Mark Harrell: Woodworking in America 2015
In woodworking, “cutting-edge technology” doesn’t necessarily mean the latest bright new thing. In fact, vintage technology often is our literal cutting edge. At Woodworking in America 2015 (Sept. 25-27 in Kansas City, Mo.), Mark Harrell – founder of Bad Axe Tool Works – will help you learn when a vintage handsaw is worth saving – and how to bring it back to life.
In “Demystifying the Traditional Backsaw,” Mark will teach you how to identify good candidates for restoration, then lead you through the process from disassembly, cleaning, handle work, reassembly and retensioning to truing up and sharpening. Plus, Mark shares the “continuum of a toothline,” to help you learn what saw gets sharpened how, and why.
But for years, if you said the word “saw” to Mark’s coworkers, they most likely understood the term to mean “SAW” – for the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.
Before Mark founded Bad Axe, he was Col. Mark Harrell, with 28 years in the U.S. Army, 10 of which were spent in Special Forces. Anyone who spends time in the Army finds the experience transformative, usually for the best. In Mark’s case, his SF experience forms the core of the work culture at Bad Axe.
“In that culture, excellence in anything you do is never optional. The peer pressure on an ‘A’ team to excel at all times is relentless, and thoroughly ingrained in the culture,” Mark said. “This ethos carries over into how we at Bad Axe make saws, how we train our employees, how we take care of them, and how we operate as a team and company.”
Mark’s goal when he founded Bad Axe was to stick to time-proven techniques for making precision saws, and improve only on the cosmetics. The cosmetics, however, are the easy part, he said.
“The hard part is hammer-setting a toothline, sharpening the toothline to joint, and squaring up all parts into proper true. This is where the real craft comes in,” Mark said.
When Mark says that Bad Axe uses “time-proven techniques,” he’s not kidding – some of the hammer saw-sets in the company shop date back to the 1870s. Most of the saws his company produces are based on designs from the late 19th Century, but two saws (the 12” Stiletto dovetail saw, and the 12” hybrid dovetail/small-tenon saw) are of Mark’s own design.
“I believe Henry Disston himself would have approved,” Mark said.
In the military, especially on a Special Forces team that may be far from any support, teamwork is an absolute essential. Mark credits his employees as one of the core strengths of his company.
“We employ military veterans who get it and adhere to the daily ethos of excellence in all things,” Mark said. “We are all woodworkers too, and know what it’s like to take delivery on a tool that fails to live up to its promise, or is poorly packaged.”
Mark said he is especially looking forward to putting faces to the names of some his customers while at WIA and getting to know them. “It’s all about the customers.”
What advice does Mark have for other woodworkers?
“Have faith in their own innate ability, rather than taking online/published ‘solutions’ so damned seriously,” he said. “Experience truly is the best teacher.”