Antique Chain Saws: A Cut Above

Collection of antique chain saws shows evolution of the saw.
Cindy Ladage
September 2000
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An Ottawa log saw with buzz saw attachment.
Photo courtesy Jim Holzhauer
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Sometimes it seems that since rural dwellers have more room for storage, they use it for their collections. They use sheds and barns to store treasures that just won't fit in the average garage. Jim Holzhauer, rural Sorento, Ill., is a classic example of that kind of collector. 

Jim collects old construction equipment, irons, hair receivers, garden tractors and farm memorabilia. The bulk of his collection, though, consists of antique saws. Jim has more than 400, everything from antique chain saws to log saws.

Jim's home and mini-museum entryway hold his collections of farm memorabilia and other odds and ends. But the garage and basement play host to his saw collection. The garage, which includes a work area, is home to a forest of "tree trunks" that are covered with saws.

Jim's oldest antique chain saw, a Mercury, dates to 1943. Also known as a Henry Disston, manufactured by a firm of the same name, the two-man saw has a Mercury engine. His collection of Mercurys includes 6, 7, 9 and 11 hp models. Mercury also manufactures outboard motors, he said.

Two-man chain saws are more valuable than one-man saws, he said. Collectible chain saws range in price from $30 to $500, with two-man saws at the upper end.

"It's not like gas engines, where there's a set price," Jim said. "The cost is just kind of thrown up in the air. The prices depend on the condition, size, what they are, and the make."

Geography also plays a role in availability and popularity.

"What was popular in one part of the country wasn't popular in another part," he said. "Henry Disston, an early maker, was popular in this part of the woods (the midwest), along with Mall and McCulloch chain saws."

His Mall 2 MG saw is a unique piece.

"You could take a clutch loose, and 20 different attachments could be used," he said. "One outfit is to pump water. I have the literature and parts manuals for it. One attachment even had an outboard motor."

Another prize in his collection is a 1947 Von Rudin Hydraflex hydraulic saw that fits on a tractor's PTO. The machine was not for the novice.

"If you fell a tree the wrong way," he said, "you were in trouble!"

Orline (manufactured by O&R for Orline and Rice) is another big name for the saw collector. Like the Mall saw, the Orline could be used with different attachments, such as trimmers. Jim has a one-of-a-kind version: A Chicken Power Orline Motor, used to turn an ordinary bicycle into a motor bike.

Chain saws have evolved over the years, and finding parts for older models can be difficult. For example, the chain changed from a "scratcher" chain to a "hooded-style" chain in the 1950s. Jim's prepared for either style.

"I get parts from chain saw bone yards," he said.

Another feature collectors pay attention to is blade rotation.

"On chain saws, you could not turn it sideways," Jim said. "Only the bar rotated. A lot of people didn't realize that. You had to keep the engine upright." The change came about in the mid-1950s, when a new carburetor – one that would run in any position – was developed.

The blades also vary. One of Jim's is designed for use in the south.

"A chain saw with a hole for pulp wood is called a bow bar," he said. "This was used mainly down south. It was needed because the wood swelled."

Jim had collected chain saws and garden tractors for several years when his brother suggested he should also look at old log saws. He now has 12. Jim had started collecting antique engines, and his brother said the log saws would be a natural extension.

"Old antique gasoline engines were used to start log saws," Jim said, "and then they ran on kerosene. Water was used to keep the engine cool."

Log saws have been around since the turn of the last century.

"They started making them in the late 1800s all the way to the 1950s," he said. "Chain saws were made starting around 1940, but they didn't catch on right away."

Log saws (also called drag saws or cross-cut saws) are typically bigger and more expensive than chain saws. They're also more valuable to the collector, with many averaging $700.

Jim's favorite line in log saws is Witte. The Witte, which has wheels with two axles, held the log in place while cutting it. A special piece in his collection is a fully restored Witte that came from downtown St. Louis. The saw worked by winching down the log and holding it in place with a hook. Spikes hit the winch and held it tight. Jim was able to obtain the parts he needed for the restoration, but the wood pieces of the saw he crafted by hand. Years ago, log saws were often hauled directly on the ground to work sites. Consequently, the wood parts on collectible saws are often damaged or missing.

Ottawa was another popular line of saws. One of Jim's uses a hit-and-miss engine as a power source; another, from the 1950s, is self-propelled with a buzz saw attachment that can saw a log while another section holds it in place.

An unusual piece in his collection is a folding cross cut saw dating to the early 1900s.

"You run the handle through the linkage, and that ran the blade," he said.

Like some chain saws, a few of the log saw engines were portable and could be used as "a motor on wheels." Advertisements claimed that the saws could be used as power sources for washing machines, grinders and pumps.

From a "Sally" saw (with a blade that turned 360 degrees), to a Wright reciprocating saw (used for everything from woodcutting to butchering), to an ice saw (used in the early 1900s to cut ice from farm ponds), Jim's collection shows both the versatility of the saw, and the role it played in early applications. FC 

For more information: Jim Holzhauer, RR 2, Box 84, Sorento, IL 62086. 

Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer based in Illinois. 


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