Restoring an Antique Farquhar Sawmill

Antique Farquhar sawmill is now a working collectible.

| September 2008

Dave Pence's 1930s-vintage Farquhar sawmill is like a cat with nine lives. "I traded a junk pickup for a pile of junk sawmill," he recalls, explaining how he came to own the mill in the first place. It had languished in his yard for more than 20 years when Dave decided to give it away - but found no takers. Then he decided enough was enough. "I was going to throw it away," he says. "But I never got around to hauling it to the junkyard."

The remnants of the antique sawmill stayed put until three years later, when Dave took a closer look. Suddenly hooked, he began restoring the piece. Today, Dave's totally restored mill is a working asset at his home in Bluffton, Ind.

Dave relied on old catalog and magazine illustrations for guidance in rebuilding the Farquhar sawmill, which came to him without a splinter of a wood frame. He repaired and rebuilt virtually every piece, using scrap steel and a steel I-beam he had on hand. "I had a little idea of how it looked from a magazine picture, so I just started rebuilding it," he says. "It was just like Johnny Cash's Cadillac: one piece at a time."

The mill's mandrel was basically intact: The only thing Dave did to it was trim about 6 feet from the shaft, which was longer than he needed. Plus, he notes, "Lining up three bearings is a lot harder than lining up two bearings." The other bearings and pulleys were all good. "The gears are in really good shape too," he says. "I don't think this mill ever did a lot of work. My feeling is that a building fell in on it. You can see weld all over the place where they tried to salvage it but they must have abandoned that effort."

A new frame is built of 1-1/4-by-5/8-inch steel with the top corners trimmed to match the wheel. Dave tack-welded the steel to prevent warping and took extra steps to ensure the rails were perfectly straight. "After the track frame was finished, I tack-welded a bracket on one end of the I-beam and put an eyebolt on the other end," he explains. "Then I took a single run of 16 gauge soft steel wire and stretched that as tight as I could, right up to the breaking point. After that I lined up the track rail with that wire, and it turned out real good."

Dave also devised a versatile track system. "I made the track and positioned the pulleys for the cable so that I can put an extension on either end and it doesn't need to be heavyweight like the track," he says. "All it has to do is support the carriage when it runs farther out to the end. That way I can saw a log up to 36 feet long." He hasn't tackled anything of that size yet; other modifications would be needed if he did.