In Chris Schwarz Blog, Sawing Techniques, Saws

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There are some words we get in trouble for using in a woodworking magazine. Here are a few: “foolproof” (fools, we have found, are very clever), “holiday” (don’t ask) and “sexy.”

Sure, it’s OK to put a half-naked woman on the cover of a magazine with “that word” in 42-point type in the checkout line at the market where I get my cheese curds and snack crackers. But put “that word” in a woodworking magazine, and people become rather put out , like you threw a dozen cuddly puppies into the river.

So if you are sensitive to the word sexy, please stop reading. Because I am about to use the word in a sentence.

The Bad Axe saws from TechnoPrimitives are completely and almost impossibly sexy. Now … exhale.

I recently reviewed these saws in the November 2009 issue of Popular Woodworking, but one full magazine page did not capture all my feelings about these saws (indeed, I have more than one feeling; I’m a modern man). These saws are just perfect in every way. Sure they cut well, but any wizard with a file can turn a putty knife into a surgical instrument.

What is really amazing about these saws is the level of detail with their construction. Photos don’t do them justice. The cherry totes feel like they have already been broken in by 100 years of use. There are no hard lines biting into your palms. The medallion and sawnuts are seated perfectly in the tote. The saw’s steel back and blade are mortised neatly and crisply.

Even the back itself is something to talk about. TechnoPrimitives uses a folded steel back (you can even get it in a deep black finish), just like the best American saws of the 19th century. Back then the British were partial to brass backs; Americans liked steel. The back also has a nice crisp stamp with the maker’s name.

And the coolness extends to the blade. Mark Harrell at TechnoPrimitives went over the top when branding the blade. I don’t know what to call it. It’s not really an etch, it’s more like a fine engraving. In any case, it’s sharp and doesn’t rub off on your work like on some low-end saws.

As far as the teeth go, I encourage you to check out Harrell’s site for all the details on how he files the teeth. The saws cut extremely well right out of their environmentally friendly box.

Last weekend I used two Bad Axe saws for all the joinery on this White Water Shaker bench. And during the summer I used the heck out of them while building three projects for the book “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”

Every time I picked them up I was reminded of one of the reasons I like modern tools: They are a totem, a reminder that we can still make things in this country that are damn good. While growing up in Fort Smith, Ark., I watched the town (and my next-door neighbor) struggle when the two major manufacturers there moved lines overseas. Some days I wonder if all we make in North America is debt, tool reviews and funny TV shows.

But when I pick up a tool from Veritas, Lie-Nielsen, Wenzloff & Sons, Bad Axe or one of the dozens of other makers we have today, I’m both heartened and inspired to make things with my hands.

Here endeth the sermon (sorry about that).

You can download a pdf of my review of Bad Axe saws from Popular Woodworking by clicking on the link below.

26-29_0911PW_ToolTest.pdf (198.1 KB)

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Showing 22 comments
  • Aemilius Pretorius

    I received my saw on Friday afternoon and got to use it a bit on my current project over the weekend . Let me immediately say that it has proved to be just what I was hoping for. As close in looks to a high-end rifle as a flat strip steel with a wooden handle screwed onto one end can reasonably get. The RSM on parade. That blade guard could have come out of the coachwork of one of those luxury British saloons of yesteryear. Crosscutting in pine stock of varying hardness went fast with very smooth edges right round the cut. In the hands of a good sawyer (which alas I am not) this saw could put many a shooting board out of work. The quality of cut came as close to the results of my Nobex mitre box with Japanese crosscut blade as I have ever been able to get freehand. I am talking 12" cuts here, for much narrower stock I would probably still go with a good shorter tenon saw (are you planning anything in this direction Mark?) although the weight and size never troubled me at all. To my hand the opening in the handle felt somewhat dainty but nothing to complain of really. Will soon get used to it. My real surprise came with ripping a fairly narrow 30" long workpiece down the middle. This I had clamped over the gap between two 7’long 5" high torsion boxes, sitting on on a solid surface. I sawed with the toe pointing down about 20 degrees. With the cut started right that saw seemed to find the line all by itself with every stroke! The deep blade allowed fast, efficient working strokes without digging into the solid surface just 5" below, nor any interference from the back. Once again with smooth edges all round and very little cleanup required afterwards. Unconventional use of a backsaw, I know and I do have the proper tools, including a very nice bowsaw with Japanese style blade. But I wanted to see what this saw could do if workholding was a problem and no other saw was at hand. I was not disappointed. Yes, calling it the "jack" of saws might not do justice to its looks and more specialized abilities, but it would not be far out. Me, I think I will just call it my "bad ass saw from Wisconsin". And that would not be far out either. Thank you very much Mark, and every success in your business!

  • Dustin Martin

    I’m falling in line with everyone else. I recently purchased a 16" x-cut saw from Mark. It is a beautiful thing. Like others have said the handle is very comfortable and it cuts fast and straight even in the hands of an inexperienced sawyer like me.

  • Gregg Counts

    I agree with all the comments above. I have a number of saws that Mark has sharpened for me and all cut great. He is an easy guy to work with. But I also have the 18 inch filed rip and the 16 inch file crosscut and they are indeed beautiful and a pleasure to use. I highly recommend his saws if you are looking to buy a first class saw and his sharpening services if you need one sharpened.

  • Michael Redmond

    Hi All,
    I took delivery of both Rip and Crosscut saws from Mark and the first thing that takes the eye is the quality of the workmanship that has gone into these saws, the handles fit perfectly and are really comfortable to hold. The service from Mark was first class and I look forward to him expanding his range, a man can’t have too many saws in his kit.
    Michael Redmond in the UK.

  • Jonathan Hartford

    Sexy and Foolproof I get, but Holiday?

  • Ross Graham

    I just wanted to reinforce Chris’s review of Mark’s Bad Axe saws. I sent Mark an old saw that I rescued to be sharpened and while it was there being rejuvenated I decided to buy one of his 18” rip saws. They arrived while I was out of town and one of the first things that I did when I got back today was try them out. Wow! My Disston saw is performing like a champ, good for another 50+ years! When I picked up the 18” rip saw my first impression was that it was a little heavy but when I started useing it, I could not believe how well balanced (well is not the right word – how perfectly is a better description) it was, how effortless it was to use and how well it tracked. I am really not a hand saw person and I bought the saw because I wanted to do more hand tool work. Using it today has convinced me that this is the way to go. I am not sure about the sexy part – I asked my wife and she just rolled her eyes – guess it is a gender thing. The one thing that Chris did not mention is how helpful Mark is – I had a number of email exchanges with him concerning my old Disston, retired military life and what saw I should buy. I am not sure how Mark is able to do this (I assume he “talks” to everyone) and still get out such a fantastic product. Hopefully he will expand his line of saws I will be one of the first to sign up.

  • Paul Davis

    Well, the above lusty prose and heavy-breathing saw photos, following closely on the November Popular Woodworking centerfold, have induced me to order the 18" Bad Axe saw to go with the 16" Mark made me a little while ago. Chris Schwarz has a gift–and when mated with Mark Harrell’s gift, I’m just weak at the knees.

    Here comes the three-year waiting list.

  • Mark Harrell

    Wow! Thanks to all making these great comments! To give credit where it’s due, I had lots of good mentorship from some truly great guys this past year while designing and tweaking the Bad Axe saw line: Marv Werner, Leif Hanson, Tom Fidgen, Erik von Sneidern, Pete Taran and Mike Wenzloff–and of course, my existing base of TechnoPrimitives clients who helped me build my business when I got back from Afghanistan, retired from the Army, and turned what was once a crack-cocaine addiction of a hobby into a viable business. None of this would have been possible without their collective advise and help, and thanks to Chris for being willing to review the end product. Cheers ~ Mark

  • David

    Ironically just this morning I used Mark’s 18" 9ppi saw to cut the dovetails on a set of drawers. I wanted to see how it would work and all things considering, it was pretty damn good. It’s a great saw and I look forward to expanding my collection.


  • Bruce Jackson

    Actually, Shannon, to overstate, all historical eras end up as big mistakes. Anyway, before I turn this into a major screed against corporations …. and I assume now that folks out there will complete my thoughts in their own way. Suffice to say, Shannon, I’m not flaming you, I’m just another candle out there already lit. Now go ye and light up other candles, one by one, because that’s what it’s going to take, brother.

    Amen to Chris for his words of wisdom …

  • Shannon

    Unfortunately, I don’t think North America makes funny TV shows anymore either because most of the funny stuff is just a re-hashed version of British TV. That’s ok, I still laugh.

    I worked with Mark’s saws at the Olympics in St. Charles and I have never cut a better tenon. I was tempted but resisted. I cut an even better tenon in Valley Forge and just couldn’t resist any longer. My saw is in production at Bad Axe right now and I hope I don’t pass out from holding my breath waiting for it to arrive.

  • Bill Dalton

    I just had a Disston 70 reworked by Mark and have to admit it was more that worth the price. The saw works great! I know I bugged Chris and Mark before having the work done and want to say thanks for your patience guys. Now back to the shop to finish that small blanket chest.

  • Michael Dyer

    Good for you for giving Mark’s saws such a great write up! The great makers need all the support and encouragement we can give them. How else would we find great tools when they are needed?

  • Michael Dyer

    Hi Chris,
    Based on one of your earlier recommendations, I have one of Mark’s older refurbished saws, and it cuts like a dream as well. Mark is a nice guy and really does care that you get the saw that you need – he questioned me at length before recommending the saw that I purchased, and it was in fact just what I needed.
    Mike D

  • ditto, ditto and finally, ditto…

    I have the 16" x-cut and 18" rip but I find the 16" x-cut can rip as well or better than most of my other ‘dedicated’ rip back saws…??
    Mark talks some about this on his Techno site, the filing and the set…(it’s all Greek to me- all I know is it just feels great and works even better)
    The Bad Axe x-cut is definetly a saw any woodworker should consider…it excels at both cross cutting and can handle most joinery-ripping cuts…for this reason I’ve nick-named it the ‘Jack Saw’
    Wondering Chris, if you’ve experimented with this double duty saw feature or am I mad?
    keep well.

  • David Gendron

    Chris, great write up on great saws! I have both rip and xc in the 18" and a disston #7 rip saw reworked by Mark and he is the best… In my book anyway!
    Thank you for a great review!

  • Shannon Brown

    First a little levity. I’m not offended by the word "sexy" I’m just confused by it. Sorry dude, but I just can’t get that worked up over a tool (uninential double entendra there). Miss October, sexy, back saw, huh?

    As for thesecond part, I agree. I know I’m really opening myself up for some major flameing here, but in a lot of ways, I think the industrial revolution was a mistake. Too much power was put into the hands of too few people and we’ve come to rely on major corporations too much.

  • Geoff Brandenburg

    I own one of Mark’s 16" rip saws, and I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said, Chris.

    For years I have been into another sexy woodworking art form: custom made guitars. I own several custom made Strats, Teles and acoustics – modern Stradivarius level instruments.

    Mark’s saw is on an even par with those masterpieces. There is so much great design and finely tuned performance in this saw that I am often compelled to sit and just look it sitting on my bench, a complete and perfect creation.

    As an American, I am so glad to be able to support great craftsmen like Mark who are keeping a venerable art form more than alive: he has set a new standard.

  • Tom Iovino

    I used those during the hand tool olympics… WOW… they are definitely a cut above everything else I’ve used.. .sweet saws! One day… One day…

  • Christopher Schwarz

    The 16" saw I have has 11 points per inch, a stainless steel back and is filed for crosscut. It is remarkably smooth and swift. The 18" saw has 10 points per inch and a rip tooth. It also was quick, which is a good thing with a tenon saw.


  • Josh

    Do you have both saws (16" and 18")? What filing do you have on which saw? Inquiring minds want to know.

    I have the 16" filed rip and the 18" filed x-cut. Love them both.

    A big hearty Amen for this sermon.


  • Chris

    Amen, brother.


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