In the past few years, we’ve had a return of the craftsman toolmaker of old. These small-shop artisans produce innovative top-quality hand tools, often to custom specifications, that are more than a match for anything made during the “golden age” of hand tools.
One of these is Bad Axe Tool Works of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Run by Mark Harrell, they produce one of the finest lines of backsaws available today. Mark has eight basic models, which can each be customized with a dizzying array of tooth filings, saw nuts and backs, and handle styles and woods. In addition, he makes bench hooks and a pretty nice coffee cup. However, no T-shirts yet. Mark is a wizard at saw sharpening. I’ve never had another saw cut like his, and I’ve accused him of using magic saw files that he stole from the fairies – something which he will neither confirm nor deny.
A sure indicator of popularity is the length of his waiting list which, in my case, was almost three months. Hey, good tools take time.
In addition to absolute top-quality saws, the other hallmark of Bad Axe is the incredible customer service. Mark is definitely one of the most personable people with whom I’ve corresponded, and his service is second-to-none. The following story (you knew I had one) is an excellent example.
A few weeks back, I received my long-awaited Wyatt Earp model hybrid dovetail saw with the optional open mesquite handle. As you can see, it’s quite a looker, and is an absolutely fantastic cutter as well. It felt a bit odd in my hand, but I was pressed for time and couldn’t give it a full run-through right then. Rather, I put it in its prepared place on the wall until later.
In a couple of weeks, things slowed down to the point where I could give it a real test-drive. Sure enough, my initial impression was confirmed – the handle didn’t fit me. As you can see above, the lower horn presses into the side of my palm, rather than wrapping around it as it should. There was no question that this wasn’t going to work for me. Drat.
I sent Mark an email at about 2:00 on a SUNDAY afternoon, not really expecting a response until the next day. I actually received a reply within 30 minutes, and we exchanged 10 emails over the course of the afternoon working on the problem. As you can see from the above photo, the span of my hand on the grip line is about 4 1/8″. Mark informed me that the average was 3 3/4″ for most men, and that his open-style handles would invariably be too small for me. However, the closed-handle version should work just fine, and he would be glad to build me one with this grip. Did I mention that this all took place on SUNDAY AFTERNOON?
I mailed the Wyatt Earp back to him on Tuesday, and received an email Thursday telling me that the new saw was on its way! By Monday it was back in my hands and ready for a test drive. The black pearl nickel-plated back remained, as did the 14 ppi rip filing, but the open mesquite Disston-pattern handle had been replaced with a closed Wheeler-pattern in cherry (Mark doesn’t have the Wheeler in mesquite).
It was a case of love at first grip. In the photo above, there seems to be a gap between the lower horn and my hand, but that’s caused by the way I’m having to grip the saw for the photo. In sawing position, the lower horn nestles comfortably against the bottom of my palm, providing a perfect sawing position.
Those of you interested in ordering a saw from Bad Axe might want to consider this cautionary tale before ordering. Measure your hand and, if you’re unsure, shoot Mark an email. He’ll be delighted to help you custom build your saw. It might take longer than 30 minutes, but I can assure you that he’ll be prompt, helpful, and entertaining. In addition, I can assure you that any saw you buy from him will be an absolutely outstanding tool, with cutting performance to rival anything made. And believe me, it’ll be well worth the wait.
Still looking for those T-shirts, Mark.