The labour of the sawyer is applied to the division of large pieces of timber or logs into forms and sizes to suit the purposes of the carpenter and joiner. His working place is called a saw-pit, and his almost only important tool a pit-saw. A cross-cut saw, axes, dogs, files, compasses, lines, lamp-black, black-lead, chalk, and a rule, are all accessories which may be considered necessary to him.
Unlike most other artificers, the sawyer can do absolutely nothing alone: sawyers are therefore always in pairs; one of the two stands on the work, and the other in the pit under it. The log or piece of timber being carefully and firmly fixed on the pit, and lined for the cuts which are to be made in it, the top-man standing on it, and the pit-man below or off from its end, a cut is commenced, the former holding the saw with his two hands by the handle above, and the other in the same manner by the box handle below.
The attention of the top-man is directed to keeping the saw in the direction of and out of winding with the line to be cut upon, and that of the pit-man to cut down in a truly vertical line. The saw being correctly entered, very little more is required than steadiness of hand and eye in keeping it correctly on throughout the whole length.
It is the custom to project so much of the log over the first transverse bearer as can be done without rendering it liable to vibrate or be insecure; and when all the cuts proposed are advanced up to that bearer, the end is slightly raised to allow the bearer to be passed out beyond the termination of the advanced cuts.
The advantage of, or rather the necessity for, the movable handle at the lower end of the saw is now evident, the top-man removing the saw readily from cut to cut from above, his mate having merely to strike the wedge in the box one way or the other, to fix or loosen it.
It is absolutely necessary that the top-man should stand in such a manner on the log or piece operated on, that a line down the centre of his body shall fall exactly upon the line of the cut he is to work on, and be as exactly perpendicular to it and to the plane of the horizon.
He must, therefore, when the cut is near the outer edge, be provided with a board or plank, one end of which may rest on something firm at a short distance from the log, and the other on or against it, to put the outer foot on, and so keep himself in such a position that he may always, and without constraint, see his saw out of winding, and so that a spectator standing on the fore end of the pit may see the saw an imaginary line passing down the centre of the workman’s body, and the line of the cut in exactly the same vertical plane.
The labour of the top-sawyer should consist solely in lifting the saw up by the handle as high as his arms can carry it, and that of the pit-man in drawing it down with a slight pressure or tendency onward, sufficient to make it bite into the timber as much as his strength will enable him to make it cut away. The only assistance the pit-man should give in lifting the saw is in holding it back that the teeth may not drag against the cut in the ascent; and all the top-man should do in cutting downward is to keep the teeth steadily and firmly in contact with the part to be eroded.
Good workmen may work with a narrower or closer set to their saw than bad ones can, though the wider or more open set saw is more liable to make bad work. It works more slowly and consumes more stuff than the close set; but it is not so likely to hang in the cut with the unnecessary pushing up of the pit-man and jerking down of the other, as if it were set more closely.
A good top-man, nevertheless, is of much more importance, though he be badly mated, than the converse. Indeed the best possible pit-man could not work satisfactorily with a bad top-man, and therefore the latter is always considered the superior workman, and on him devolves the care of sharpening and setting the saw, &c.
In the operations of the carpenter and joiner much depends on the manner in which the sawyers have performed their part. The best work on the part of the carpenter cannot retrieve the radical defects in his materials from bad sawing; and although the joiner need not allow his work to suffer, bad sawing causes him great loss of stuff and immense additional and otherwise unnecessary labour.
Planks or boards, and scantlings, on coming from the sawpit, should be as straight and true in every particular, except mere smoothness of surface, as if they had been tried up on the joiner’s bench; and good workmen actually produce them so. Saw-mills, too, by the truth and beauty with which they operate, show the sawyer what may be effected; for though he can hardly hope to equal their effect, he may seek to approach it.
Sawyers’ work is valued at so much the hundred superficial feet; the sawing on a board or squared scantling being once its length, by a side and an edge, or half the amount of its four sides. In squared timber, however, it is generally valued at so much per load of fifty cubic feet, four cuts to the load, any cuts exceeding that number being paid for at so much per hundred feet; in this case the length of the cut by its depth gives the superficial quantity of sawing in it. Pieces again of determined and equal length and breadth, such as the deals and planks commonly used for joiners’ work in this country, admitting of a regulated scale, the sawing that may be required in them is valued at so much the dozen cuts.
William Hosking, Esq. F.S.A. Architect
A System of Architecture with the Practice of Building
The Encyclopaedia Britannica – 1842