens have been formed by the striking-off of a single flake to form a facet. In rough specimens we note that the Maori fashioned the blade by chipping off small pieces until the desired bevel and form of cutting-edge was obtained, when the tool was finished by bruising and grinding. The same writer thinks that blades may have been ground When the tool was made, but that when it became blunted it was chipped to form a new edge. The Maori folk were wont to grind out any gap formed in a cutting-edge, though if a large piece of the blade were broken off they would refashion it by chipping. They would then grind the new face of the blade smooth, prior to using the tool. The Maori does not seem to have ever used an adze without grinding at least the cutting-edge thereof, and generally the whole blade, if not, as was often the case, the whole of the tool except the poll.

It is because these tools were hafted as adzes that we do not see any local forms with a cutting-edge at each end. Such tools were evolved in lands where the stone celt was hafted as an axe; and when the old-time axe-makers learned how to bore a hole in the middle of the tool, through which to pass the helve, the double-bitted axe was evolved. This form has frequently been met with in Ireland.

Evans speaks of a celt having the cutting-edge in exactly the same plane as the face as abnormal. The reason of this is obvious. If made as an axe, the two bevels to form the blade and cutting-edge are equal, because an axe of such shape does the better work. If made and used as an adze, primitive man knew as well as we do that the page 228face of the tool needs to be slightly curved longitudinally in order to do good work. It also works better if it is somewhat convex transversely.

In cross-section Maori adzes may be—(1) rectangular, as oblong or almost square; (2) ovoid; (3) triangular; (4) Adze cross section shape -shaped. Any other sectional form is abnormal, such as diamond-shaped and several others that will be alluded to.

In the following descriptions of specimens the length of blade-bevel on the back of the tool means axial measurement—that is, from cutting-edge to shoulder.

The thickness of not only the blade, but of the whole tool, depended on the texture of the stone and on the kind of work it was intended to do with it.

Any person accustomed to using tools must admire the form of the blades and cutting-edges of these stone adzes. The longitudinal curve of the face keeps the cutting-edge from digging too deeply into the timber. The transverse convexity of the face lifts the corners of the cutting-edge, and prevents them sticking in or marring the surface of the worked material, and also results in a thin-edged chip and a clean cut. The slight curve of the face of the blade gives it the proper "lift" in adzing timber; hence a chip can be cut right off and does not have to be torn or broken off.