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).
• 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.”