Sharpening in the “Bad Axe” Style

Anyone that truly works with hand tools knows the value in having sharp tools. Sharp tools minimises muscle fatigue and accidents that arise from frustration by unnecessarily over exerting yourself to get the work done. Handsaws are no different to planes, chisels, or any other hand tool. A mediocre sharpened saw works well, but super sharp saws like the ones from “Bad Axe” perform better than more modern manufactured saws. Admittedly, I have never tried a “Bad Axe” saw because I live in Australia, but I have read so many articles about its superiority and cutting speed that I have only imagined how fast it actually cuts until now. I have wished to pick Mark’s brain on what rake and fleam he uses that makes his saws so superior to the way other sawyers have sharpened their saws.

Today I found an old in FWW article on how to sharpen a saw on Mark’s website. I anxiously downloaded the article and read it slowly and carefully, making sure not to miss anything. When I finished, I was a little confused. I didn’t find any rake and fleam that he favours. In fact, it says to stick with the angle determined by the manufacturer. The only thing I got from the article was the stroke method he used. Medium, heavy, then a light finishing stroke he say’s. Making sure every tooth is of equal height and every gullet of equal depth. That’s it! That’s all he does. I pulled out my saw vice and a spare LN backsaw, which I intend to sell and sharpened it using Mark’s recommendation. Upon completion, I was surprised at how prickly the saw teeth felt. I put it to the test on some scrap pine and it just went through it like butter, then I tried some white oak which he recommended and it too sawed through effortlessly. I then pulled out my other backsaw sharpened by Lie Nielson and tried it sawing white oak with it, and it struggled. I had difficulties pushing it through the wood.. I nearly fell on my arse in awe of Mark’s expert sharpening technique. The rake and fleam I used was the manufacturer’s default of 15°. What I changed was the method of stroke as per Mark’s recommendation. Not only did it saw faster, but there was zero tear out on the back. Go figure that one out. I highly recommend you download this article, read it, and then give it a go. I guarantee you will never look, read or watch another saw sharpening video again.

One last note, use the recommended size files that Mark recommends. You can find other sized files on his website. Bad Axe Saw Sharpening Files by Friedrich Dick ( Take the time to read his articles, I’m sure you’ll agree them to be very informative.

5 thoughts on “Sharpening in the “Bad Axe” Style

  1. Thanks for this — it’s a good article.
    A couple points though — throughout the article, he writes “light, heavy, light” (not “medium”)
    Secondly, there’s no mention of setting the teeth — a step which would come before stoning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had the privilege a few years ago of traveling to Wisconsin to attend a week long course in Mark Harrell’s Bad Axe shop on sharpening. There were about a dozen of us in the course. Imagine – five days straight of sharpening technique. I’ve never worked so hard on anything. Mark is a genius and a wonderful fellow on top of that. Among the techniques was filing to remove the “flat”, the flat being obtained from the jointing of the saw with a flat file. Mark would inspect my work and say, “Do it over, I see the flat.” Off I would go to joint the saw over and file until I saw no flat and hoped Mark would see no flat. I still dream of Mark inspecting my work wondering if I filed away all of the flats. I use the saws that I sharpened in Mark’s shop. Hardly a day goes by without me thinking of those training days with Mark as I reach for my Bad Axe saws.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a wonderful story. It’s so important nowadays to know how to sharpen your own saws, even better there would be multiple saw sharpeners starting their own business. Back in the day not everybody knew how to sharpen their own saws as there were a multitude of saw sharpeners available to them. Now it’s crucial.


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