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

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post #1 of 10 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 10 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 10 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 10 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 10 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 10 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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post #7 of 10 Old 04-13-2017, 12:31 PM
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My great-grandfather, and grandfather and his brothers ran saw mills in Arkansas from the 1880s until the onset of the Great Depression. My great-grandfather lived 1840s-1916, and my grandfather (youngest boy of 9 kids), lived 1888-1988. My grandfather was very much a father figure to to me (I was 28 when he died). As I understand the family business, in the early days, the milll was somewhat portable, served mostly homesteaders in the Cadron Creek Settlement area north of Little Rock, and moved around depending upon where the timber was. Later, as the company grew, and they began to acquire or lease large tracts of timber lands, the mill would become a more permanent structure that was rarely moved, and when it did, it would stay put for several years at the new venue. As my grandfather described the operation to me, it was essentially a BIG truss-roof pole barn, without walls. As they grew more sophisticated and started operating under contracts, the lumber would be transported to warehouses for drying.

By the time this all came to an end, with the onset of the Depression in Little Rock, AR, one of the brothers was running the sawmill, one was a building contractor, one did roofs, and my grandfather (an accountant by training) ran a building supply company that sold everything you needed to build a house. The brothers built many a house in the Little Rock, AR area - a truly vertical integration operation. I remember noticing the rough-hewn sawmill marks on the timbers in my grandfather's attic in the house in built about 1928. He finished his career as a Constable (don't know if AR still has those, but they were elected LEOs, and served warrants, acted as Bailiffs, Notaries, and such), and then a Deputy Sheriff. He was 71 when I was born, and by the time I was aware of such things, he was auditing and doing inventory for quick stop stores for the franchise owners. I've got my grandfather's took chest full of hand tools, which I am currently restoring/repairing... I'll try to get some pics posted of it. It's probably not worth much as an antique (maybe a few hundred $), but it has great sentimental value to me. The only tool I actually use from it is a really cool mallet.
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post #8 of 10 Old 04-13-2017, 05:09 PM
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Early sawmills used both circularsaws and band saws.

If you don't have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over?
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post #9 of 10 Old 04-13-2017, 07:50 PM
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Hi Bill,

Well, I hope you will remind us to check out your blog as you get more research pulled together on this subject....

I will do my best to help with your questions. I have operated (or helped operate) all the mill types you are about to investigate...from Pit Sawing and other hand milling methods to Circle and Sash Mills...

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 answer is hard to pin down as each watershed and region that supported these Mills would have slightly different scopes of operation. I would also say that it is time specific. The older a mill location, the more the likelihood that it started as a Sash style and moved into Circle with both operating simultaneously in the larger mills. Quite a number of Sash mills (and this point Gang Sashes) where operating right up to WWII.

There were never any water powered Band Saw Mills in North America at any time, that I know of...particularly in that time period as the first patent for a smaller scale (a resaw) Band Mill developed in Europe did not get issued until almost the 1840's...
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post #10 of 10 Old 04-14-2017, 08:59 AM
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To the OP - have you checked with the NY State archives? Here's why I ask... In Florida, the Department of State houses the state archives, and they have an amazing array of records, documents, and photos digitized and cataloged by region, topic, names, etc. They also have staff that get up every morning hoping to connect a citizen to records in the archive... it's what gets their juices going. I recommend you call the state archivist and tell them what you are doing to see if they can point you to resources. The state archivists will also know of, or may be linked to, local historical societies, which could also be a huge benefit to you. You may be amazed how many pics of specific sawmills you turn up in the process, or maps, or other documents that will aid your research.
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