Old Saw Rings True for Firewood Cutting

Firewood cutting still warms twice.

| October 2005

  • JimTurner_MikeIreland.jpg
    Left: Jim Turner, Sheldon, Mo., demonstrates the finer art of keeping body parts intact while bucking logs with the buzz saw attachment on his 1949 Cub. The drive for this saw employs the original belt pulley attachment with an extension adapter that locates the gearbox rearward to clear the saw blade. The table on this saw pivots to move the log through the blade.
  • TonyWoodrum.jpg
    Left: Tony Woodrum refurbished this unnamed belt-driven circular bucksaw to cut kindling in the West Virginia woods. Power for the saw is provided by a 1970s vintage International Harvester Cub Cadet equipped with a rear PTO fitted with the belt pulley attachment from a Farmall Cub. Four 2-foot long stakes keep the saw firmly footed on the ground.
  • JimTurner_MikeIreland-1.jpg
    Below: Mike Ireland, Plymouth, N.H., makes his living with wood. By day he works the family sawmill and when he is off duty, he cuts, splits and delivers cordwood to folks in the area. Mike uses this Farmall Super C mounted saw and conveyor to cut and load seasoned split firewood.
  • CraftsmanModelU4.jpg
    Above: John Hanson’s Craftsman Model U-4, a heavy-duty gear-drive model, was built in the late 1950s by David Bradley for Sears Roebuck & Co.
  • DragsawCollectorSimmons.jpg
    Right: Drag saw collector Chuck Simmons, Sioux Falls, S.D., makes short work of a cedar log with his 1920s vintage Witte saw. This Witte drag saw offers a fine example of the portable style drag saws. The wheels are currently mounted at a right angle to the saw, which facilitates its movement down the log. When in transport mode, the same wheels would be mounted on the other set of axles, and the saw could be moved wheel-barrow-like by lifting on the wooden handles visible near the tip of the saw blade.
  • StihlModel07.jpg
    Above: The Stihl Model 07 (owned by John Hanson) was introduced in 1961 with 4-1/2 hp at 7,500 rpm. The high performance saw weighed only 22 pounds with the 17-inch bar.
  • PioneerSuper6-20chainsaw.jpg
    Left: John’s Pioneer Super 6-20 chainsaw is equipped with an after-market performance Windsor bar.
  • 1961McCullochModelMac15.jpg
    Left: This beautiful original condition 1961 McCulloch Model Mac 15 chainsaw with extra NOS bar and oil is central to John Hanson’s collection.
  • Model7BowChainsaw-1.jpg
    Above right: David Heller’s late 1870s drag saw design featured a lawn glider-like system for power.
  • Model7BowChainsaw.jpg
    Above left: Mall’s Model 7 Bow chainsaw represents a typical early variation of the solid bar chainsaw. The cutting edge of the chain was only exposed on the bottom – when one man operated the machine, the top of the blade guide could be used as a handle. The power-head was interchangeable with Mall’s other saws.
  • DirectDriveChainsaws.jpg
    Above: Even the Remington Arms Co. bought its way into the chainsaw business. The company, better known for the production of firearms, catered to the consumer saw market.
  • DirectDriveChainsaws-1.jpg
    Right: Lombard’s Super 6 chainsaw was produced in Ashland, Mass., in 1958. It featured direct drive with a centrifugal clutch and weighed only 24 pounds, which made it a perfect one-man saw.
  • Model7BowChainsaw-2.jpg
    Left: Frank Strobl’s variation on the hand-powered 1881 drag saw employs a crankshaft whose rotation is aided by a flywheel. It doesn’t take much to imagine this machine with an engine belted to the flywheel.

  • JimTurner_MikeIreland.jpg
  • TonyWoodrum.jpg
  • JimTurner_MikeIreland-1.jpg
  • CraftsmanModelU4.jpg
  • DragsawCollectorSimmons.jpg
  • StihlModel07.jpg
  • PioneerSuper6-20chainsaw.jpg
  • 1961McCullochModelMac15.jpg
  • Model7BowChainsaw-1.jpg
  • Model7BowChainsaw.jpg
  • DirectDriveChainsaws.jpg
  • DirectDriveChainsaws-1.jpg
  • Model7BowChainsaw-2.jpg

Who hasn't heard at least one variation of the old saw about how cutting your own firewood warms you twice? Perhaps your father said it as he sent you off to the woodlot with a handsaw, or off to the woodpile with a wedge and maul. And though Henry David Thoreau penned that saying in its original form before the advent of the internal combustion engine, whether firewood cutting done by hand, or with the help of petroleum power, there is no doubt that the exercise is plenty warming.

In his seminal piece Walden, Thoreau often wrote of time spent in his stump-littered bean field. In one reference Thoreau noted that he had taken several cords of firewood (in the form of stumps) from the field. In another passage, Thoreau writes of plowing that field with another man handling his team, who in passing predicted those stumps-turned-firewood would warm him twice - once through the exercise of splitting them and once in the fireplace. As romantic as Thoreau's prose relating to living and farming in the Massachusetts countryside is, not everyone found the physical demands of life to be as interesting.

In reality, the labor associated with stocking up firewood for heat and cooking was downright burdensome for the average rural family, particularly in the north, where winters are severe. On the farm, technological innovation aimed at reducing the physical efforts associated with routine chores was usually embraced if it was considered moral to do so. When petroleum-fueled engines became readily available and affordable, they were quickly adapted for powering saws in a technological marriage that is fast approaching its 100th anniversary.

Early attempts at mechanizing the portable cordwood saw relied on the same cutting principal of the crosscut saw. These devices were more complicated and cumbersome to use than circular saws, but they required substantially less horsepower to run and were arguably safer to operate. Portable circular bucksaws eventually overtook the powered crosscut saw in popularity, but only for a while. The height of solo sawing development came with the lightweight chainsaw, whose evolution continues today.



Reciprocating relics

In Thoreau's day, one- and two-man crosscut saws, bucksaws and axes were used to fell trees and cut logs into firewood-length billets. Wedges and sledges were used to help split the wood. And with the exception of animal power for hauling the wood, the entire process was powered by human muscle, and the work was as arduous as it was necessary.

However, during the early to mid-19th century, the human quest for tools to make wood-cutting chores easier didn't go completely unanswered. For example, several patents of the early 1800s featured "improved" crosscut saws, which would reduce the amount of effort required to cut logs to length. By the late 1800s, lever- or treadle-powered crosscut saws (often called drag saws) became available. By 1895 the Folding Sawing Machine Co. of Chicago, Ill., listed several human-powered lever-action drag saws. These saws could be carried by one man into the woods, used to fell a tree and then buck the logs.



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