Bad Axe Tool Works 12" Dovetail Saw, aka 'Stiletto': $245
(Delivery: 5-7 weeks)

Build Your Saw:
Type Filing
Desired Pitch
Plate Gauge
Sawback Preference
Handle Species
Hand Size (how to measure)
Preferred Fasteners
Make Deposit

docColt41The symbolic fighting knife for Special Operations Forces worldwide is the stiletto
--such as the WWII-era V-42 below, adopted by the joint US/Canadian 1st Special Service Force, aka 'The Devils Brigade.' The V-42 was the quintessential combat knife designed for thrusting, its length and stiffness capable of penerating even the toughest of barriers, yet light to wield with confidence and very comfortable to hold, melting into the palm of your hand with surety and purpose.

Likewise, the new Bad Axe 12" dedicated dovetail saw--our very own Stiletto for serious dovetailing requirements--will likely be the last dovetail saw you'll ever own. The additional two inches of throw, light weight, exquisite balance and results-oriented action will give you the kind of accuracy you want with unmatched precision. And because we size our handles, the Stiletto WILL fit your hand.

stiletto"I already own a dovetail saw--why would I want this one?"

Because you've never tried a 12" dedicated dovetail saw before, have you? You're going to love the way a longer toothline in a lighter, yet longer saw makes for a far more accurate cut with fewer chances of dithering off course—not to mention the biofeedback you get with that horsefly buzz running up your arm as the hammer-set toothline bites into the wood like a serrated razor. Put a Stiletto in your arsenal, and find out how easy it is to gang-cut dovetails up to 8/4 combined thickness, craft sliding dovetails, or simply minimizing your cut to just 3-4 strokes on 3/4 stock--you can even rip smaller tenon cheeks in thin stock. the Stiletto is in short a highly efficient tool that promotesng accuracy and efficiency with long-rifle precison.

Design Rationale:

  • Bottom line up front: We designed an open-handled, thin (.018) plate dovetail saw 12" long with just enough real estate below the back to facilitate longer, more precise dovetail cuts with fewer strokes to promote accuracy and efficiency with long rifle precision. .
  • Traditional 1876 Wheeler-pattern open handle, available in standard quartersawn hickory, or optional cherry, walnut, & maple. Five sizes--from XS up to XL will fit virtually any hand. Read more about how we make and finish our handles.
  • Traditional folded sawback finished in gunsmith-blued black-oxided carbon steel, or optional bright nickel-plated and copper-plated steel. Read more about this critical component for any backsaw, and why Bad Axe promotes the enduring traditional folded sawback over commonplace static-backed saws that that disallow retensioning the toothline with heavy use.
  • Fasteners available in standard brass or optional black-oxided, niter-blued, bright nickel-plated, or copper-plated steel.
  • Plate Thickness, Length and Depth: 1 3/4" under the back at the heel, canting to 1 5/8" at the toe for the .018 plate. The .015 plate cants from 1.5/8" to 1 1/2". The shallower, longer 12" plate for both thicknesses enhance rigidity while at the same time spreading cut friction along a longer path, greatly reducing plate distortion due to heat buildup in thin plates.
  • Swedish Spring Steel .018 or .015 sawplates are hammer-set & sharpened at 15 and 16 ppi respectively. Read more about how Bad Axe's hammer-setting technique and obsessive dedication to sharpening excellence here.
  • Innovative Design:My good friend and acclaimed Canadian unplugged woodworker Tom Fidgen and I have kicked around the notion of a longer dovetail saw for the past several years—toma subject that never failed to populate the blizzard of emails we’veexchanged when discussing accuracy of cut and why on Earth to begin with dovetail saws have historically always been so danged. short. Sub-par. Limited! The more I thought about these discussions, the more I realized that longer is better. It’s why a long rifle shoots more accurately than a carbine, for instance. The extra rifling a longer rifle barrel  spins the round it discharges is akin to how Aaron Rogers’ longer reach wallops an accurately-thrown ball deep, deep, deep into Viking territory. Now for some of the more practical details.
  • And then there's the Stiletto's phenominal cutting action. . . . About the closest thing I can equate the action to is when I bought Ford’s redesigned F150 with the ecoboost engine a few years ago. They’d just come out on the market, and I was toodling around the local country roads getting used to a truck significantly larger than the Toyota Tacoma I’d been driving for the previous decade—and it was time to pass the slowpoke ahead of me. I had just pressed the pedal toward the floor—wasn’t even halfway there—and felt my head snap back against the headrest, my eyes getting wide, and Yvonne yelling ‘Slow down!!!’
So apart from Mark's hyperbole. . . .

"Okay—the Stiletto is not really a fast truck with a turbo-charged V6, but it does have the kind of smooth, positive action I like most in a well-tuned toothline: fast and precise. We're told often that our saws cut like they’re on rails—you have our dedication to the hammer-set method of setting teeth to thank for that—but think about it: this design presents less metal under the hood in depth, but makes up the heat-sink differential by adding two more inches to the toothline in length. The result? An incredibly rigid plate with extra throw that won’t quail before thicknesses more than a paltry half-inch. Have us file it at 15 ppi rip for the .018-gauge plate and you’ll wonder why anyone ever made a dovetail saw less than 10 inches. Ever. You’ll get the same action with the .015-gauge plate filed 16 ppi, only with an even thinner kerf."

~ Mark's typical summation at the trade shows why longer is better for dovetailing.

Hand Measurement
Sizing Handles: Here's my hand: it measures about 3 3/4" across. That's what I'm calling regular, and it will work with a range from 3 5/8" and start getting tight at 3 7/8." Bigger hands just under 4" up to 4 1/8" spans will require the size Large handle, and 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 will want an Extra Large. Going the opposite direction, if the span of your hand measures in the 3 ¼ up to 3 1/2" range, then we're looking at a size small handle. Smaller hands from 2 7/8 up to 3 1/8 should warrant an XS handle. (return to sizing menu)

"This will be my first dovetail saw, and you present a lot of choices--which configuration do you recommend?" Bottom line up front: I personally lean toward the .018 gauge plate filed 15 ppi rip, followed by choice of wood species, fasteners and sawback finish per your personal taste.

Which plate gauge do I want?

It’s all in the manner of your woodworking style, or how robust your joinery requirements are. If your dovetailing falls primarily between ¼” up to 4/4” thick, then consider the .015-gauge plate filed 16 ppi . . . and balance that choice against your personality as well. If you like taking things a little slow, prefer classical music over rock, and reach for a fine Bordeaux rather than jack and coke, I’d lean toward the .015-gauge plate. Remember--this is a refined plate, only to be used in the refined world of 4/4 and below. More than that, and you're asking too much of a saw with practically no heat sink.

If your stock falls between ¼” up to 6/4”, then you’re better off with the .018-gauge plate filed 15 ppi, a far more flexible and durable plate overall. I personally prefer this gauge, because I like a more robust plate with the way I work wood. And besides--.018-gauge is incredibly thin to begin with. This plate is more akin to a Stevie Ray Vaughan track—aggressive, precise, and a bit on the edge. You want to rock the blues with a shot of tequila, yet reel it back for slow dancing mellowed with Merlot whenever you want—then .018-gauge is for you.

So there you have it: Winston Marsalis vice David Gilmour. Kenny G. vice Stevie Ray Vaughan. You decide.


"Where can I buy my own mesquite--or for that matter, a unique species I'd prefer to supply myself for the handle?"

Finding a reputable lumber dealer can be challenging, particularly when you're looking for a well-figured species that won't let you down. The good people listed below will never steer you wrong--these are companies that Bad Axe has used over the past eight years with consistently reliable results when it comes to sourcing high-quality stock you'll be happy with.

Mesquite Valley Woodcrafts Nave's Sawmill & Woodworks Horizon Wood
(Mesquite & other TX hardwoods) (Mesquite & other TX hardwoods) Any North American Hardwood)

Dimensions Required for shipment of customer-supplied wood to Bad Axe:

  • Length: 8.5" Long with the grain.
  • Width: 6.25" wide.
  • Thickness: can range between 4/4 and 5/4 thick. Do not fall below a full 4/4, given that we mill to a finished thickness of 7/8".
  • Type Cut: Quartersawn stock (mitigates wood movement with seasonal change. Do NOT send flatsawn stock. The only exception to this is mesquite, which has interlocking fibers and naturally resists warping despite type of cut.
  • Condition & Moisture Content: at or about 8% moisture content. No cracks, splits or defects in the blank.
  • Quantity, best to send two blanks, in case the first one has an unseen defect. This very seldom happens, but best to be prepared for it. We will return the unused blank or save it for future milling on your behalf.
  • How to ship: Have the supplier label each wood blank by taping your name & contact information (billing address, cell & email--your purchase receipt will also suffice), and drop-ship your blanks to our workshop at: Bad Axe Tool Works, 1500 Green Bay St., Suite #508, La Crosse, WI 54601. Please alert us when this is put into motion, so we may track your package’s arrival.

All Bad Axe Tool Works Saws are highly customizable, and Feature the Following:

  • Custom filing available at same price per request
  • Bad Axe saw sharpening rates $15 nominal fee
  • Highly-figured 19th-century patterned hickory handles, also available in cherry, walnut, maple & mesquite.
  • Five handle sizes available: XS, S, R, L, XL
  • Flush-face slotted sawbolts/nuts in three alloys and four finishes with a 13/16" deep-dish decorative medallion
  • Firearms-quality hot-blued finish on traditionally-folded steel back
  • Optional black or bright nickel carbon steel, brass, copper-plated and bronze saw backs
  • Premium-grade Swedish Spring Steel, RC50-52
  • Traditional hammer-set toothline
  • Lifetime guarantee against all material defects

Learn more about my material choices and saw design rationale.

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