The "bottomers" adze for roughing
out seats is still the method that I use today. Merely picking
up my adze gives me a tingle of pleasure, it feels good in my
hands, and it conveys a very practical use, albeit somewhat
remote from the more mechanical devices in broader application
today, designed for removing wood for a similar purpose, with
the loud noise and dust that they also create, and possibly
being powered by the nuclear juice. This particular seat will be
for a new rocking chair design, currently in the works for a
With English all wooden chairs,
particularly Windsors, having been made predominantly from
hardwoods, the seats more often than not, Elm, having an initial
tool for seat shaping, where a lot of physical power could be
applied through, as well still enabling a degree of control, the
adze with the longer handle and curved wide face became the tool
During the era of segregated tasks being done by
specialists, working with the adze became a separate profession
in itself within the chair shops. I'm not sure that it was such
an enviable one however, as the work with the tool can be hard
on your back if done for extended hours, and there also is the
degree of danger working with the sharp instrument. Carelessness
can creep in with fatigue.
I can only marvel at the fellow in
the old photo, and the effort it took to adze out the many seats
behind him. Perhaps early 20th century?
Note his protective
leather leggings. It's a sweet looking adze shape that he is
using there as well.
Reading about the history of chair making
in Great Britain, injuries weren't so uncommon within the bottomer's trade. "No toes Neville", is one bloke still
remembered in the literature. In the very least, I still need to
get one of those caps.
The seat in the video is from a
local species of Cherry found in my area. Somewhat more
difficult to adze compared to the more resilient Elm, going
against the grain can blow out divots deeper than you want to
go, or lift up sections beyond the edges of the desired outer
profile within the seat blank.
A sharp adze and caution as you
go with the right touch, will give the best results. It took me
a fair amount of practice initially to acquire the skill, my
body learning to develop the control to lift up a shaving and
follow it through to complete a pass.
With the random striking
here and there without enabling the cleaner, more even furrows,
common amongst folks learning to do the work, the result is far
less productive in terms of more even contours, and what does
result in leading up to the next steps in shaping, also comes at
a slower pace.
Experience makes for the better ability. The adze
is indeed a fine tool, one where once you have learned it's use
and potential, keeping it in practice is something that seems to
come along with it. I wonder how many of us are still out there
using it today?
I follow the adze work with both
English and Japanese hand tools for completing the seat, which I
hope to also show in a video.