Stone Tool Stories: Hafted axes and adzes

Adzes were hafted with the cutting edge at a right angle to the handle, in contrast to axes, which were hafted with the cutting edge parallel to the handle.  Stone axes were often hafted via a hole, or mortise, in the handle, and the tapered shape of the axe ensured that they wedged tight into the hole during use.  Archaeological and ethnographic evidence indicates that mortise handles arose independently in Europe, North America, and Oceania.  Another approach was to wrap a thin piece of green wood, or layers of rawhide, around the axe head.  Wood wrap-around handles were nearly universal in Australia, and rawhide wrap-around handles were used to haft war hammers in parts of North America during the historic period.  Most grooved and waisted axes were probably hafted with wrap-around handles and, if so, the method may date as early as 50,000 BP in Australia.

Hafted adze Puke Ariki

Hafted Stone Adze, reconstructed

Axe in modern haft, Denmark

Hafted Stone Axe, reconstructed

Axe, hafted in antler

Hafted Stone Axe

Hafted axe, Chile

Hafted Stone Axe

Hafted adze PNG

Hafted Stone Adze

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Hafted Stone Axe

Hafted axe, Australia

Hafted Stone Axe

Adzes were often hafted onto wood handles with a bend in them so the cutting edge was in the correct position.  This method of hafting is well-documented in New Guinea where hafted stone adzes are still used today.

Stone axes and adzes in Late Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe were sometimes perforated with a hole for inserting a small-diameter wood handle, and axes in China were sometimes perforated with small holes to use in binding the flat-profiled axe onto the handle.  Both these methods were also used to haft bronze axes which were circulating at the same time.

Axes were sometimes inserted into sockets which were then fastened onto the wood handle in various ways.  In this case, the tapered axe wedged tightly into the socket, and the hafting focused on securely attaching the socket to the handle.  In New Guinea, socketed hafts allowed the axe/adze to be rotated depending on the task at hand.