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Barbara Czoch on pitsawing

by on 12 Jul 2011

A member of  the Timber Framers Guild and an officer of our British cousin the Carpenter’s Fellowship, Barbara drove to the site in Sanok from her home in Hampshire, her car groaning under a load of tools piled to the brim. As a Polish speaker, she was frequently called on as a  translator and to manage material and supply logistics. But most of us encountered Barbara around the saw trestle, usually working one end or the other of the pitsaw.

If we had four departments (log walls, box frame, roof frame & cupola), with a team leader for each, then, as the undisputed master of the pitsaw, Barbara was our minister without portfolio.  She supplied the equipment (on loan from colleagues back in the UK), she maintained it, sharpened and set the saw, contributed to the design and construction of the saw trestle, directed the loading, shifting, swiveling and unloading of timber, schooled us in the use of the saw, and herself logged many, many hours as both top and under dog.

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With some mix of relief and disbelief, I can report that the site pit saw has finally fallen silent – we are done!  Outshot rafters, outshot hips, posts, collars, girts, cupola ties, outshot braces, down braces, X-braces, ridge braces, and struts are all finished.

I ought to point out that we are not in fact pit-sawing, you can tell by the distinct lack of any pit.  We are swivel sawing on a trestle with a frame saw.  What does that mean and why are we doing it anyway?  Well, to turn a round log into a rectangular timber you hew it, but if you want to make it into smaller pieces you have to rip saw it as you can’t axe it down the middle.  This is hard work, so to make it easier you put it on a high trestle and give 2 people the job – one up on the timber,  the ‘top dog’ and one down below, the ‘under dog’ and then set them to arguing as to whose job is hardest!  It’s called swivel sawing as first you saw from one end of the timber to the trestle, swivel the timber round and saw in from the other end till the kerfs meet up.  This will leave you with a small triangle of un-sawn timber in the middle which you split apart when you take the timber down.  This is a tell-tale sign of swivel sawing and the really cool part is that you can see these marks on the timbers in the museum buildings, so we know we are on the right track.

If there is one thing I have learnt about pit sawing it is that it’s definitely a team sport!  Clearly it takes 2 people, but 3 or 4 is better so that you can switch over before you drop off the trestle in exhaustion! But firstly you need to find 2 people who will lend you their precious saws for 6 weeks, for which we are deeply indebted to Henry Russell and Steve Turner who probably should actually be here.  Then next to Joe Thompson and our very own Leon Buckwalter who explained to me (patiently, several times) how to sharpen it, and then of course to the legions of ‘willing volunteers’ who came and pit sawed till they were pit sore!  Too numerous to mention except for a few:  Witek and David who machined their way through about 3/4 of what we cut in the first few weeks. They were averaging about 40 square feet of cut per day, which represents over 80 feet of run. We recorded their best effort to be a consistent 72 strokes per minute for over 12 feet in under 9 minutes, which compares well to a flutter wheel powered reciprocating saw mill which cuts 120 strokes per minute!  But the women faired just as well:  Kayla who is really quite small but has enthusiasm that seems to make her size irrelevant; Krista who is the opposite – extremely well built to the point of pushing the saw as well as pulling it and still being the last to get tired and swap out; and Ania who must be hiding some invisible muscles somewhere!

But I can guarantee that we will all be going home with more muscles than we came with, and I have been ceaselessly impressed by everyone’s grit and determination, and sheer hard work, and I for one am already missing that sweet, sweet sound of a freshly sharpened saw, swooshing its way along the snap line!

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A few photos to supplement Barbara’s report:



The unsawn triangular patch

A pitsaw shaving. Note the chalk line down the center of the shaving.

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  1. Big Saw Day « Steve Tomlin Crafts

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