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Dispatch from the saw shack

Saw Filing January 2020

By Paul Dickens – C Sawyer Crosscut, Traditional Tool Trainer and Volunteer with SAWS

It is winter. Field work is slow, awaiting spring. But work to maintain traditional tools used in Wilderness continues. Saw filing is a journey. A saw filer must refine their technique based on feedback from sawyers in the field. Back in the day when crosscut saws cleared forests, lumber camps had a saw shack with professional filers who tuned each saw specifically for the tree species being cut. They were the VIPs in the lumber camp. Sawyers needed their saws to be well-tuned; they weren't paid hourly, rather by how much timber they cut, and the filers helped them achieve that efficiency. For Wilderness trail work today, the tuning of crosscut saws is a compromise because the wood is not always the same – sometimes we encounter a fresh green log where the saw runs easy cutting long noodles of wood chips, but often we find a hard, dead oak or locust where fine saw dust is all that the best filed crosscut saw will yield. Good advance scouting can provide information to match the saw to the Wilderness down to clear. But most SAWS field crews use crosscut saws filed for general purpose on hardwood and softwood. I like to use different crosscut saws with subtle differences in filing during sawyer training to help apprentice sawyers feel and understand the differences in saw types and techniques. It is amazing when a 0.010-inch change in raker depth transforms a poorly cutting crosscut saw into a very efficient saw. Wilderness trails don’t remain accessible on their own. Traditional tools for Wilderness don’t sharpen themselves. Both require skill to maintain. Feedback from crosscut sawyers that I train and from the SAWS field crews who use these tools helps me become a better steward of the vintage saws in my care and appreciate the traditional tool skills of the lumber camp saw shack filers.

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