Among the things I like about Mark Harrell’s Bad Axe saws is that there is a wide range of customization options on what are essentially production tools. That is, not only can you choose your filing and from among several plate thicknesses, you can also select from among back materials and colors, saw nuts and handle species, without adding lead time to your saw’s delivery date.
But of most interest to me is that you can select from among handle sizes; I can get a handle that will fit my hands, which is key to a saw that’s comfortable to use – and that translates to a more accurate and repeatable cut, because I don’t have to compensate for my small hand slipping around an overly large handle.
Now, Mark has introduced a new saw that works for those with even smaller hands – children. But not only is the “American Kid” available with an extra, extra-small handle (to fit hands that are 2-1/2″-2-3/4″ across the palm), it’s made to withstand the rigors of children. This saw (which comes standard with a 14 points-per-inch hybrid filing for both cross and ripcuts) has a slightly thicker sawplate (.02 steel, instead of the .018 standard on Harrell’s dovetail saws) to resist buckling from a less-than-straight trajectory in the hands of a young (read: new) user. It’s available in three back sizes: 8″ with 1-3/4″ depth of cut, 10″ with 2″ depth of cut and 12″ with 2-1/4″ depth of cut.
The most innovative, er, innovation, however, is the handle – it’s a 3/4″-thick apple ply laminate (formaldehyde-free) that Mark says is shock-resistant, and able to withstand a 6′ drop onto concrete (watch his video here). I can’t yet bring myself to confirm that…but I will, as soon as I’ve had a little more time with this saw. I don’t want to risk damaging its out-of-the-box performance until I’ve had time to properly put it through its paces.
The apple-ply handle will be available on all Bad Axe saws, too – not just the kids’ saw. For those who work on jobsites or in shops where things get banged around a lot, it might be a good choice.
Mark says he developed this saw with beefier specs so that parents wouldn’t feel the need to hover as their kids wield a delicate and expensive tool, because this one can stand up to their usage without constant correction from an anxious adult. (While it’s not delicate, it does seem to me a bit spendy for a tool intended for kids: $175. But it’s made to the same standards as all Bad Axe saws, and tools that work well are more likely to translate into tools kids – or anyone – will enjoy using.)
I would like to see some kind of special anti-rust treatment that didn’t affect performance…or some way to make it fun for a kid to oil the tool when done. While I don’t have kids, I babysit a lot, and from that experience I know that at least some children aren’t too good at maintaining their toys; when they’re done playing with a thing, it’s time to move on – getting them to clean up after themselves first is always a challenge.
I need to spend some more time with this saw, but for now, I can confirm that the “American Kid” cuts well and starts easily on both the rip and crosscut (with a wider kerf than my usual backsaws, natch) and that when I tried to torque the plate in the cut like a beginning sawyer might, I was unable to do any damage to it. Also, Mark sent a saw with an XXS handle – and for the first time in my eight years of serious saw handling, I’ve encountered a handle that is actually too small for me…by just a little bit. But the shaping and finish (oil and wax) is perfectly comfortable; there’s no discernible difference in how it feels in the hand from my Bad Axe walnut-handled dovetail saw.
Update: In response to a question on Facebook, Mark reports that as your child grows and needs a larger handle, he’ll replace it for $25.
If you have a child who’s interested in woodworking and likes making things, check out Matt Cianci’s new video, “Build a Custom Backsaw” – that would be a fun parent-child build in the shop, I’d think.