In Shop Blog, Techniques, Tools

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Mark Harrell at Bad Axe Tool Works has always taken a different path than other modern sawmakers. Instead of imitating the look of classic British saws, Harrell has always favored American styles, with their steel backs and distinct tote profile. And he launched his sawmaking business by making the biggest backsaws first , most sawmakers have started by introducing a dovetail saw.

This summer Harrell has introduced two new backsaws that are going to make your buying decisions far more difficult. We still have a bunch of carcase saws here from our recent review of the category and spent a morning evaluating where these saws fit in the very competitive carcase saw category.

About the Saws
I’m going to call these new Bad Axe saws “carcase” saws, though Harrell calls the big one a “sash/tenon saw” and the small one a “carcase/sash.” The saws from Bad Axe don’t really fit into any one distinct category, according to Charles Holtzapffel’s seminal chart. But the Bad Axe saws we tested are filed for crosscut and are 12″ to 14″ long. So they will likely be used for carcase work. At least in my shop they would. Whew, explanation over.

I’m not a nationalist, but one thing I really like about the Bad Axe saws is their unapologetic American-ness. Before I started selling drugs in school zones and could afford fancy new saws, my favorite saw was a Wheeler, Madden & Clemson carcase saw. I like everything about the saw, from the way it looks to the way it hangs. And the Bad Axe tools are like that.

In fact, Harrell has taken this one step further by making the back available in gunsmith-blued steel or in stainless steel (for a small upcharge). You also have eight different options for your sawnuts, from traditional split nuts in brass to stainless slotted nuts, blued nuts and more.

For this fact alone, Harrell deserves a high-five. Though I like the way brass split-nuts look, I have munged far too many of them over the years as I tightened my nuts each season (this blog post will never make it through a parental dirty-word filter).

Offering steel nuts , slotted or split , is a great move in my book. Earlier this year a machinist made some stainless split nuts for my backsaws and I could not be happier. I am mung-free.

So they look good and feel good in your hand, but how do they cut? Dang fast.

I brought the entire staff into the shop one morning to work with all of the carcase saws we had sitting around. We all have different preferences, especially where the tote is concerned. But one thing was clear from our testing: the Bad Axe saws blazed through the material. They weren’t as smooth as the Gramercy, which cuts like silk. But they went toe-to-toe with the other fast saws, such as the Adria and the Medallion. And the Bad Axe saws left an acceptably smooth surface behind.

“That saw,” Megan said, “is a monster.”

Of course, a major reason the Bad Axe saws are so fast is because of their materials and teeth. The small Bad Axe we used is 13 ppi, 12″ long with a .025″-thick sawplate. The larger Bad Axe is 12 ppi, 14″ long with a .025″-thick sawplate. So these two saws are coarser and use a thicker sawplate than any of the other carcase saws we own, which are 14 ppi or 15 ppi.

The Bad Axe saws left a bigger kerf behind than the other saws, mostly due to the thickness of the sawplate. Sawplate thickness is a matter of taste. Some sawyers prefer thinner saws with a thinner kerf, which are easier to push. Others prefer thicker saws with a wider kerf, which are less likely to kink. It’s your call.

Bottom line: These saws are worth serious consideration; and they should be at the top of your list if overall durability is an issue. The thicker sawplate and the steel nuts (get the steel nuts) means you are less likely to cam out your nuts or kink your plate. You also can order these saws with a variety of filings. The 14″ saw filed rip would make a nice small tenon saw.

We’re happy to hang these saws up on the pegs above our benches and look forward to the Harrell’s next batch of saws.

– Christopher Schwarz

Like Saws? Want to Know More? Check these Links

– The Norse Woodsmith site is one of my favorite saw sites. Learn to make and sharpen your own saws.

– Pete Taran’s is a great place to learn about saws, how to restore them and how to sharpen them. Taran also sells refurbished vintage saws and sharpening equipment.

– When you start combing the then you are official a saw geek. Learn about every saw that Disston made for woodworkers. An awesome and deep site.

– If you want to get started in sawing, I recommend our “Handtool Essentials” book, which features great articles from all of our contributors about all aspects of hand craft. Heck, that sucker is on sale right now for $15.

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

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Showing 25 comments
  • John Williams

    I just received my set of bench hooks from Mark Harrell at Bad Axe tool works. When possible, I try to make my own shop apparatus. But, time has been thin lately and I needed them. These bench hooks are superb! In addition to being well thought out and constructed, one look revealed that a one-time making of a similar set in my shop would have taken quite a bit of time. At this price, they are an excellent value.

  • Stephen Melhuish

    I’m a UK woodworker re-kitting my new shop with hand tools that wouldn’t let me down, after reading various reviews and especially those found on Tom Fidgens site I decided to give one of Mark’s carcase saws a spin. I’ve gone for a 12" at 14ppi with a Walnut handle, stainless steel back and brass slotted nut fasteners.

    After taking it through it’s test run on Oak, Sycamore and Ash I can tell you I was more than pleased, easy action, no snagging, smooth finish and it just whispers through all of these wood species with such ease that I wish i hadn’t waited as long as i had before placing my initial order. I’ll be going for another saw with Mark at some time in the future for sure….Just brilliant, the best saw I have.

  • I’ve been living in Japan since 1992, and it’s been almost that long since I’ve used a Western-type saw. Tom Fidgen’s recommendation inspired me to buy a 14 inch Sash/Tenon from Mark. It arrived a day ago, and I spent a pleasant morning in the shop giving it a test drive. (Oh, yeah, pushing! I remember!) The saw is a thing of beauty, that’s the first thing that needs to be said. But the real beauty is the way it cuts. The saw is 12ppi cross, but I tried it out in every direction I could with hardwoods and softwoods from my scrap bin. I’ve never seen a better finish from any saw, Japanese or otherwise. And it just wants to go. Point it in the right direction and get out of its way. Looks like Mark is going to get a lot of my money.

  • Michael Zilis

    My experience with Mark’s saws has been great. I’ve got a pair of the 16" back saws. One filed rip and the other xcut. I took advantage of the the hardware and handle options. One saw has the stainless steel back and nuts with a cherry handle. The other has a blued back and nuts with walnut handle. Mark is not just a Craftsman, he is an artist. The fit and finish of these saws are perfect and their performance are nothing short of amazing. I feel blessed to have a pair of these handmade saws in my tool chest.

    Mike Zilis

  • djenadi.karim

    I’m french, living in Tahiti in the south pacific. I own two saws from Mark, for some months now, and try to have them to work as often as possible, though I’m not "an only handtools" man. these are the large tenon saw filed for ripcuts, and the smaller 16 inch filed crosscut. the contact with Mark was friendly, and the man showed interest in my work before taking the order. the waiting time was just like stated ( a bit shorter though). the tools are made and set at a very high level of craftsmanship,the finishing is just perfect. the larger saw is very easy to use inspite of it’s uncommon size. you just have to keep concentrated on the line, the extra weight does the job perfectly. the cuts are smooth and accurate. I’m completely satisfied with those, and anyone who wants to get a very nice and accurate tool from a real gentleman should consider Mark’s offer.

  • John

    I’m an Englishman in Melbourne, Australia and I’ve lately taken delivery of one of Mark’s 16” beauties, and I have to say – that is one tool made for working.

    I just finished a job building a heap of strange 3D panels in torsion for my local climbing gym and decided to use the Bad Axe for all the framing cuts since it cuts so fast and so straight.. It is awesome – I didn’t even plug in the chop saw… Next projects are the roubo workbench and some big mortise and tenons for a massive dining table.

    Thanks Mark – that really is the most versatile saw in my shop – I’m almost afraid to sharpen it myself!

  • Terry W

    Your review would have been just fine without the offensive joke about selling drugs in school zones to afford saws!

  • I recently purchased a 16" ‘Jack’ saw from Bad Axe Tool Works and it’s been a revelation for me. What a great saw! Who could have thought that cutting wood could be so much fun? The saw I received is beautifully made in both design and construction and the cut is true, quick and clean. This isn’t any kind of boutique tool but rather a real workhorse. I just received the bench hooks from Mark as well which are crafted with the same care as his other work. I recommend Bad Axe very highly. It’s also a pleasure to have direct contact with the guy that’s building tools for you. I’ve only traded a few emails with Mark but he’s a personable fellow ready to build a saw just the way you want it. What could be better than that?

  • steve hargan

    Just received a 12" x-cut carcase saw from Bad Axe. I already own Mark’s 16" "jack" saw. This carcase saw is unbelievable in how straight, true and fast it cuts – in 8/4 cherry. I love it. But then it’s what I’ve come to expect from Mr. Harrell: excellence. I plan on ordering the 12" rip later this month.

    On top of the great products he produces, he’s a true professional and a pleasure to deal with.

  • Gary Miller

    Used Mark’s 16" backsaw to cut all the big tenons on my Roubo clone. Cut straight and fast on both rips and crosscuts. Excellent saw.

  • Frank D

    I too feel that tools are extentions of our souls. Without them we are nothing but mere mortals looking for an unGoldy truth in our being. The next time you grab your favorite hand tool, look at it and say Thank You for bringing me into enlightment!

  • When my daughter gave the 16" "Jack Saw" I was almost speechless.
    The quality and look and feel and really everything about the saw is incredible.
    Nowadays, unfortunately, one has to search for this level of craftsmanship and quality.
    I must confess that the saw intimidated me at first.
    I was not used to the size and feel and it looked so good I was reluctant to use it on a piece of wood.
    That would have been far too disrespectful.
    It took a few cuts to get the right feel and suddenly I was off and away.
    The saw is very easy to start and the cut is very smooth.
    I can’t really describe how it feels using this tool (that almost sounds derogatory, calling it a tool)
    I read one of your customer reviews and someone mentioned the saw having soul.
    I can’t do better than that.
    Thank you very much.
    My almost completed workbench thanks you too.

  • Tim Williams

    I received my 14" sash/tenon saw this morning. Mark filed it to some hybrid combination cross/rip something or another. (he tried to explain it to me, but was speaking some "fleam" language I didn’t understand.) A well made saw that seems to excel at any sawing operation. OH yeah, mine has a walnut handle, blued back, and I now wish I had gotten the, here goes, blue nuts!

  • Mark Harrell

    Kevin–panel and handsaws are coming out in 2011, buddy. In the meantime, come to WIA this Oct and get one of my nutty Bad Axe t-shirts.

  • Hey Mark, how about a 24-26" handsaw and rip saw…any thoughts for those down the road? I’ll gladly be a tester…lol! Thanks for the great work, keep it up. Forget the bench hook, think I need some fuzzy dice to go with these saws!


  • Geoff Brandenburg

    Thanks for posting the video comparing the cuts. I bought Mark’s 14" xcut a few months ago to replace my Lie-Nielsen 12" tenon saw, and I am very happy with it. The Lie-Nielsen has a .032 thick sawplate and that is too big a kerf for me. I find the 14′ Bad Axe xcut at .025 to be perfect for my taste in saws.

    I love how it handles and cuts (does a nice job with ripping too), and is easily the most versatile saw I own.

  • Chris Mote

    I have 3 of Marks saws: Both 18 and 12 as rip and 16 as cross. Unfortunately these saws have created a addiction, so the Beast Master is on the way. Exceptional saws with either the Darth Vader look or the original Cherry. Easy on the hands tough on wood.

  • Mark Harrell

    LOL–Kevin’s right, Glenn, the Darth Vader look rocks. Hot-blued split or slotted nuts on walnut with a blued back–definitely dark and macho. Right now, I have a series of different fastener/wood species graphics on my saw product pages that reflect a variety of combinations, until I can put something a little more dynamic up.

    At any rate, saw bling only goes so far–always helpful to know what kind of projects and wood species/typical dimensions you want to cut, so I can recommend a good ppi with associated fleam and rake. Just give me a shout at

    Kevin–the dovetail saw ill be available in two sizes for a Fall release, hopefully by WIA.

    Cheers! ~ Mark

  • David Williams

    I’d love to know how Wenzloff saws compare. Were they in the test?

  • Well, I have 3 of Mark’s saws so far…carcase xc, 16" xc, and 18" "beastmaster" rip…and with a rip sash on its way. Mine are walnut with all blued…Mark refers to them as the "Darth Vader" line-up! Just awesome saws and can’t recommend them enough. Can’t wait until his soon-to-be-released dovetail hits and then I’ve been bugging him about some real manly saws…24-26" xc and rip saws…what do you say, Mark?


  • Glenn Whitener


    Good catch. I didn’t want to admit it, but yes, I am one of those kinds, and look forward to plonking down some hard cash for said nuts. That’s some beautiful stuff you have going on.

    Will you update your website to have one of those features that shows how a saw will look with the chosen options? How about factory tours?

    Keep up the great work.

  • Fred West

    I have two of Mark’s saws and I find them very easy to start and they hold a line with great ease. The first saw that I bought from Mark was the 14 inch Sash saw filed rip with 12 ppi. I greatly enjoyed this saw and like Chris mentioned the thicker plate just made it feel a little easier holding the line. However, the reason I am writing this is because I plan on building a Roubo bench and Mark had a new saw he called the Beastmaster. In every respect of that word it is a beast. It has just over five inches under the hardback, It weighs in at just over 2 lbs but the balance keeps it from feeling ungainly. I glued up a 5×5 inch in white oak and cut the Roubo dovetail and tenon and was able to cut the full depth. When I build my bench I will be using this saw for it’s ease of use, speed and depth.


  • Zach

    It’s like Starbucks! I’ll have a 14", 12 ppi, steelback, walnut, blued split. Beautiful saws!

  • Mark Harrell

    Glenn–you also have the opportunity to split your blued nuts.

  • Glenn Whitener

    "You also have eight different options for your sawnuts, from traditional split nuts in brass to stainless slotted nuts, blued nuts and more."

    It’s hard for me to imagine that (male) woodworkers would lay out cash for blued nuts, but hey, it takes all kinds.

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