Logging with a Frick Sawmill

Collector Bill Waters uses his restored Frick Sawmill in logging demonstrations

| August 2000

  • Frick sawmill
    When assembled, this 70-year-old Frick sawmill stretches 45 feet with a 15-foot carriage, and weighs 3,500 pounds. Before the advent of the flatbed truck, it took a four-man crew to dissemble the mill and load it onto a horse-drawn wagon.
  • The sawmill's number one head block. The top part is the 'dog,' which is supported by the 'dog rack' and operated by the handle on the right. The dog holds the log in place. Across the bottom of the ell is a ruler, measuring in inches, with a hand-operated pointer adjusted to measure the width of the boards.
    The sawmill's number one head block. The top part is the 'dog,' which is supported by the 'dog rack' and operated by the handle on the right. The dog holds the log in place. Across the bottom of the ell is a ruler, measuring in inches, with a hand-operated pointer adjusted to measure the width of the boards.
  • Bill Waters takes a break from setting up his sawmill at the Agricultural History Farm Park, Derwood, Md.
    Bill Waters takes a break from setting up his sawmill at the Agricultural History Farm Park, Derwood, Md.
  • Feed and return belts power the carriage. The hand-operated three-position lever to the right of the blade controls the movement of the carriage, which is rub by cables.
    Feed and return belts power the carriage. The hand-operated three-position lever to the right of the blade controls the movement of the carriage, which is rub by cables.
  • Willing hands use can't hooks to roll an oak log onto the carriage for sawing.
    Willing hands use cant hooks to roll an oak log onto the carriage for sawing.
  • Bill Waters operates the control lever while Mike Bailey is the off-bearer in cutting new boards from a poplar log.
    Bill Waters operates the control lever while Mike Bailey is the off-bearer in cutting new boards from a poplar log.
  • Sawmills are traditionally powered by steam engines, but tractors may also be used, as shown here with this 1950s-vintage John Deere R. Mike Bailey of Olney talks with tractor operator John Stubbs III of Gaithersburg as they prepare to power up the sawmill. The seven-inch belt is 80 feet long.
    Sawmills are traditionally powered by steam engines, but tractors may also be used, as shown here with this 1950s-vintage John Deere R. Mike Bailey of Olney talks with tractor operator John Stubbs III of Gaithersburg as they prepare to power up the sawmill. The seven-inch belt is 80 feet long.

  • Frick sawmill
  • The sawmill's number one head block. The top part is the 'dog,' which is supported by the 'dog rack' and operated by the handle on the right. The dog holds the log in place. Across the bottom of the ell is a ruler, measuring in inches, with a hand-operated pointer adjusted to measure the width of the boards.
  • Bill Waters takes a break from setting up his sawmill at the Agricultural History Farm Park, Derwood, Md.
  • Feed and return belts power the carriage. The hand-operated three-position lever to the right of the blade controls the movement of the carriage, which is rub by cables.
  • Willing hands use can't hooks to roll an oak log onto the carriage for sawing.
  • Bill Waters operates the control lever while Mike Bailey is the off-bearer in cutting new boards from a poplar log.
  • Sawmills are traditionally powered by steam engines, but tractors may also be used, as shown here with this 1950s-vintage John Deere R. Mike Bailey of Olney talks with tractor operator John Stubbs III of Gaithersburg as they prepare to power up the sawmill. The seven-inch belt is 80 feet long.

Bill Waters loves wood. Which is why, many years ago, he purchased a sawmill for his personal use, and why he is still using it. "It's a Frick," he says. "It was made in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, probably in the 1930s. Frick made four sizes of sawmills and this is the smallest. When assembled, it's 45 feet long with a 15-foot carriage. It weighs about 3,500 pounds. It was originally sold to Mizell Lumber Company and they sold it to Edgar Adams. He joined the Navy, so I bought it in 1965. I just liked sawmills."

Bill was born and raised in Damascus, Md., and is a 1953 graduate of Damascus High School. Prior to retirement he was a heating and air-conditioning engineer, but the interest in working with wood has always been there.

"I got into sawing when I got out of school," he says. "I learned from older sawyers by watching and asking questions. I've always been interested in machinery, and have had as many as four sawmills at one time. Not too many people use a mill as old as this ... the new technology has pushed them aside."

When Bill first got his Frick sawmill, it needed a lot of attention. While the metal parts were mostly in good shape, the wood had rotted away and needed to be replaced.



"It had to be rebuilt completely," he says. "Replacing the wood is also called restocking. From the factory they generally used fir or Southern pine - I used fir. Some of the metal parts are cast iron and some are steel. I got one or two saws with the mill, but they were worn. The blade is made of high-quality steel, is 52 inches in diameter, and can last 20 years or so, barring accidents. Striking metal, like hardened nails or staples, can be a problem. It has 44 teeth, which are replaceable. There are mills like this still operating in rural areas."

Companies such as Frick, Farquhar, and Hench and Dromgold of Pennsylvania, DeLoach of Georgia, and Curtis of Missouri, were doing a good business in the sale of portable sawmills by the end of the 19th century. Belt-driven by steam traction engines, or even horse-powered, they were common in many small communities. In the early days, the sawmill crew took them apart and loaded them onto horse-drawn wagons. With the advent of motor vehicles, the flatbed truck became the preferred means of transportation.



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