A Bad Axe Review…

BE WARNED: Mark Harrell is a dangerous character.

Not only because he is a retired Special Forces Colonel and could probably kill you with a tooth pick, but also because he is now the purveyor of fine back saws at BadAxeToolworks…and quite frankly, to an obsessive saw nut like myself, that is the more foreboding distinction.

A few weeks ago I got an email from Mark asking if I’d like to try out one of his new saws…the 12 inch Hybrid Dovetail/Small Tenon saw.  So, like any eager and simple-minded galoot, I of course replied in the positive….duh. And I think Mark knew to expect my answer, because barely a few days had gone by and the new saw was at my door. Oh…and just so you know what kind of corrupting agent we’re dealing with here, Mark was “kind enough” to also send me a set of his new bench hooks. Nice guy, right? HAH!!! (As you are reading this to yourself, please ensure that you read that last exclamation with a heavy dose of sarcasm -Editor)

Now, If you’ve never been the recipient of one of Mark’s saws, then prepare yourself……and I literally mean to prepare yourself, because opening one of his shipping packages is an experience that I can only relate to high school. How’s that? Well, because just like my 10th grade girlfriend, you’re going to need a good 45 minutes of cajoling, levering, tearing, fighting and lubricating to get at the goodies contained in the box. No kidding….Mark packs his saws for shipment like there’s a chance they might fall off the truck and get used for target practice….with a rocket launcher. Let me tell you, it’s a good thing Mark only uses environmentally friendly packing materials, because if he didn’t, he’d single-handedly be responsible for deforesting a small South American nation. So rest assured, if you make the grave mistake of welcoming Mark into your otherwise quiet life by ordering one of his saws, then at least you know the saw will arrive as safe as a new-born babe upon your steps.

After that, however, your life will never be the same.

Before I share with you my impressions of the saw, I should make a full disclosure: At first, I wanted to hate this saw. I really wanted to find things wrong with it. I wanted to use it and dislike it from the first moment I let it cut wood. Why? Because maybe as a born skeptic, when I hear nothing but positive things about a product, or person, or theory, I think that people are just being duped. So, I wanted to be the guy that bunks the collective impression. Call me a subversive.

Well, damn if I wasn’t duped too. Upon the first moment I held this saw I was sold.

The tote, which Mark tells me he has made by CNC, is a replica of a 19th Century Wheeler, Madden and Clemson back saw and is finished by a professional piano re-finisher. Well dang if that boy can’t lacquer the hell out of a saw handle, too!!! This thing fit my hand like an old pair of jeans. I told Mark that it does look a little lifeless compared to a hand shaped tote, but in all honesty, the thing is a work of art…

Not only is the tote nice, but the whole aesthetic of the saw is amazing. This saw looks like no other saw that I’ve ever seen. Mark calls them his Darth Vader saws…and I would say that is an apt moniker. I could prattle on about the looks of the saw, but this isn’t a tool fashion blog, it’s a sawing blog. So how does the thing cut?

In a word: lovely.

Here’s a few more: Smooth. Sweet. True. Effortless. This saw is amazing….and I mean that in its literal sense…it amazes me the level of refinement and subtle perfection that Mark is able to build into this saw. In fact, to even call it a dovetail/small tenon saw is perhaps an insult…it is capable of so much more. I used this saw to make deep ripping cuts for tenon cheeks in cherry, walnut and maple….the saw flew through the wood like balsa. I made cross cuts in 1/4 inch thick strips of purpleheart, oak and locust….very splintery, hard woods: the saw handled them with noteworthy adeptness and even left an acceptable finish thanks to the 5 degrees of fleam on the teeth from Mark’s well-seasoned filing skills.

I was so struck with the smooth action of the saw that when I first used it, that it took me about 20 minutes to remember I was trying to hate it!!! Well, try though I did, I could find no flaws in the tool.

I even liked the slight canting of the sawplate…slight though it may be, it has really sold me on the effectiveness of this historical element. Canting refers to the tapering of the width of the plate as it progresses towards the toe. Canting the saw plate, as it were, is intended to smooth the action of the teeth in the cut. I really liked this, and to my knowledge, Mark is the only maker offering this on a new back saw today. You can see the slight canting in this pick…

Having used this saw for a few weeks in my shop, I have reached the conclusion that if I were only to have one back saw at my disposal, then this would be that saw. I don’t know any other more effective way of describing it. It is smooth, cuts true, and can handle any nature of work you may throw at it. And believe me, in my shop, I throw a lot of things. 😉

So, now after trying to convince myself I don’t need another saw (a most ridiculous exercise in futility!) I find myself fully enamored with this most Bad Axe Saw, indeed.

Damn it!!!! And in case you’re wondering, yes….I had to pay for the saw. Now I’m just hoping that Mark doesn’t find out I’m lusting after his 18 inch tenon saw……that would be the end of me. (And my marriage!!!)

So, now that I’ve told you the story of Mark Harrell, do you finally understand why he is such a dangerous character?!?!? He is one of the notorious “Tool Pushers” that Chris Schwartz so vehemently warns us of!!!! Your shop is not safe from his saws!!! Your bank account is not safe!!! Your wife will hate you (more)!!! You will never see your children again (you’ll be sawing all day and night)!!!! You’ll grow a long, scraggly beard and stop bathing (what few people congregated with you before will now most surely be scared off)!!!!

Lock your doors!!! Turn off your phone!!!! Cancel your internet connection!!!! Don’t pay your tool club membership dues!!!! Stay away from the lumber yard!!!! Don’t bring in your mail!!!! And whatever you do, do not, under any circumstances go to http://www.badaxetoolworks.com/ and look at Mark’s saws.

You have been warned!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

-Matt 😉

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm  Comments (7)  

Review: Gramercy Tools Saw Handle Makers Rasp

I spent the whole day in the shop today with plans to finally install the leg vise on my Roubo bench, but before I got into that ordeal (turning my bench over to saw the parallel guide mortise in the base of the leg, among other steps) I wanted to repair the tote on a nice Disston #12 I got over the summer.

This particular #12 I found at the same old barn where I got my nice little Tillotson carcase saw (which I rehabed here). I cleaned up the plate of the #12 when I first got it, but have not had a chance to fix the tote…it was missing its entire lower section and need a glued in chunk of apple to repair.

So, one night this week after work I glued in the repair piece and set it aside to cure, all the while with plans to finally try out my newest tool on this repair….the Gramercy Tools Saw Handle Makers Rasp.

It seems the good people at  ToolsForWorkingWood believe that saw makers deserve their own rasp to shape the handles of their wares, and if you’ve ever shaped a saw tote with regular cabinet rasps (as I have many times) then you know the frustration incurred. You see, this rasp is unique in that it curves along the last few inches of its length to allow the user to avoid gouging the opposing face of the tote when working the insides of the handle web. Take a look…

I should note that I was the oh so fortunate recipient of this rasp as a gift from my WoodNet Secret Santa, as well. What the heck is a WoodNet Secret Santa? Well, if you don’t know WoodNet, then you’re missing out. Its an online woodworking forum that is quite frankly, the coolest damn place to hang out and talk wood online. Do yourself a favor and check it out. And next year, make a point of joining the Secret Santa hoopla…unless, of course, you have something against free tools?

So anyway, back to the tote. All I can say, is that after I roughed out the shape of the repair at the band saw and spindle sander, the normal drudgery of shaping the roundovers and blending the curves of the handle turned into the most smooth, precise exercise I’ve undertaken in quite some time.

The Gramercy rasp cut very smooth and left a finish that only needed to be touched up with 120 and then 220 grit paper before finishing. And not once did I bang the nose of the tool onto the opposing edges when working the curves inside the hand web…which is a common occurence with straight rasps despite my best efforts. Not only that, but the curved nose of the rasp helped round the edges better than a straight rasp…kind of like it was made for rounding edges. Brilliant!

This is undoubtedly one of those tools that once I use it, I wonder how the hell I ever got anything done without it! What normally was a process of roughing with my 4-in-1 and then refining with various cheap Borg rasps, was now accomplished in a fraction of the time, and leaving a better finish, with the Gramercy rasp.

Well, I’m sold. I can’t wait to make my next tote!

Here’s a shot of the work in progress…

So, if you like to make saw totes, or repair then often, do yourself a favor….get one of these bad boys! Scower the couch cushions, raid the kids college fund, steal the offering from church, just do whatever you can and get one. You can thank me later.

Oh, and thanks Santa…you are most certainly, The Man!

🙂  Matt

Published in: on December 11, 2010 at 7:47 pm  Comments (8)  

Toolemera: New (Old) offerings from Fairham

I recently acquired two new books from the wonderful Toolemera Press. If you are not familiar with Gary Roberts, founder and proprietor, or his work resurrecting out of print ephemera of our historic craft, then you are truly missing out. Not only does Gary make available an amazing selection of free downloads from his site, but he also reprints books long lost from our view. Visit his site and you’ll thank me…


Toolemera has recently reprinted two such works from the noted author, teacher and craftsman William Fairham. Originally printed in 1920 by a British firm, these books are indeed rich with the English tradition of woodworking. (As a side note, i am so fond of the woodworking culture across the pond….our brothers never lost their respect and reverence for hand tools, as we so quickly did in the post war boom to expand. One need only observe the work and habits of Ian Kirby, David Charlesworth and Alan Peters to see this marked divergence in our trades)

Anyway, enough of my social commentary……So, these two newly reprinted works, ‘Hand Tools and How to Use Them’ and ‘Woodwork Joints’, are self-explanatory in their subject matter, but do not be fooled…these books are chock  full of useful and entertaining info.

I found the ‘Woodwork Tools’ text to be the much more entertaining of the pair, as I love reading about the use of traditional hand tools, and of course, saws in particular. The author covers a range of hand tools, in addition to the new-at-the-time stationary powered machinery one may have found in use in a turn of the century British cabinet shop. One such machine, the automatic scraping machine, was a complete revelation to me….fascinating! Any woodworker will find this book a great pleasure….I read it easily in a few sittings over the course of a week. I highly recommended it.

The second book, ‘Woodwork Joints’ is a much more technical presentation of, well, woodwork joints, and while not quite as light a reading given the detail, it is most definitely worth having. This is a book I see myself keeping handy next to my bench and referring to while drafting out a project. The work is vast in its review of all types of cabinet making and carpentry joints from half-laps and dovetails, to miters and puzzles. Each joint is discussed in detail with practical and period correct instruction on how to cut them and which tools to use. A must for the technically inclined craftsman who wants to finally tackle that secret miter dovetail joint on his next project.

On a final note, if you are more interested in the free downloads available at Toolemera, then I would recommend ‘The Story of the Saw’ published by Spear and Jackson fifty years ago…a wonderful historical perspective on saw developments from the dawn of tools through the modern age….


Also of note, my favorite old book on saws, ‘Handsaws: Their use, care and abuse…’ by Fred Hodgson…


Check them out….you can thank me later!

And of course, if you are interested in purchasing either of the Fairham books, they are available through Amazon…



Happy reading!


Published in: on November 6, 2010 at 10:23 am  Leave a Comment  

A historical saw…

Do you know why I love collecting antique hand saws? Because you never know what you’re going to find.

Living in New England as I do provides the most fertile environment for the rabid tool collector (and believe me…tool collecting IS a disease!!!) because these lands are steeped in history. And thusly, the materiel of days gone by are no more present than they are here in the basements and barns of our near lands.

Exhibit A:

A few months ago, in the early days of summer, I was on my way to my wife’s grandparent’s house to help them refinish the oak floors in their living room. While sanding and sanding and sanding and sanding hardwood floors is not the worst way I could imagine spending a beautiful day, it certainly isn’t at the top of my list either, but nonethless I was happy to help (if you’d tasted Nana’s strawberry pie, you’d wanna help too! :o) And most sincerely, strawberry pie was the most I was expecting in the way of gratitude…which would have been more than sufficient.

As I pulled up to the house, I was greeted by Pa in his customarily friendly, “Hi” followed by, “I’ve got something to show you.” Okay I though, not knowing what I was about to behold. As Pa shuffled into the garage and returned with hands full, he said that he had just come home and passed by a yard sale around the corner. At this yard sale, as he continued, the elderly gentleman was selling a lot of old rusty saws and was asking 25 cents a piece for each. Now, Pa, being the astute kind of guy he is, and knowing of my aforementioned disease, takes the whole lot of 5 or 6 saws for the hearty sum of $1.50….and this is the bounty which he lays at my feet upon my arrival. “Here….” he says “I got these for you.” As I begin to exclaim how kind and thoughtful it was of Pa to buy the saws for me, I quickly realize that this was no ordinary lot of rust from the neighborhood yard sale…these were some premium saws. And the pick of the litter? That was a hand saw of 26 inches or so with a characteristic nib and London pattern handle that caught my eye immediately. While there was no etch to identify the saw, there was instead a stamped makers mark spelling out K-E-N-Y-O-N.

My heart stopped. Then it started racing. Then my voice cracked. Then my palms got sweaty…it felt  like junior high when I asked Kara Aucella to dance with me all over again!!!!

“Pa!” I said, “This one is special!!!” And special it was. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to finish sanding to get home to inspect my new prize. And Pa was plenty proud of himself for the score, and very glad that my “payment” for the floor was up to snuff.

So, as soon as I got home, I laid her out on my bench and beheld her….


Yes, she was badly beaten and broken. Yes, she was duller than a bread hammer.  And yes, her teeth were as crooked as an Irish pollster….but she was mine! I stood there drooling over her and in awe of her very presence! And much UN-like Kara Aucella in junior high, this little lady let me inspect her every conrner and crevice to my heart’s content! My findings were numerous….the odd chamfering along the top of the handle, the shape of the nib, the break in the lower swoop of the handle, the initials scratched into the underside of the flat handle return…I took in every detail and relished every sense of her.

Upon further inspection, the makers mark read fully “Kenyon Sykes & Co” and she the plate was indeed 26 inches in length.

Now, for those of you who are unaware, John Kenyon is perhaps the most notable British saw maker of the colonial era, due in part to his crafting of the legendary Benjamin Seaton chest of saws. These saws, locked away in a museum in the Old Country, are practically priceless, and origianl Kenyon saws in the wild are rare and valuable. Kenyon, in addition to his solo work, also had a number of partnerships throughout his career. In this case, the partnership of Kenyon and Sykes lasted for a handful of years around 1815 and THIS saw was one of their offspring…now in my noted possesion!

So, how frickin’ psyched was I!?! I was the proud owner of a piece of history!!! A legendary saw from the most legendary maker of British saws!!! After having the saw appraised (its worth a snot load more than the 0.25 cents Pa paid for it), the appraiser, Pete Tarran actually THANKED me for showing it to him!!!!! Just like they do on Antiques Road Show!!!! How cool is that!!!! Pete further counciled me to NOT restore it and bring it back to useable condition (as is my liking with antique tools, ’cause I likes to use ’em!) as he stated it was indeed a piece of history and should remain in its historical condition.

I can only imagine what history this saw has beheld….who elsed owned it, used it…what perhaps famous homestead or building had it helped create? What young apprentice slaved over sharpening its teeth….what noted craftsman labored within its grasp? History indeed!!! This is why I love old tools…because forever locked within their rusty and burnished souls are the tales of so many hardy men passed before me…some greater, some not so great, but all lovers of the craft and true men nonetheless!

Well, every tool collector has one of these stories….the Big One…the Big Score…the Monster Gloat….the greatest and coolest find in their tool collection. Odd that I should have mine so early in the onset of my disease…most old coots have to wallow around in rust for decades before they score a saw like this. The again, I guess Pa did the wallowing!!!!

Thanks Pa! ;o)

And here are some more shots of the jewel of my collection…

Published in: on October 21, 2010 at 11:13 am  Comments (5)