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Bad Axe Tool Works D8 Handsaw: aka 'The Henry Disston'
Introductory Price: $375 (Delivery: 8-12 weeks)

Build Your saw and populate our queue with a $150 down payment * to be applied against the total cost of your order

Toothline and Filing
Handle Type (two different types)
Left or Right-Handed Grip
( For Thumbhole-Grip Handles only)
Handle Species (click here for customer-supplied wood specifications and sources)
Hand Size (how to measure)
Preferred Fasteners

Make Deposit
* Please note that your down payment is non-refundable. It may, however, be transferred within the Bad Axe product line if you wish to amend your order or change your order to a different saw.

Philadelphia, Spring 1840: A thin, determined youth of 21 carted a heaping pile of coal from the Delaware River docks along the mile-long trek to the basement hovel of his tenement on 21 Bread Street, his strong jaw set and jutting forward in the breeze like Captain Ahab seeking a whale. The crimson flush of blood pulsating beneath the white pallor of his skin powered a wiry physique, tempered by hand-planing boards flat, lifting and storing metal blanks and lumber throughout the day, hammering metal into proper tension on a live anvil. He wiped his grime-smudged face with the sleeve of a well-worn linen shirt, promising himself--God willing--that for the first time in two weeks, he would actually bathe that night.

He was a sawmaker. He was a very young and very determined sawmaker on a mission that would see him either flourish in his chosen trade, or seeking employment laying track for the new railroad out west. He paused at the thought, breathing heavily, sweat pouring into his eyes. Pondering. Then he shook his head with a snort and continued powering the mountain of coal on his wheelbarrow through the offal-littered streets.

British by birth and American citizen by destiny, seven years previously, a 14-year-old Henry DIsston stared in horror as his father . . . Read more »»


England . . . . convulsed with a stroke and died before his very eyes not three days after arriving in Philadelphia with his father and older sister Marianna on board the ship that had spirited the family members from Derby, England to the former colonies now known as the United States. His father’s abrupt death at the docks and loss of income that was to have been generated through the sale of a lace machine stranded the orphans in a new country with no return trip in sight. Marianna’s main imperative in life was to quickly find a husband, and young Henry’s to find employment.

Now it was seven years later, Henry’s apprenticeship with a struggling saw shop had run its course, and he was determined to beat his former countrymen at their own game. Arriving at his spare lodgings, Henry dumped the coal onto a tarp next to the clay furnace he’d built the week before, swept back a shock of thick brown hair, and considered the week ahead of him, replete with the kind of tasks that sent most young men into despondency and retreat: Fire up the furnace, temper the plate, cut the teeth, grind the taper, and hammer-tension and set the toothline, followed by sharpening to joint. Then he would mill the fasteners, cut the handle to rough form and rasp an elegant contour to the final shape, lacquer them, then bolt the handle onto a finished saw. He had the next five days to make twelve of them, because he was no longer just an apprentice who had surpassed his former masters—he was hungry, and had to eat.

The week flew by in a series of 16, 18, 20-hour work days, a blur of metal ringing in his ears, rasping wood and screeching files. Then it was Saturday. He paused to take stock of the sheer audacity of what he had accomplished, his malnourished body humming along on pure adrenaline, a pint of beer, a crust of bread, and a stout supply of black Jamaican coffee—his only luxury. Henry loaded his product into the wheelbarrow, and without missing a beat shrugged on his cleanest dirty shirt, buffed his brass shoe buckles, and off he went, carting his dozen handsaws while dodging the horse droppings through the downtown cobblestoned streets of Philadelphia, the purported city of brotherly love: a pre-Civil War cacophony of fishmongers flinging the day’s catch from cart to ice-packed shelves for passersby to inspect, the ringing staccato of blacksmith hammers and coopers stretching metal bands over barrel staves, their product bound for the whiskey-making trade in faraway Kentucky, peddlers and tinsmiths jostling their carts beside him, plowing their own goods through the competitive fray of the boulevards. Saturday mornings in 1840 Philadelphia presented a chaotic, noisy, and entrepreneurial dance of 19th century cutthroat competition, back in a time when communication traveled at the speed of a horse and street disputes were settled through bare-knuckled combat.

The young sawmaker found his destination in a tall, three-story structure on the south side of Market Street: Bowlby & Weaver’s Hardware Store. Henry flagged down a boy and tossed him a penny to watch his cart before slicking back his hair and mounting the steps two at a time, his mind racing. Old Billy Weaver was a cranky old fart who’d scoffed at Lindley, Johnson & Whitcraft’s saw manufactory not 18 months ago where Henry had apprenticed. Billy had strolled into the shop like he owned the place, all but sneering at their product line. Henry watched out the corner of his eye while tensioning a sawplate with mixed success, realizing immediately that Billy was right: American saws couldn’t compete against those made by their erstwhile masters across the pond, and were forced as most fledgling American sawmakers were to import British steel—and their second-class metal at that. Which is exactly why Henry took it upon himself to master the art of tempering. He frowned, unsure whether to reveal his secret to the hardware stores upon which he had set his sights, Billy Weaver’s in particular. All the best carpenters and furniture makers in town bought their wares from that tough old coot, who was always muttering “Quality sells, dammit. Quality sells. . . .” Henry allowed himself a tight grin. No. He had something else in mind altogether to set that old codger straight.

Sudden memories flashed through his mind highlighting the journey he had undertaken to this very moment. A bead of sweat formed between his shoulder blades and trickled down the small of his back, sending a shiver up his spine. Young Henry shook his head, inhaling deeply. Worry--always an unexpected gut punch. He willed the momentary self-doubt away, knowing perfectly damned well what he had made, and what his saws were worth. That two-word phrase—quality sells—had become the young sawmaker’s mantra, getting him through that tough initial period when he parted ways with LJ&W. It had taken him one entire week alone to build the clay oven in the sparse patch of dirt behind the slum where he lived, his thin frame laboring on watered-down beer and lentil soup he’d warm up on an alcohol burner.

The basic materials were the easiest to source: Because LJ&W was too poor of a business to pay him in wages due, they had been more than generous with quartersawn beech and apple, the brass rod he’d need for milling fasteners, mild steel for sawbacks and second-rate plate blanks from England that he'd have to re-temper. That alone was the real trick many sawmakers never figured out--how to change imperfect metal into something that outperformed other saws: first came the heat treat in the oven, followed by a rapid quench at just the right moment. Then grinding, scrubbing, cleaning, tensioning--and finally . . . a sawplate. The hours Henry spent in his backyard saw manufactory quickly blurred into days, days into a week, then another, and another. By his fourth week he had the tasks worked out, a rhythm established--and a stack of 12 saws ready for Old Billy's scowling review.

His mind now back in the space where he wanted it, Henry grinned and pushed open the heavy oak-framed door to Bowlby & Weaver’s, a cheery brass bell announcing his entrance with a sharp clang. A wiry old man in his 50’s with a beaked nose and a fringe of white hair hanging over his ears and collar popped over the counter, reminding Henry of a rooster spotting a fat grub in a manure pile.

“You!” the old man barked in a nasal, Yankee accent Henry found pushy, abrupt. Americans were always in such a hurry. Then he grinned. And now I’m one of them, he thought, and his grin broadened.

“Sir!” Henry popped back smartly, remembering his old Eaton schoolmaster. His left hand found the corner edge of the stout oak countertop running the length of the store.

“Well, I ain’t got all day, boy! You here to look at another saw? Maybe buy one this time?”

“Yes, Sir!” Henry glanced at the boy watching his wheelbarrow outside, then returned his gaze to a gleaming row of the most prominent saw works on the wall above Billy Weaver's bald head: Groves & Sons, Spear & Jackson, Garlick & Sons. His eyes widened and he hitched in a breath. “Only your best, Sir, if you please! An eight-point crosscut should fit the bill quite nicely."

The old man plucked one down and marched around the counter, thumbing the plate with a resounding twang. Henry took the saw in his calloused hands. “Two dollars, young man, for this fine Spear & Jackson. And not a cent less. You’ll find none finer—Sheffield Steel that is!”

Henry flexed the saw, finding the tension where he knew it had a loose spot in the plate from his earlier visit a week before.

Old Billy squinted at him. “Well? Oh, never mind—a youngster like you can’t afford that kind of saw anyway, what was I thinking?” He reached out to grab it back.

Turning away, Henry held the saw up to the light, eyed the countertop on his left, then with a flash of his arm whacked the plate over the hard corner edge. The ringing sound of poorly tempered metal snapped in the air like a crack in the Liberty Bell, and the toe half of the plate clattered onto the floor.

Billy Weaver's eyes popped open and he sputtered a string of obscenities. “What in God’s name did you just do! What the hell, boy!”

"Disston, Mr. Weaver. If you please, Sir. My name is Henry Disston."

"I don't give a good goddam what the hell your name is, boy--."

Henry waved at the lad outside to cart in his wheelbarrow, in which Henry had crafted a beautiful saw till the week before, each plate of the dozen handsaws nestled in kerfs cut perfectly square into quartersawn and ammonia-fumed white oak, finished in garnet shellac. Old Billy stopped swearing in mid-sentence, and arched an eyebrow at the saw till and a dozen gleaming, apple-handled handsaws.

Henry plucked one out of the till, flexed the plate, and thumbed it hard in the center. Spring steel sang in the air. “Mr. Weaver, Sir," Henry said, handing over the saw. "May I suggest you snap one of mine over that countertop? If you can?”

Not a half hour later, Old Billy wound up buying the entire lot that day from young Henry Disston. And in the days and the weeks that followed, so did every other hardware store throughout Philadelphia.

Because quality sells.

* * *




Design Specifications:

  • Bottom line up front: We designed 26" and 24" taper-ground hand and panel saws, patterned closely after the venerable Disston D8 and Simonds skewbacked handsaws. While the our saw's overall plate and handsaw pattern resembles that of the Disston D8, we incorporated the pre-1928 Simonds handsaw let-in mounting pattern for the handle, available in both standard and thumbhole-grip versions.
  • Traditional 1887-1896 Disston-pattern closed handle, the most elegant pattern Disston ever produced at the apogee of handsaw manufacturing. Available in standard quartersawn hickory, or optional cherry, walnut, & maple. three sizes available in Small (S), Regular (R), and Large (L). These handles are available in both standard and thumb-hole grip, the latter also available for southpaws. Read more about how we make and finish our handles.
  • Taper-Ground Sawplate: We grind our plates from .035 - .04 at the toothline up to .025 at the spine on the heel end, and .03 at the toe end, such that the deeper you plunge the saw into the cut, the more the metal gets out of the way. Great care is exercised to wet-grind the plate evenly, so the plate becomes neither s-rolled or too floppy due to loss in temper from careless grinding, which generates heat.
  • Fasteners available in standard brass or optional black-oxided, niter-blued, bright nickel-plated steel.
  • Plate Depth: 7.25 at the heel, skewing to 2.58" at the toe.
  • US 1095 Spring steel Hammer-Tensioned sawplate, with a Rockwell hardness range of 49-52. Toothline is hammer-set & sharpened in configurations optimized for hardwood requirements. We will add more set for customers working predominantly in softwood. Read more about Bad Axe's hammer-setting technique and obsessive dedication to sharpening excellence here.


 

 

Sizing Handles that Fit Your Hand

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 3/8 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. Really tiny hands from 2 ¾ up to 3 1/8 should warrant an XS handle.
(return to sizing menu)


 

Bad Axe D8 Handle Types

Our D8 handles are patterned quite closely after the vintage Disston D8 handles, the only exception being that we let in the sawplates by kerfing through the top of the handle common with Simonds hand and panel saws, rather than milling a covertop common in Disston saws where the upper edge of the sawplate is hidden from view. I've always found the covertop too easily splintered when removing the plate for maintenance, and would invite undue expense to the handle milling process.

Pictured on the left is a grouping of our two types of Disston-pattern D8 handles. Moving clockwise starting with the maple standard handle on the upper left, we have the thumbhole-grip handle in hickory on the upper right, followed by thumbhole-grip in walnut lower right, and the standard handle in cherry on the lower left. All Bad Axe D8 handles, whether standard or thumbhole-grip are are available in all four species, or in the species of your choosing for customer-supplied wood. Though the thumbhole-grip variant is intended for rip-filed saws, many people enjoy seeing it on their crosscut-filed saws. It's all about personal preference, and Bad Axe is happy to trick out your saw with the look, species and allow of your choosing.


 

"Where can I buy my own mesquite--or for that matter, any 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.

 

Reputable Dealers for Mesquite and other hard-to-find woods

 
Texas Mesquite Designs     Horizon Wood
(Mesquite & other TX hardwoods)       (Any North American Hardwood)
Alex Swieczkowski email; 254-793-2685       Dan Terbovich email; 814-772-1651

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

  • Length: 9" Long with the grain.
  • Width: 6.5" 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/black-oxided finish on a traditionally-folded carbon steel back
  • Optional bright nickel carbon steel, brass, copper-plated saw backs
  • Premium-grade Swedish Spring Steel, RC50-52
  • Traditional hammer-set toothline
  • Lifetime guarantee against all material defects and workmanship

Learn more about our material choices and saw design rationale.

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