A is for Adze
This simple tool has sat on the shelf in the Norwich Historical Society shed for years. It’s a humble tool, not used much in everyday life today. But a close look can tell us much. An adze is similar to an ax with an arched blade at right angles to the handle, used for cutting or shaping large pieces of wood. The short handle meant that the tool was swung with one hand. It allowed for more control and shorter cuts. In essence it is made up of simple machines. The mechanical advantage of a wedge creates a sharp cutting edge.
The farmers of Norwich turned the hillside forests into barns and fences, furniture and wagons. They made beds, bowls, milking stools, and barrels. This adze reminds us that Norwich residents relied upon the forests for everyday life, from fires to keep warm to sources for making the beds where they slept and the bowls from which they ate.
Dutton Hill Road, Norwich
Farmers often visited the blacksmith to purchase their axe or adze heads and then made their own handles. This adze, however, appears to be cast rather than hammered into shape by one of Norwich’s blacksmiths. To make it required iron mongers, blast furnaces, artisans, and merchants—all components of the Industrial Revolution.
This adze may have been used by a cooper in the making of barrels. Up until about 1900 just about everything was stored or shipped in wooden barrels. Farmers used barrels for storing cider and grain and merchants would have received deliveries from the cities in stacks of barrels. The products made by the cooper were key to the storage and transport of all sorts of agricultural products—essential to the growing market economy in New England.
While this simple tool has languished in our shed, a close look ties Norwich history to the changing forested landscape, the growing market economy, and the Industrial Revolution. The woods and fields that surround us today are heavily shaped by those who harvested the forest so heavily through the nineteenth century.
Norwich A – Z is a weekly post spotlighting artworks and artifacts from the Norwich Historical Society’s collection. We will explore the artifacts as well as the people who made and used them. Along the way, we’ll reflect on how we came to where we are today in Norwich.