Test-drive: Two New Saws from Bad Axe

Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works corralled two of his new saws for us to test; he calls them Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, and optional quartersawn mesquite handles play to the Western theme. Why mesquite? Mark likes the hardness of the wood (2,345 on the Janka scale; cherry is 995), its stability and weight, and the way it looks.

The saws are certainly nice looking – in addition to the new handles, he now also offers black pearl nickel-plating on the carbon steel backs, which imparts a dull charcoal sheen that goes well the black split sawnuts. And, Mark says, it’s highly corrosion resistant.

These saws are, however, more than just pretty to look at – they also start easily and work well in the cut. Mark recently began hammer-setting his saw teeth, and the cut with both of these does seems smoother in comparison to some earlier Bad Axe saws I’ve tried.

I particularly like “Doc Holliday” ($195), the 10″ dovetail saw (though I’d rename it Annie Oakley). The handle is patterned, Mark says, after an 1876 Wheeler Madden & Clemson saw, but he’s dropped the hang angle a bit, which helps get my hand comfortably in line with the blade and directly behind the cut. I typically affix Chris Schwarz’s twin-screw vise to my bench to cut dovetails but he’d already taken it home. So I had to lean over a bit farther to get my arm aligned correctly (as you’ll see in the video below), but once I get my own twin-screw made, I think Annie could become my go-to DT saw for all but the thinnest stock. The standard plate is .015″ thick, filed at 16 ppi rip. The one I tested was the optional .018″-thick plate, filed at 15 ppi rip (but Mark files by hand, so there’s a small degree of fleam, which helps facilitate the smooth cut).

The 10″-long plate is “canted,” with 2″ under the spine at the heel and 1-7/8″ at the toe. I like a canted plate; it makes it easier to avoid going over my baseline on the backside of the cut. I also like the weight of this saw because it helps it power through the cut (on our postal scale, Annie weighs in at .84 pounds; my usual dovetail saw is half that at .42). I suspect that after a long session of dovetailing, I might find the handle a skoch too thick for my hand – which means it will fit well into the paws of 95 percent of you who are reading this. The handle has a nice finish and it’s top horn comfortably wraps around the top of my hand.

“Wyatt Earp” ($210) is a nice 12″ guy to have in the shop, particularly if you’re going to have only one carcase saw, because this one is a hybrid filing. (Mark calls it a 12″ Dovetail/Small Tenon Saw, but I’ve had a little too much to drink of Chris’s Kool-Aid.)

This handle is patterned after an 1870s Disston, but as on the new 10″ saw, Mark adjusted the hang to get the user’s hand right behind the cut. This blade is also canted – 2-1/2″ at the heel and 2-3/8″ at the toe, with a sawplate thickness of .02″. It weighs 1.06 pounds, so it’s hefty enough to get the job done quickly. Mark sells this saw standard at 14 ppi rip, but the one I tested is 14 ppi hybrid-cut, and it does cut pretty well both in rip and crosscut modes (see the video for proof). Do I prefer a dedicated crosscut saw and a dedicated rip saw? Well, yes. But these cuts are nothing at which to sneeze.

Mark offers customization options on all his saws – from the nuts to the handles to the sawplates to the backs to the filing. So if you’re the kind of woodworker who likes a choice, his saws are worth a look. They’re also worth a listen: so take a moment and be soothed by the saws’ susurrus (no banjo music this time).

— Megan Fitzpatrick

• Like saws but want to learn to use them better? Check out Christopher Schwarz’s DVD “Sawing Fundamentals.”

• Want to build a useful shop appliance while you’re perfecting your saw technique (along with a few other hand tools)? Get the DVD “Build a Sawbench with Christopher Schwarz.”

18 thoughts on “Test-drive: Two New Saws from Bad Axe

  1. texasbelliott

    I own a Bad Axe Jack saw, and I can’t speak enough positive things about it. It’s a terrific saw. The quality and craftsmanship of Mark’s saws are second to none.

    Props to Megan for the review and video. Great stuff!

  2. sarakami

    Just watched 4 different videos on sharpening kitchen knives using the chefs rod. Confusion is what angle is the best, since each person in the videos are suggesting a different angle from 16 deg. to 30 deg.

  3. John Cashman

    “But these cuts are nothing at which to sneeze.”

    I’m sure you meant to say, “these cuts are nothing to sneeze at.”

    Thanks for the review.

  4. pjpedpjped

    Thanks Megan. Glad to see Mark’s saws out there. I own his 14″ Sash filed hybrid, and the 10″ Dovetail.
    I have found that in my beginner hands, they cut so fast that I need to be careful to not overshoot my line – I guess I never knew what a sharp saw was like until now.
    The Dovetail saw was a revelation to me, such a pleasure to saw with and to look at as well, I’m not ashamed to admit.
    Mine is filed rip. Sometimes I sneak out to the shop just to hold it – never had a saw fit my hand so well.
    -Pete P.

  5. tirebob

    Just last week I receieved both the Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp, as well as the 16″ “Jack Saw” from Mark…

    What can I say except WOW!!! I should note I am not the most experienced woodworker going, in fact I might say I am close to a rookie as one could be. That being said, I previously bought a few saws from a reputable company and have been using them intently over the last year, practicing my dovetails etc. While they work quite well, the very first time I put my Bad Axes saw(s) to wood I quickly learned the difference between a good saw, and a GREAT saw!

    I know they say that tools don’t make the woodworker, but I can safely say that they made this wannabe woodworker just a little bit better in the cut!

    Soooooo… If Mark is reading this, may I second (or third or heck, 1000 fold) the desire for a future Bad Axe panel saw… Given the chance, I would be first on the list to put down my deposit!

  6. DougB

    Glad you like the saws Megan. I have the exact setup (as well as a few other saws from Mark), and they really make picking up a saw very enjoyable. Hand cut joinery is so much easier and they lead you to want to try other things. His dovetail saw, even with the thicker plate leaves a kerf so thin, I had to buy a fret saw cause my coping saw won’t go down the kerf to clean out the waste. And the hybrid filed 12″ dovetail-tenon saw does so much, it seems to always be on the bench. You can’t go wrong buying any saw from Mark. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your saws. Looking forward to WIA, See you there.

  7. renaissancewwrenaissanceww

    Megan, thoroughly enjoyed only the song of the saw. It is actually really exciting to see you in action for once. Maybe getting Chris out of the way is a good thing to allow you to shine.

    Now on to the saw. I did a quick audio review myself of Doc Holiday as well as Wyatt Earp the small tenon saw and I agree with many of the comments above. http://www.renaissancewoodworker.com/bad-axe-toolworks-dovetail-saw-thoughts/
    It is easily the best saw I have used. Cuts like it is on rails was how I put it in my review I believe. If you are in the market for a saw of any type just go to Bad Axe and don’t look back. I will have my Bad Axe saw both new and some vintage restored Disstons from Mark’s bench with me at WIA if anyone wants to give them a try. Of course Mark will be across the aisle from me so you can try his too.

  8. AnnieO

    I have tried almost every dovetail saw available today, including the now no longer available one from Andrew Lunn. The latter had been my favorite until I got this new one, the 15 thou, from Mark. It is as good as Andrew’s, IMHO, and I think there is little chance that Mark will be retiring soon. It cuts cleanly, thinly, and almost effortlessly. This is the one dovetail saw to buy. Just say AnnieO sent you.

  9. Fred West

    Megan, a beautiful review. I received the Wyatt Earp last week with the open Texas Honey Mesquite handle and the nickle plated sawback. It is the combination Dovetail/Small Tenon in a rip configuration at 14 ppi. It is an amazing saw and cuts like a dream. I have used it on soft maple, walnut and cocobolo so far and have had no issue holding the line. All in all a great saw and I am glad to have it. Fred

    1. Megan Fitzpatrick Post author

      Don’t worry Andrew. In the future, there will be banjo music. About the Schwarzian sawing rhythm, well, I’ll keep practicing…

  10. Mark

    I don’t own a Bad Axe yet but I’ve decided they’re going to be the next saws I buy. I had a chance to use one and compare it to a comparable saw, also well made, that I own. Frankly, I was really surprised at the difference. Same plate thickness, same PPI, both with similar wear. The Bad Axe saw not only gave me a better cut but somehow just felt right in my hand. I’ve also heard that the saws you reviewed leave a phenomenal finish which I imagine is probably due to less set on the teeth. Thanks for the video Megan. Keep the torches lit. Oh..and nice cheeks too…tenons that is.

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