In Shop Blog, Techniques, Tools

We may receive a commission when you use our affiliate links. However, this does not impact our recommendations.

A couple weeks ago a friend in Chicago sent me a new Western backsaw (nice gift!) that he picked up for a couple dollars. It was shiny and factory-fresh with a beech handle and a clean etch.

It also reminded me of why I switched to Japanese saws 16 years ago.

Though this saw had never been used, it is at least 20 years old. And as a result, it is poorly sharpened, ill-set, and a few minutes of holding the tote felt like hanging from the monkey bars for an hour with four country hams draped around my wrists. Really. Just like that.

It is no surprise that the Japanese completely took over the backsaw market with their inexpensive, super-sharp and well-tuned dozukis.

What is surprising is that Western saws are roaring back. This week Mark Harrell from loaned me two of the Bad Axe saws he is now making for sale. Mark has been sharpening and refurbishing saws for some time now, so he’s got the sharpening down.

I took the Bad Axe crosscut backsaw and pitted it against the new-old saw. I took exactly 10 strokes with each saw in a piece of red oak (the other milkweed). The new-old saw made it almost 3/4″ into the material. The Bad Axe plunged 2-1/8″ in.

What is even more amazing about these Bad Axe saws is how Mark has taken the fit and finish to an insane level. The etch on the blade is finer and more detailed than anything I’ve ever seen. It looks like a fine old engraving that is sharp no matter how close you get.

There’s a custom medallion, a choice of folded backs (stainless or blacksmith-blued steel). And the cherry totes are …¦ well you get the idea.

I’m going to write a full review of these saws when I return from our Woodworking in America conference in St. Charles, Ill. In the meantime, take a look at the Technoprimitives site and the specifications Mark has posted there.

– Christopher Schwarz

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.

Recommended Posts
Showing 7 comments
  • Paul Davis

    I hesitated to comment here, because I am not any kind of saw expert. What I am is a very happy customer of Mark Harrell. I received one of his Bad Axe 16" rip saws a couple of weeks ago, having begun our working/corresponding relationship over the rehab of my great-great-grandfather’s carcass saw last spring. He took that 140-year-old saw from a bottom-of-the-tool box mess right back to user status (although I discovered that my ancestors had small hands :)).

    That resurrection led to my purchase of a Disston 4-12 filed crosscut that Mark had found and rehabbed, and that I now use most. That handle fits me just right, and somehow seems to have absorbed the competence and care of its previous owners. It’s a tool that makes me feel better every time I pick it up. Of course, it’s sharp and straight and works just right, too.

    The Bad Axe is like that perfectly tuned Disston, but even better. The handle fits me the same, but is made of nice cherry instead of apple. It’s me that’s going to age this cherry to a deep brown–and I hope grow into it, skill-wise. Even without a skilled operator, this saw cuts straight and fast. The toe and heel are filed with less rake to make it start easier and resist binding at the end of the cut. It excites me that I discovered this while sawing, without being told to expect it. All I knew was that I was starting the saw without a catch (unlike my previous experience) and then cutting deeply in just a few strokes.

    To sum it up: Mark’s saws make me happy.

  • David Jadeski

    The postman delivered one of the 16" saws with 11 ppi filed rip – in a word it is awesome. I very much like the heft of it, I think the more robust feel suits me more than a very lightweight saw. It is far from heavy but has a very solid feel. The bluing is also a nice touch. The handle also suites the size of my hands well – I like the size, the finish and the hang. Overall the saw is much more impressive then the photos on the site indicate.

    The cut is very quick, but also clean at the same time with a smaller kerf then my other tennon saw – very very well done.

    You can definitely put me down as a very happy customer!

  • Chris Zeigler

    I just got the 16" 11ppi rip saw from Bad Axe. I am amazed by how well it cuts. It is fast and smooth, I believe it will take my sawing to a whole new level. Do yourself a favor and get one of these. I am excited to see what else Mark has up his sleeve.

  • Darin Darr

    Mark has been sharpening my handsaws, so it didn’t take much persuasion to buy one of his 18" backsaws in 10 ppi rip. I got it a couple of weeks ago and it is a great saw. My standard operating procedure is to take a new saw into the shop and make featherboards until I have the saw figured out. That took less than 10 cuts before I was burying the saw up to the back and splitting the line. I have never gotten that good, that fast with any other saw. My hands are on the large side and the handle really works for me. As far as being sharp, Mark Harrell is a master at sharpening any saw. I don’t work for him, but he did bribe me with a new coffee cup.

    Darin Darr

  • Brian Hayner

    I can’t agree more with Chris, Gregg and Geoff. My purchase was of the el grande 18" backsaw filed rip mainly for the weight and longer stroke for cutting tenons. The saw arrived impeccably packaged down to the wooden blade guard. Nice touch. Looking very handsome in a workers way if I can say that. Shiny new but not with all the fluff and flash that several of the boutique saws on the market today have. My saw has the blacksmith blued back that just looks tough. The rubbed cherry handle has a great look and better feel to it. When you hold the saw, it makes you want to cut something with it, not appreciate the swirl of the grain in the tote. This is THE workers saw. No disrespect intended to the other makers of quality handsaws on the market today, but Mark has built his saws to work. Period. The fact that they look great in a Spartan kind of way is a bonus. Mark knows sharp. Couple that with the design, weight, and balance that his saws have and you can’t be disappointed with his product. There needed to be an adjustment in the saw till of my tool chest when his saw arrived. Another premium brand got it’s walking papers. If you’re in the market for a new backsaw, you owe it to yourself to give Mark a call. It’s really just that good a saw at a very reasonable price. I’m not an employee, just a VERY satisfied customer.

  • Geoff Brandenburg

    I bought one of Mark’s saws, a 16" with 11 ppi rip, and couldn’t be happier. Everything about his saws is first class, and they cut like a dream. I saw that Mark plans on releasing a 14" saw this fall, and already have reserved one of those.

    My only comparison are my Lie-Nielsens, and they are of course great saws, but Mark has something different going on that makes for one exceptional saw.


  • Gregg

    I have one of these, an 18 inch with 11ppi filed rip. I agree the fit and finish on these saws is over the top but they also cut great! I have several Disston’s that Mark sharpened for me but the Bad Axe has them beat.

Start typing and press Enter to search