1800's sawmills?? - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum

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post #1 of 6 Old 02-14-2017, 10:21 PM Thread Starter
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1800's sawmills??

Hi- I am doing a history/hiking blog and was looking for some early sawmill information. I am in northern NY and every community here started with a water powered sawmill (and gristmill). Any idea what they would have used? The time frame seems to be in the 1800's, with a big boom being around the 1860's. Would these likely been sash/up&down saws or circle saws? Single or gang saws? The mill locations are noted on maps of the region, and all are on rivers, usually at a waterfall. I would like to be able to write something more in depth about these saws and related implements such as stave and shingle mills. The Amish mills are big in the area, and during my years logging,I sold a great deal of softwood to them. They were all circle saw mills. Any input including links, diagrams or photos would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

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post #2 of 6 Old 02-14-2017, 10:55 PM
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Our local Metroparks system has an operating water driven mill at one of its parks. It is a combination saw mill and grist mill driven by turbines that get water from an adjacent canal that drops about 20 feet to the river on the opposite side of the mill.



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post #3 of 6 Old 02-15-2017, 04:35 PM
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there was a saw mill just down stream from my farm back 100 years ago. some body built a pflume about a half mile long that went from the upper end of my property down to the mill. The old stone base of the pflume is still there. Around 1930, the mill found that an old truck could be used to power the mill. There is still an old stake body truck from about 1940 out in the woods where the saw mill was. I understand a hurricane in the late 1950's washed the mill shack and equipment away.
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post #4 of 6 Old 02-15-2017, 08:24 PM
where's my table saw?
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This town is a few miles away from me

There is a small town at the South end of a large lake, which I just found out reading this document was only a pond back in the 1830's.
A dam was built to create the pond and the water flow used to power a grist mill to grind grains. Then after a series of owners, it was used as a machine shop. I have been inside the recently renovated building and it's very impressive with the old wood beams showing and the wood floors. You can still find the small stream where the wheel was and maybe some of the original parts are still laying on the ground nearby.


The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specfic. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo
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post #5 of 6 Old 02-18-2017, 09:27 AM
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my great-grand father & family had a lumber/mill work business on the Beaverkill - roughly turn of the century. unfortunately I don't have essentially any info on it other than that was their business and they built a number of larger homes/structures/fishing lodges in the area - all but one is gone.

some historical background tho - water mills are limited in how much horse power they generate. a 20 diameter water wheel running 3,000 gallons per minute produces on the order of 10 horse power. and 3,000 gpm is a lot of water -

Watt's early steam engines did not produce huge horsepower either, on the order of 10 hp. and their initial mechanical designs did not lend it to rotary motions (i.e. reciprocating saws yes, circular saws not so easy)

the Corliss steam engine produced more horsepower - 100 hp models appeared in the last quarter - 1875 and later. the mechanics to go from reciprocating steam pistons to rotary motion was well developed by then.

the amount of hp needed for circular saw - single blade, gang saws not considered - varies by species, wet/dry, thickness, etc - but generally in the range of 75-100 hp for "large diameter" blades.

fuel consumption for the mid-century high hp steam engines was huge. this was problematic where fuel was transported by horse&wagon / hand - fuel consumption was obviously much less a problem at a sawmill - just burn the scraps.....

the other thing to consider for that area - logging was big, and logs were rafted down the rivers. they would not likely raft rough sawn lumber down the rivers.... local mills supplied local needs - after the railroads came into the area it would have been more economical to mill onsite and transport rough sawn lumber to market. the railroad arrived in the later half of the 1800's.

the answers likely depend on whether you're looking at early or late 19th century - 1860-ish is about when the railroads came into the area and that would have spurred higher production at saw mills leading to higher hp circular saws.
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post #6 of 6 Old 02-18-2017, 10:02 AM
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fuel consumption for the mid-century high hp steam engines was huge. this was problematic where fuel was transported by horse&wagon / hand - fuel consumption was obviously much less a problem at a sawmill - just burn the scraps.....
It was that drove the construction of canals in the UK during the late 1700s. Usually a canal halved the cost of coal at least. The existence of canals then drove the industrial revolution, particularly in linking Manchester and Birmingham to the docks at Liverpool and down to London. Trains nearly drove the canals into complete ruin. They have been saved by the huge growth of leisure boating. Here at Ely in East Anglia the river connects to the canal system covering most of England. Come and have a great holiday.
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