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The Stone Implements of the Maori

Chisels and Gouges

Chisels and Gouges

When examining the small type of adzes it is quite impossible to draw any arbitrary line between the implements that were hafted and used as adzes and those that were handled and used as chisels. Many of them are alike in size and form; yet some such we see helved as chisels, while others were used, according to native authorities, as light adzes for fine finishing-work in timber-dressing. By being handled as a chisel is meant the lashing of the tool on to the handle in a line with its axis, as our steel chisels are placed in regard to the handle.

These stone chisels are found in great variety, both as to size and finish. Some are merely flakes of stone with one end ground to a cutting-edge, while others are finely finished tools, both in form and polish. In size they vary from a length of 1 in. to 8 in. and over, and in weight from ¼ oz. up to 1 lb. and over. Those with straight cutting-edges are termed "chisels," those having rounded cutting-edges are known as "gouges." Any line of demarcation drawn between thp large type of chisel and the narrow long adzes must be a fanciful one. It is, however, an assured thing that the long narrow type, be it adze or chisel, was used for special purposes.

Triangular Gouges

There are several rough unfinished specimens of this type in the Museum that illustrate the method of manufacture. One is a rough form, 6½ in. long, and 1 in. thick, of triangular cross-section, and almost ready for grinding.

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Another has been chipped into form, but the grinding has only just been commenced, the workman having just ground the blade into shape when he ceased work (see Fig. 101, Plate VII). This is a very curious tool, and was apparently used, or rather intended to be used, for gouging out a trough or groove in timber. It was probably hafted as an adze. Its length is 6¾ in., and its width at the high pecked shoulder nearly 1½ in. The cross-section is triangular, the base of the triangle being the back of the tool. The face is a sharply defined ridge or edge, save where the blade has been formed by grinding, a face nearly ½ in. wide being ground on it. The back is concave longitudinally to a most unusual extent, and the narrow edged face convex to the same degree. The bevel to form the cutting-edge is 2¼ in. long, and is V-shaped, with the bottom of the latter cut off by the narrow face of the tool. The angle of the cutting-edge, and adjacent parts of the blade, is about 50°. The weight is 12 oz. This tool would gouge out a flat-bottomed channel with sloping sides. The stone is dioritic sandstone.

A very similar tool, but straighter and with a round cutting-edge, is, although in the same unfinished state, of much interest, inasmuch as it is about the only specimen observed with such a form of cutting-edge that was in all probability hafted as an adze (see Fig. 102, Plate XVII). It would cut or form a groove in timber something like a capital U, but expanding more at the top. In cross-section it is triangular, and the sharp angle (apex of the triangle) on the blade end of the face has been ground down and rounded in the desired manner. It will be seen that the blade is thick, the angle thereof abrupt, inasmuch as the lower part of the blade is of an angle of about 70°, and its upper part of about 40°. This distinctly round and gouge-like form of blade must not be conceived of as resembling a steel gouge, not being hollow, as is the latter. The bevelled facet that forms the blade being solid, for obvious reasons the tool would act more like a solid punch than like a sharp cutting-gouge, so obtuse is the angle formed by the junction of the face and bevel. This bevel or facet of the blade is nearly 1¼ in. long, flat transversely, and convex longitudinally, as usual. The length of the tool is 6¾ in. Width across back, 1¼ in. Thickness, 1⅜ in. Weight, 11 oz. It is ground only on the blade. The back is slightly concave, the face somewhat convex, longitudinally. Material, mudstone, with long black crystals.

Another uncompleted specimen is of chisel-form, and is chipped into shape, but not yet ground, hence it is not fitted for use. It is 7½ in. long, 1 in. wide, and triangular in section. All sides are page 313straight. The cutting-edge is ⅜ in. wide, to be reduced somewhat when ground. Weight, 10 oz.

A similar one, 8¼ in. long and 1⅜ in. wide, has been partially ground, and is fit for use. It is almost square in cross-section, and has a long bevel of 2¾ in. to form the cutting-edge, which shows an angle of about 35°. Weight, 14 oz.

As a sample of a finished tool of this kind we submit the following specimen (see Fig. 103, Plate XVII): Length, 8½ in.; width in centre, 1¼ in., narrowing to ⅞ in. across the cutting-edge and ¾ in. at the butt end. The cross-section is not rectangular, but very much rounded more particularly on the back; indeed, it approaches a cylindrical form. The butt end has been chipped down deeply for the lashing; but whether it was helved as a chisel or as an adze it is impossible to say, possibly as the latter. The back is longitudinally convex to a marked degree. The angle at the extremity of the blade is about 40°, dropping to 30° higher up the blade. Weight, 16 oz. It is a well-finished tool, albeit somewhat marred in appearance by the cutting-edge having been chipped. Material, mudstone, with crystals.

In Fig. 103a, Plate XXVII, we note another tool that may have been hafted as an adze, but which is a doubtful form. It is oval in section, save where the blade has been formed by grinding down both face and back, the cutting-edge being practically in the centre of the tool. Length, 5½ in.; width in middle, 1⅜ in.; thickness at same part, 1⅛ in. The whole of the surface of this specimen has been ground. The illustration is from a cast.

A different form, with a semicircular cross-section, is illustrated by a well-chipped, half-ground specimen (see Fig. 104, Plate XVII) that with its curved concave cutting-edge would do the work of a shallow gouge. This tool is 8 in. long, 1⅝ in. wide across the middle, 1 3/16 in. across the cutting-edge, and 1¼ in. across the butt end. The face is curved to a considerable extent longitudinally, and is convex transversely; the back is much rounded, and concave longitudinally. Its thickest part, in the middle, is about ¾ in., and the butt end has been chipped unusually thin. There is a slight longitudinal hollow in the facet of the blade, and this, in conjunction with the convexity of the face, means that the tool would cut as does a shallow gouge, but could not have been used for any but light work. The angle of the blade runs from 40° to 30°. Weight, 9 oz. The stone is mudstone, with crystals.

A specimen (smaller) (see Fig. 105, Plate XXI) is a rough-chipped flake of slate 5¼ in. long and triangular in section, one end of which has been ground to a rounded cutting-edge. This item looks as page 314though it might have been used in carving wood, without a handle. Weight, 4 oz. Material, mudstone.

Together with Fig. 105 are shown four similar flakes that were found at an old stone-quarry and workshop on D'Urville Island. We are indebted to Mr. H. D. Skinner for the loan of these items. They are flakes struck off a boulder, showing the bulb of percussion plainly in three cases. The sides have been chipped to the desired form, as also the blades, and two of them have the blade partially ground. Such thin tools could only be used for very light work. The smallest is 2¾ in., and the largest 4¾ in. in length.

Another rough unfinished specimen (Fig. 106, Plate VII) has been carefully chipped into form, and the maker thereof has half-ground the blade. The face of this tool is simply the sharp apex of a triangle, the base thereof being formed by the back. Length, 9½ in. Width of cutting-edge, 7/16 in.; across shoulder, 1¼ in., whence it decreases gradually to a narrow poll. The face at the butt end has been reduced for 2¼ in. to facilitate lashing, which otherwise would have had to pass over the sharp apex of the triangular crosssection. Thickness, 1¾ in.; length of bevel, 3¼ in. Angle of inclination, 60° to 40°. In order to form the cutting-edge of these sharply triangular forms, the apex of such—that is, the face—is ground down flat at the blade end. This implement, hafted as an adze, would cut a narrow groove in timber. A cast of this implement is in the Dominion Museum. It may be termed a gouge.

Another and very peculiar form of gouge is also represented by a cast. It is shown in Fig. 107, Plate VII. Its peculiarity lies in its excessive curvature, which may or may not have been intentional on the part of the manufacturer. It is quite probable that many abnormal forms were produced simply by peculiar lines of cleavage in the stone, or by the eccentric shape of float pieces. The length of this item is 8¼ in. Width across cutting-edge, 11/16 in.; across middle (in centre of tool), 1¼n., thence the sides converge to a narrow poll. The longitudinal curve of the face is so accentuated and also equalled by the concavity of the back as to impart a crescent form to this peculiar tool; for instance, the chord of the arc described by the longitudinally concave back is nearly ½ in. from the back of the tool in the middle—i.e., the portion of the radius between the chord and the circumference measures ½ in. The thickness of this specimen in the middle is 1¼ in., from which part it decreases gradually both ways to a point at the cutting-edge, and to a thickness of ¾ in. at the poll. The face is much rounded transversely, and has two small knobs at the butt, presumably to assist lashing. The back has been somewhat marred by a deeply flaked part in the middle, page 315and for a length of 3½ in. from the cutting-edge has been hollowground, so that the tool may be termed a hollow gouge. The cutting-edge is thick, but may be chipped in the original. This bow or crescent shaped item is an interesting one.

Two smaller specimens have almost certainly been used as carving-tools without the adjunct of a handle, to judge from their shape, which does not lend itself to hafting. Also, the thin keen cutting-edges would scarcely stand if used with force. Such tools were held and used by the Maori as he often holds and uses a steel chisel in carving. Laying the chisel across the palm of his right hand, with the butt end toward the thumb, he so grips it, leaving the pointed end projecting from between the palm and little finger. He then uses the chisel as a graver, with pressure and a drawing motion. He seems to have done all fine carving in this manner. Should the tool be too small to so hold, as was ofttimes the case, he lashed it on to a handle in an axial position, which handle gave him the necessary hand-grip and leverage. It is in the coarser heavier work that a mallet is used by the Maori in carving, and not in small fine work.

The next specimen (Fig. 108. Plate XX) is one made of a red-coloured stone, and weighs 3½ oz. It is 5¼ in. long, 1⅛ in. wide across the widest part (near the middle), from which it diminishes in width to the semicircular cutting-edge. The tool is very much rounded, and ground smooth for half its length, the butt half being roughly chipped. A cross-section would represent an uneven oval form. The edge is keen, low angled, and truly celt-like—i.e., bevelled on one side only. Material, brown feldspar. Weight, 3½ oz.

Another such tool (Fig. 109, Plate XX), of very similar size and shape, and a like cutting-edge, is made of a hard black aphanite (Franklyn Flat), and weighs a little over 3¼ oz.; in fact, there are several others of this form in the Museum.

A peculiarly thick form is 3¼ in. long and very nearly 1 in. in thickness (Fig. 110, Plate VII); width, about the same, thus giving it a square cross-section. Its blade-angle is about 50°; hence, although small, it was probably intended for somewhat heavy work. Possibly it was designed for use with a wooden mallet, without the inter-vention of a haft, a theory that gains some support from the fact that the poll is quite flat, a very rare occurrence in Maori stone implements. At the same time, it seems to have been chipped at the butt end for the reception of a lashing. Material, aphanite with black veins. Weight, 3½ oz.

Another form, and one that may have been used either as a chisel or as a very light adze, is illustrated by the following specimen (Fig. 111, Plate XIX): Length, 3½ in.; width across cutting-edge, 1 in., page 316narrowing to ¾ in. near the butt; sides sloping inwards to a comparatively narrow back; thickness at shoulder, 5/12 in. Weight, 1¾ oz. Material, aphanite with black veins.

A specimen (Fig. 112, Plate XIX) with a thinner blade, showing a cutting-edge with an angle of 30°, or a little less, is 2⅝ in. long, 1⅛ in. wide across the cutting-edge, and ½ in. at the butt end. In the middle, its thickest part, the thickness is 5/12 in. The back is unusually convex longitudinally for so small a tool, but the face is almost a plane surface. Material, mudstone with black veins. Weight, under 1¼ oz. This and the next specimen may not have been used as chisels. Their shape is adze-like, but they seem too small to be hafted as adzes.

A beautifully finished and polished little tool (fig. 113, Plate XIX), which is equally bevelled on both faces to form the blade and cutting-edge, is 2¼ in. long, 1 in. wide in the middle, narrowing to ⅞ in. at the cutting-edge and ⅝ in. at the poll. It is 5/12 in. thick in the middle, and thins towards each end. It is a miniature specimen of the double-bevelled type of a large size described elsewhere. Weight, nearly 1¼ oz. Material, mudstone.

A similar specimen is 1⅝ in. long, 1 in. wide, and weighs less than 1 oz. It is also well formed, and ground to a smooth surface in all its parts.

In the Museum are some rough forms chipped into rude shapes— oval, round, triangular, &c.—and which have a cutting-edge formed by grinding on one end, the rest of the form being left in its rough chipped state. These may be unfinished items, or they may possibly have been used in that condition with or without a wooden handle or shaft. One such, of aphanite, is 2¾ in. long, and ranging from ⅝ in. to 1 in. in width, its weight being nearly 1½ oz. (see Fig. 114, Plate XX).

Of the diminutive type of chisels there are some very interesting specimens in the Museum, some of which are finely formed and beautifully finished. Some are long and narrow, others short and wide; some flat, others rectangular and almost square. A few show a triangular cross-section. Many are so small that they could only have been used when attached to handles. Some are mere rough flakes of hard stone, at one end of which a cutting-edge has been formed by grinding. One such is 1¼ in. long, ½ in. wide, triangular in cross-section, and weighs 1/7 oz. (see Fig. 115, Plate XX). Another specimen (Fig. 116, Plate XIX), half-ground, is 1 in. long, ⅚ in. across the cutting-edge, and ⅓ in. at the poll. It is very thin, but has a chisel-shaped blade, ground smooth. Material, aphanite. Weight, 1/7 oz. Another specimen (Fig. 117, Plate XX), of just about the same page 317weight as the last, is 1⅛ in. long and ¼ in. thick, the face being nearly ⅜ in. wide. This little tool is beautifully formed and polished, is sharply rectangular in section, and has a blade of which the two bevels are almost equal. It has probably been longer and has been broken, through some mishap. Not only does the poll show a clean fracture, but the size of the tool does not diminish at that end. The stone is a pale-green mudstone.

There are in the Museum a number of small chisels made of nephrite. What may be termed diminutive forms in this material are from ⅝ in. to 3½ in. long. The former is probably one of the smallest stone-cutting tools yet recorded in this country. These nephrite chisels are mostly of the long narrow type, and show cross-sections of round, oval, and square forms. The short ones are usually flat, one of which is still attached to the original handle. Some of the long narrow forms have a very small cutting-edge, scarcely ¼ in. in width.

A nephrite chisel in the Museum is 3¼ in. long, and weighs 1½ oz. (see Fig. 118, Plate XX). It is ½ in. wide across the cutting-edge, and nearly ⅞ in. at the head or butt. It is well ground all over, and has a blade of the common adze-form, with a pronounced bevel on one face and a slight one on the other. One side is rounded, and the other is flat and oblique, being evidently one side of the groove made when cutting off the piece to form the chisel from a block of the stone. This chisel is ⅜ in. thick, and has a straight sharp cutting-edge. The poll is ground round and smooth, a rare occurrence.

Some of the small nephrite chisels are cylindrical in form, while others are rectangular in section, and yet others are very thin and flat, with narrow sides of about 1 line in thickness. As in the case of such tools made of other stones, it is often impossible to say whether a small nephrite tool was hafted as an adze or as a chisel.

Some round chisels have a blade formed by a bevel on one side only; indeed, many of them are so formed. In some cases this bevel is hollow longitudinally, thus the tool is a hollow gouge with a very much rounded cutting-edge. Round nephrite chisels are fairly numerous, some with straight, others with curved cutting-edges.

The best type of nephrite chisel is seen in the following (Fig. 119, Plate XX): Length, 3¼ in.; width, ½ in.; thickness, ⅜ in. in middle, 5/16 in. at each end just clear of blades. This tool is symmetrical, beautifully ground and polished in every part, and is peculiar in having a blade and cutting-edge at both ends. The material is light-coloured opaque nephrite, with black blotches in it at one end. A cross-section would be rectangular, the longitudinal edges being sharply defined. The blades carry angles of about 40°. Weight, under 1 oz.

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A diminutive form of chisel is represented by another double-bladed specimen (Fig. 120, Plate XX), 1¾ in. long and 7/16 in. wide. It is well ground, and was probably used for wood-carving. A very nice specimen. Weight ¼ oz.

Below Fig. 120, in Plate XX, is shown a small stone flake, ground to a cutting-edge at one end.

Another specimen of nephrite (Fig. 121, Plate XX), much rounded, is a double-bladed gouge or hollow chisel, and is 3⅛ in. long, ⅜ in. thick in the middle, but tapering somewhat to either end. Both blades are hollow longitudinally on the face, and rounded transversely on the back, hence these blades are gouges, and would cut a hollowed semicircular groove in timber. An implement of this length may have been used with or without a wooden handle. This tool is polished all over. Weight, ½ oz.

The following description is that of a very good type of nephrite chisel (see Fig. 122, Plate XX): Length, 3 in.; width, ½ in. at cutting-edge; from shoulder to butt, 9/16 in. Thickness, 7/16 in. Sides and faces straight. Ground smooth all over, except poll. Cutting-edge keen, and carrying an angle of 30°. With this implement it is possible, without fixing it to a handle, to cut wood, as, for instance, to cut a groove therein. Weight, 1 oz.

The most diminutive chisel in the Museum is a very carefully formed and polished nephrite specimen ⅝ in. long, and 5/16 in. wide at its widest part. It is a beautiful little tool, and must have been difficult to make, for it is not easy to see how a person could hold it during the grinding process. It is about 1/16 in. thick in the middle, and is sharp at both ends.

What appears to be the blade end of a broken nephrite chisel is 1½ in. long, ⅜ in. thick, and cylindrical in form (see Fig. 123, Plate XX). At its cutting-edge it narrows to less than 3/16 in. Evidently it was used for fine work. Weight, 4 dwt.

An excellent specimen (Fig. 124, Plate XX) of a small, flat, thin nephrite chisel, such as was used for wood-carving in its finer parts, is one that is still lashed to its original handle with what appears to be the fine peeled stem of a climbing-plant. It may be observed that one side of the haft has been flattened for a length of 1 in., so as to form a flat surface whereon to lay and bind the chisel, and also to provide a shoulder on the haft against which to place the butt end of the chisel. The part of the circumference of the end of the handle not so flattened has been hollowed or cut down so as to form a continuance of the shoulder right round the handle, and another shoulder, or small ridge, has been left at the extreme end of the page 319handle. This hollow space contains and holds the lashing, which may be said to be countersunk, the surface of the lashing being flush or on a level with the outside of the handle. The length over all, of chisel and handle, is 7 in. Length of handle, 6 in.; average thickness of same, ⅞ in. This dainty little chisel is made of light-coloured nephrite, and, if its poll is butted against the shoulder, as presumably it is, must be 2⅛ in. long. It is almost 9/16 in. wide across the cutting-edge, and decreases somewhat in width toward the butt end. Its thickness is between 1/16 in. and ⅛ in., and the sides are straight. The blade is of true chisel-shape, thin, and carrying a keen cutting-edge. The whole is well ground and polished. Experiments made with this tool show that it cuts wood readily, a neat V-shaped groove being cut with it. In hafting this tool the straight face has been placed outward, and the bevelled face, or rather back, against the flattened end of the handle. In using it the operator holds it with the face downwards, in the manner described elsewhere. The lashing has been put on with exceeding neatness, so much so that no ends of the vine or creeper used for the purpose are visible. This tool, though unusually thin, is an excellent illustration of a hafted wood-carving stone chisel as used by the neolithic Maori. It weighs 1½ oz., including the handle.

With Fig. 124 are shown two other hafted chisels, both of which have the lashing countersunk, and the end of the handle flattened on one side to accommodate the stone chisels (see Fig. 124a and Fig. 124b). These were hafted by Te Tuhi Pihopa, of the Tuhoe Tribe. All three of these specimens are intended for use as scribers without the use of a mallet. The lashing of the two latter specimens is of dressed Phormium fibre.

A cylindrical chisel, or gouge, of dark-coloured stone (Fig. 125, Plate XX) has a blade-bevel only on one side, which, in conjunction with the cylindrical form of the tool, means that the cutting-edge is that of a gouge, and would cut a much rounded groove in wood, though it might also be used in cutting straight lines or V-shaped grooves, if used sideways, as was often done. Its length is 3½ in., and weight slightly under 1 oz. It is a little under ½ in. in thickness. The single bevel to form the cutting-edge is long, ¾ in., and its angle about 35°. This is a very neat form, and is well ground and polished.

A chisel or gouge of black stone in the Buller Collection, of similar form to Figs. 108 and 109, Plate XX, looks as though it had been used with a wooden or bone mallet, to judge from the appearance of the poll. This item is 5¼ in. long and 1¼ in. thick in the middle. Form, cylindrical throughout. Weight, 6 oz.

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A small nephrite chisel in the Museum, apparently of old make, has been mounted in silver(?) and apparently worn as an ear-pendant or on a watch-chain. This little chisel is 1⅞ in. long, and is very neatly made.

A small chisel of dark-green nephrite is 2¼ in. long, ⅝ in. wide, and ⅜ in. thick. It carries an adze-blade, and is well ground and polished, except on the sides, which show each the two saw-cuts and intervening line of fracture by means of which the piece of stone was severed from a slab.

A better-finished specimen, possessing a high polish, is 1¾ in. long, and ½ in. across its somewhat oblique cutting-edge. The straight sides run back to a somewhat rounded poll ¼ in. wide. This little tool is of adze-like form and neat appearance. The material is a dark-green nephrite.

A rough form of gouge is seen in a specimen which is simply a piece of rough stone, one end of which has been ground into a blade of semicircular form. The cutting-edge has been formed by a bevel on one side, and is semicircular. This stone is 5 in. long.

A smaller gouge-like tool of nephrite, and somewhat eccentric form, has a similar curved cutting-edge and single bevel. It is 2¼ in. long and ⅝ in. wide. It has been ground partially on four sides, but is not rectangular; in fact, the workman seems to have simply ground the fracture-faces, without any attempt to impart a regular shape to the tool.

In Mr. A. H. Turnbull's collection is a gouge-like tool that may have been hafted either as a chisel or as an adze. In cross-section it may be termed almost rectangular, albeit the longitudinal edges are somewhat rounded. It is made of a light-coloured stone, is 7 in. long, ¾ in. wide across the cutting-edge, 1 3/16 in. at the middle, and 1 in. at the poll. The poll, as usual in adzes, is rough. The face is straight and flat longitudinally to a point half-way between the butt shoulder and the cutting-edge, whence it curves, to form the latter by its intersection with the bevel of the back. The face is slightly convex laterally, and has been worked down and rounded off for 1½ in. from the poll for the lashing. The back is convex longitudinally, and somewhat rounded laterally. Thickness, 1⅛ in. in the middle part, between the two shoulders. The blade-bevel is 2¼ in. long, and concave transversely, carrying an angle of from 40° to 30°. The face and blade have been ground smooth, the sides but partially ground. A well-formed and symmetrical tool for such work as gouging out a channel.

Another gouge in the same collection is made from a black stone, and is ground and polished, except some deep gaps or chipped-out page 321places. Length, 4¾ in. Width of back, ⅞ in., contracting at the butt ridge to less than ½ in. It carries a much rounded cutting-edge. A cross-section would be almost semicircular, the face being much rounded. The back is flat transversely, and concave longitudinally. The butt end of the face has been chipped down. The blade-bevel is ⅝ in., and the tool would gouge out a semicircular groove or channel. It carries an angle of inclination of from 50° to 40°.

In speaking of the ear-pendants worn by the Maoris, Banks says in his Journal, "Both sexes bore their ears, and wear in them a great variety of ornaments…. They hang from them by strings many very different things, often a chisel and bodkin made of a kind of green talc (nephrite), which they value much, the nails and teeth also of their deceased relations, dog's teeth, &c."

This habit of carrying small items of a useful nature suspended from the ear was common in Maoriland, and when such tools, &c., were of nephrite they were also viewed as ornaments when so worn. Some years ago it was a common sight to see a Maori carrying his pipe in his ear, the stem being thrust through the pierced hole.

Cook states, in his Journal (page 223, edition of 1893), "The tools which they work with in building their canoes, houses, &c., are adzes or axes, some made of a hard black stone, and others of green talc. They have chisels made of the same, but these are more commonly made of human bones. In working small work and carving, I believe they use mostly pieces of jasper, breaking small pieces from a large lump they have for that purpose; as soon as the small piece is blunted they throw it away and take another."

Sketch of maori head and fern pattern