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Bruce Gardow 2019

I think most of us are old enough to have seen or perhaps even used a crosscut saw. The museum has several of them and I even have one, handed down through my family, hanging in my den.

A crosscut saw it looks relatively simple in design, however, it is fairly complex and had a huge impact on the logging industry.

I have been told on several occasions that two axe men were expected to fell 20 trees a day. However, two loggers operating a two-person crosscut saw were expected to cut 40 trees a day, literally doubling cutting output.

The saw’s efficiency is in its design. Crosscut saws, also called thwart saws, were being advertised as early as 1858.

Pictographs show us that crosscut saws were being used in the ancient Roman Empire. During our lumber era, these saws were designed to cut only in one direction, and were used primarily for “bucking up” logs—that is, sawing trees into logs of standard length.

Sometime between 1857 and 1864, the modern crosscut saw was developed with the addition of rakers between the teeth, which were shaped like a perfect capital H.

These rakers pushed the sawdust out of the kerf, or the cut, in both directions. The fact that there was sawdust on both sides of the kerf suggests that a saw like this one had rakers between the teeth, which stood upright, not at an angle, thus allowing the saw to cut equally in both directions, an early version of today’s crosscut saw.

At first no one thought of using the saw for felling a tree. The person known as the “chopper” was king of the woods, and his ax was king of the felling tools.

However, through research it appears that in the 1880’s the crosscut saw was being used to saw trees rather than cut them.

A crosscut saw has a wooden handle on each end. Prior to 1900, the handles were bolted on to each end. After 1900, the handles were fitted into a slot and could be removed when the saw was receiving its daily sharpening. Sharpening was done with a hand file by a person whose only job was to sharpen cutting devices. This person was called the sharpener.

The two-way crosscut was a simple improvement, but the astonishing fact is that it took so long to develop.

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Bruce Gardow is a volunteer at the Dunn County Historical Museum who shares his extensive knowledge as he explores some of the many treasures that exist in the archives of the Dunn County Historical Society’s Rassbach Heritage Museum, located at 1820 Wakanda St. in Menomonie’s Wakanda Park.


Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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