His­tory

The Shed - - Sawmillers -

Be­fore the in­ven­tion of the sawmill, boards were split (‘rived’) and planed or sawn by two men with a two-han­dled whip­saw. ‘Sad­dle­blocks’, or ‘dogs’, were used to hold the log in po­si­tion over a saw­pit. It was ex­haust­ing work, es­pe­cially for the top sawyer, who had to bal­ance on the log, guide the saw, and didn’t have the pit­man’s ad­van­tage of grav­ity. Early sawmills adapted the whip­saw to me­chan­i­cal power, gen­er­ally driven by a wa­ter­wheel. A con­nect­ing rod known as a ‘pit­man arm’ (the ori­gin of a term now widely used) con­verted the cir­cu­lar mo­tion of the wheel to the back-and­forth mo­tion of the saw blade. Cir­cu­lar-saw blades were in­vented around the late 17th cen­tury. ‘Gang­saws’, which had sev­eral par­al­lel blades so that a log could be re­duced to boards in one step, soon fol­lowed. Cir­cu­lar-saw blades were prone to dam­age by over­heat­ing or dirty logs, giv­ing rise to a new tech­ni­cian, the saw­filer, whose job was to set and sharpen teeth. Mills be­came highly mech­a­nized with the ad­vent of steam power in the 19th cen­tury, and fur­ther so with elec­tric­ity. Most as­pects of sawmilling are now com­put­er­ized.

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