Chris Schwarz's Blog

Highly Recommended: Saw Sharpening from TechnoPrimitives

Without fail, every week readers ask me where to get their saws sharpened. I’ve run into some great saw sharpeners in my day, and I’m always happy to recommend their services. Today I’d like to tell you about Mark Harrell, who has taken saw sharpening service into the digital age.

Harrell, a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Army and a long-time hand-tool enthusiast, recently opened his business and web site, called TechnoPrimitives. Harrell offers everything from filing your slightly dull saw all the way up to a complete restoration of the sawplate, teeth and tote.

He also sells vintage saws that he has restored and sharpened. You can see his current auctions (and feedback) on eBay.

I recently sent Harrell an R. Groves & Sons carcase saw that has been sitting on the bookshelf in my office for several years. I bought the saw for a very small sum online because I really liked the shape of the 19th-century handle, and I really have a thing for carcase saws.

However, like many online transactions, this one was a disappointment. The split saw nuts were stripped and unsalvageable. The sawplate was crooked like a hockey player’s nose. And the teeth were all kinds of irregular ugly, perhaps like those belonging to its 19th-century English owner. (Note to self: I seem to be beating up on the orthodonture of our British ancestors a bit too much lately.)

I liked the handle too much to simply pitch the saw. So I replaced the sawnuts with some extras we had lying around the shop and put the saw on my shelf of hopeless tools (some day I’ll offer you a tour of this sad corner of my office).

So after finding out about Harrell’s new business, I fetched the saw and shipped it off to him directly to his shop in LaCrosse, Wis. I figured that this sickly saw would be a good test of Harrell’s restoration skills. Or it would make him rethink his business plan.

The saw arrived back today, beautifully packed. The whole process from start to finish took less than a week. Though we are up against two impossible deadlines this week in the office, I sneaked off to the shop on my lunch hour to make some crosscuts.

Sweet mother of mystery. Harrell brought this hopeless saw completely back from the dead. I was expecting Harrell to declare the saw DOA and ship me back the parts, mob-style. Or that he would give it a try but the saw would end up good for rough work only.

Instead, this saw graduated from the shelf of the dammed to a prized position above my workbench. The sawplate is near-perfect. The teeth are razor sharp, perfectly formed and set. It cuts fast and tracks straight. I doubt this saw has been in this good of condition for 100 years.

If you want to see the steps he took (and some before and after photos), he set up a page here that shows the restoration process.

So how much does the service cost? Here’s the price list:

– Base cost for just jointing/setting/sharpening: $35
– Retoothing, and jointing/setting/sharpening $45
– Sawplate straightening: $25
– Handle restoration: $25
– Total Rehabilitation / The Works (all of the above): $85  

Harrell did “the works” on the R. Groves & Son, but cut me a break because he didn’t repair the upper horn on the handle. My total cost: $60. I consider that price to be more than fair for the results.

If you have a dull saw that’s not earning its keep in your shop, I recommend you give Harrell’s services a try. Like me, I think you’ll be convinced. If you’ve used his services, feel free to post a comment about them below.

– Christopher Schwarz

24 thoughts on “Highly Recommended: Saw Sharpening from TechnoPrimitives

  1. Steve Jones

    Who am I to argue? Just got my 100-year-old Disston #4 back from Mark (complete re-do of the saw plate). It crosscuts fast, straight, and clean. My Japanese saws are on the way out.

  2. David Williams

    I sent two Disston backsaws to Mark for straightening (my son stood on a moving box containing the saws… long story) and sharpening. They came back straight as an arrow and cutting straight. Sharper than than several new LN saws and a cutting cleaner than a new Wenzloff that I own as well.

    A really great service.

  3. Meredith Gibbs

    Chris,
    I wanted to thank you for putting me in contact with Mark. I had read your blog on his service and promptly dug out my old Disston 10 in backsaw. I sent him an email and got a prompt response on a price for straightening the saw and sharpening it. I mailed it to him and got it back in a little over two weeks. It is very sharp and straight. I tried it on some poplar and it starts fast and cuts straight. Did I say it was sharp? I am very happy to get this done, I did not think anyone could straighten the sawplate. Mark did and I really like the saw. I would recommend him for anyone wanting this service.

  4. Dan Stevenson

    I recently had an opportunity to work with Mark and I am extremely impressed with both his work and his communication. I sent him 4 saws, a D8 rip, a D100 Xcut, a #4 Disston back saw and a Jackson Dovetail saw. All of these saws were EBay purchases in an attempt to build my basic woodworking tool set. He took these saws and in just 4 weeks was able to turn them from auction relics to excellent, high quality, tools that can be used every day. Yesterday I finally had the chance to put some of these saws to work and I was extremely pleased with the results. I have used the rip saw, the crosscut saw and the tenon saw on some apple as well as some pine I have lying about the shop. In both woods these saws have exceeded my expectations. In fact, the rip saw far exceeded my expectations as it went through my dried white pine far faster then my previous favorite. In fact, it is just as quick for me to rip out some pine boards with this rip saw as it is to roll my bandsaw away from the wall, setting it up, and doing the saw cuts. I found staying on the cut line during these rip cuts to be extremely easy. Your work is excellent and I would have no problem recommending you to any of my friends.

  5. Ethan

    Last night my Disston backsaw came home after a long, hard week in boot camp. At first I was skeptical that this therapy would work, but I quickly realized he was a changed saw! Sharp as a tack, amped up and ready to get back to work in the shop, he practically jumped out of the box.

    Before his "vacation", it was hard to get him up and working. And when I finally did get his lazy butt into a kerf, he zigged and zagged all over the place like an AK on full auto.

    Now when I say, "saw," he says, "how fast?" He jumps into that kerf like it’s a fox hole and rips perfectly straight lines through wood fiber and lignin as if it were punked!

    Thanks, Mark, for getting my saw back in tip top shape and making it all it can be!

    Ethan

  6. Brian Hayner

    I can’t say enough about what a find TechnoPrimitives and Mark Harell has been. Like eveyone else, I also sent an ebay win off to Wis. to have some rehab and sharpening done on an old Disston #4. The saw was in FAIR condition, although that may be a stretch as far as fair goes. Mark go tback to me ASAP with an honest eval of the saw as far as what he would have to do and how much it would cost. I eally had to weigh it out because it was a fair amount of work and money. He then told me that he had a very nice Simonds #96 for sale on his website that he highly reccommended if I wasnted to retire the old Disston. I decided to trust his judgement and character and was I ever happy with the rewards !!! The saws came wrapped better than anything I’d ever received by post. As for the Simonds, what a saw !!! Tracks straighter than straight, cuts very quickly, and leaves a smooth surface behind. Better than advertised, and it does have a sweet etch that you don’t have to use a magnifying glass to make out parts of it. For a tool made by a company that went out around 1926, it was crystal clear. As for Mark’s rehab, all I can say is excellent quality and advertising. Premium rehab services and extreme attention to detail. Are there any reasons to go anywhere else ? Didn’t think so. Once again, Chris was on the money with his review of a small business providing top shelf services to the woodworking community at large. As usual, thanks Chris, but more so, thanks Mark. Keep up the great work !!!

  7. Chris Zeigler

    I recently sent Mark Harrell three saws, a number 12, a number 8 and a back saw. I was extremely impressed with Mark’s skill, professionalism, and service. He even sharpened my number 8, tried it and then recommended that I change the rake and resharpened it at no additional cost! Mark is definitely a class act and will make you love your old saws again.

  8. Stan Cameron

    Hi Chris, Below a letter I sent Mark last December after he fixed up a disaster of an early Disston dovetail saw for me. Have since used it to build all the dovetails on my retirement project – a workbench of my dreams – and am now in the process of sending four more saws to him to be transformed. Tried to add this blog in December, but somehow it evaporated somewhere between here (Canada) and you.

    Hi Mark

    The saw was delivered last Friday, and I held off on the last two half-blind set of dovetails in the Jatoba bench skirt to try it out.

    Many thanks for all the work you did on that little saw, my it is a gorgeous tool to work with. It’s so good, I cut off one of the two earlier completed dovetails sockets sets and remade it. The saw runs absolutely true to the line, as straight as a die. Yet it is beautifully balanced in the hand and very maneuverable. It doesn’t chatter at any angle, starts effortlessly and cuts quickly under its own steam without any forcing. It’s aggressive in its cut, yet kind to the wood, a unusual combination. I thought my modern technical wonder of a saw was good, but this Disston is something even better again. All the dovetail socket sets are now completed

    Apart from your wonderful set-up of the saw, did old Henry Disston do something special with his cast steel to produce such a tool?

    Thanks again

    Stan

  9. Don Nutt

    My Disston No. 4 backsaw was not manufactured as a dovetail saw, but after Mark Harrell’s complete restoration and sharpening services it is now an amazing dovetailer! The handle feels great in my hand, the teeth are razor sharp, cut fast, and tracks straight. The tooth set feels so minimal yet it’s enough that the saw does not bind in the narrow kerf. My 120-year-old saw is trouble free, a joy to use, and a prized possession in my woodshop.

  10. Bruce Hansen

    I won a couple ebay auctions recently – a 12" Tyzack & Turner back saw, and a 16" Disston back saw. I worried I bid too high for these, but after sending the saws to TechnoPrimitives for restoration, I have absolutely no regrets. The saws came back from Mark in perfect working order. If you frequent flea markets and antique shops, keep your eyes open and know that if you come across a quality old saw, Mark can make it the perfectly excellent tool that it once was, as good if not better than anything you can buy new for a fraction of the cost. Also, you’ll be recycling!

  11. Scott

    After I recieved a old dovetail saw for Christmas, I remembered reading in your blog about Technoprimitives as it needed sharpening. I emailed Mark asking about the cost and ended up sending it to him for sharpening. He reviewed the saw and sent me the cost for three repair options – I picked the lowest cost, sharpening option only. Within a couple of weeks, I had the sharp saw back and it cuts better than the Japanese saws I have been using. Well done!

  12. Ryan Yount

    I sent Mark a very challenged Disston 112 last year and witnessed his ability to resurrect a hopeless wall decoration into a saw that I now make excuses to use. Perfectly formed teeth and appropriate set by someone who understands saws from a woodworker’s perspective, not just a machinist’s attention to detail. Regarding handle restoration: this is not someone who fires up the sander or breaks out the stripper without regard to the saws history. He somehow removed caked on paint, and flaking varnish while retaining the original bandsaw and handtool marks, while bringing out the full figure of the wood.
    In looking to complete my nest of backsaws, I sent Mark an email seeing if he might have what I was looking for. He patiently sent me detailed photos of likely candidates from his collection, and furnished me with a set of saws that may have turned me into a "vintage only" user from now on. I am not exaggerating when I say that in comparison, I was actually disappointed in the performance of a certain well known brand new dovetail saw I had just recently purchased when Mark’s saws arrived. Additionally, he seems to truly enjoy running his business, and it shows in the level of customer service he provides. A real asset to the woodworking community.

  13. Dean Brewster

    I hope Mark Harrell does not retire for years. If you have a saw you have quit using, send it to Mark. He will discuss your options and return a saw you have never used before! It will replace something on your peg board after you use it. And, it will be back from Mark before you ever dreamed. It will cut like a dream too. For one third the price of a new saw Mark will furnish you with a saw you can’t put down.If you use hand saws you have got to let Mark rework one for you.
    Thanks for the recomendation Chris,
    Dean Brewster

  14. Michael Dyer

    O.K, I’m going to try this again – maybe third time is the charm. (My posts don’t seem to either post or stay posted – wah!)
    Chris,
    Based on your recommendation, I sent my old 60’s era Craftsman 16" crosscut saw to Mark for sharpening. Whilst discussing the saw, I also ordered a 16" old Disston tenon saw that he was in the process of restoring.
    I have both saws back, and they are sweet! Both cut smoothly, quickly, and exactly where I want them to cut, leaving a very nice finish behind. With these two now excellent saws, I may actually learn to cut tenons by hand.
    Thanks for the recommendation.
    Mike Dyer

  15. Rick Yochim

    Ditto with all the previous comments about Mark’s skill and quality service. I recently sent him a cherished 10" Harvey Peace backsaw that was only marginally useful. Mark did a terrific job straightening and sharpening it and touching up the finish on the handle. Now it works like the little champion it was when it was new. While not rare, Harvey Peace saws don’t come around that often so I was a little apprehensive at first. But Mark did a first rate and respectful job on my saw and I have put it back to work. I highly recommend his service if you don’t have the time, inclination, or skill to service your saws.

    Rick Yochim

  16. Gregg Counts

    I agree completely with Chris. I sent Mark two Disston saws that had been gathering dust in my shop because of their condition. He did a great job. The saws look great and more importantly they cut smooth and straight, a real pleasure to use. He does excellent work and gives you prompt and courtious service, a rare thing these days.

  17. Tom Fidgen

    Chris,
    Just wanted to send along a comment regarding the magic of Techno primitives; I just had returned to me three old hand saws I had aquired through the years, the flea market/garage sale variety. They all needed ‘the works’ from Mark and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Not only have the saws been cleaned, sharpened and set…dealing with Mark was a real pleasure. A professional touch from a truly incredible craftsman. If anyone out there is troubled about finding a ‘new’ hand saw, or may have some old treasures lying around collecting dust, for a little less than $100. you can have something you’ll be able to use on a daily basis which will far surpass most new saws on the market today. Why wait for months and months on end to order that boutique style hand made saw when Technoprimitives will bring your old relics back from the dead.
    I can’t recommend his services enough!
    Cheers.
    Tom

  18. Brian Williams

    Following Chris’ recommendation above, I sent a new (Paragon) dovetail saw off to Mark for sharpening last week. I got it back yesterday, and I was amazed at the difference in cut quality.

    I tried a couple of test cuts with the saw (in white oak) before I sent it off, just so I’d have some relative idea of how well the saw cut as-new. As originally received, the new saw didn’t cut real well, and the cut quality was on par with an older saw I’d been using to cut dovetails.

    After I got the saw back from Mark yesterday, I took it home over lunch and tried it again, and the results were very impressive. It easily cut through the same white oak test block I used before I sent the saw off, and the cut was a whole lot smoother as well. I then tried my old Stanley gent’s saw that I’d been using for dovetailing (my only real point of reference), and the difference in cut quality and relative speed between the newly-sharpened saw and my old standard was even more amazing. The price was reasonable, his turnaround time was great, and best, his results were as advertised.

    Brian

  19. Mark Hollingsworth

    I recently bid and won a Disston No.4 12" backsaw on eBay. I got it for a fair price I thought but when I tried it on a piece of red oak it left a bit to be desired for sharpness. I had been watching backsaws for a while on eBay having recently been bitten by the handtool bug and had seen several of Mark Harrell’s (www.technoprimitives.com)listed. I had also read Chris’s article on Mark’s restoration work and thought I’d send it to him. To make a long story short, I emailed Mark with a few questions, got immediate responses and sent the saw. He then examined it and emailed me with his findings and I decided on the restoration. He did the complete restoration including retoothing to 13 ppi for crosscut, straightening & polishing the sawplate, sharpening/setting, refinished the handle and polished the sawnuts. I had it back in my hands within the week. It cuts and looks great and I will certainly send my next saw to him for any work needed. He’s what service is all about! Mark Hollingsworth

  20. Allan

    Chris,
    I first discovered Mark Harrell’s business, Technoprimitives, on an ebay auction. After winning the bid and receiving the saw, I was extremely impressed. Too, I learned — just before you wrote about him — that he does restoration work. I subsequently sent him my Dad’s old Atkins 400 rip and a Disston No. 8 20" panel saw. I was extremely impressed by the level of detailed communication Mark offered — via email, of course — ranging from pricing, delivery, initial condition of the saws, and the work required to re-hab them. When they arrived (just short of two weeks after I sent them), I was thrilled! They cut like a dream. I then sent another Disston No. 12 crosscut that had way too much set, and asked him to re-tooth it to a rip, minimize the set, and add some belly to it. It’s on its way back to me as I write this, but I feel I know all about it because Mark has been good enough — and thorough enough — to keep my apprised of the project the whole way through! I’ve also recently purchased a Disston No. 4 20" tenon saw that I’ll now ship to him for recut from 12 tpi to 10 tpi. This guy’s on my short list of vendors that I wouldn’t hesitate to use, and look forward to availing myself of his services whenever I need a saw reconditioned. (I much prefer to spend my time and effort at actually building furniture, rather than in-depth fettling of saws.) Sharpening is fun and interesting work, and a necessary skill to keep a saw in working order, but if your saw needs some TLC, straightening, mending, re-toothing, or a complete change in configuration, Mark is the go-to guy in my book!

    Keep up the good work.
    Allan

  21. JoshB

    Chris,

    Normally I’m happy to restore saws on my own, it’s easy to find good user saws for cheap that don’t need heroic efforts to save them. My rule, generally, is that if the blade requires more skill than I have to restore then I don’t want it. However I have an old hand saw that belonged to my grandfather, it’s one of only a few things I have from him and I’ve been agonizing over how to get it fixed up for a couple years now. It’s in pretty nasty shape but seems to still have "good bones" but I’m afraid I’d do more harm than good trying to fix it up myself. Based on your review I think I’ve finally found a trustworthy restorer to send it to that can make shine like the day it was new.

    An amusing side: I recently lost an auction for a nice Atkins #10 to "technoprimatives" Nice to see I have the same eye for good user saws as the pros do 😉

    Cheers,

    Josh

  22. roy griggs

    Chris,
    Of all the contributions you make to this hobby/craft, your acknowledgement and support of the little guys, is one of the best! For them and for us.
    Thank you.
    roy

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