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Drag Saw

To accurately imagine the sound of a drag saw, hike into the mountains as far from roads and habitation as you can get, then listen. Eliminate all sound of motor vehicles, airplanes, the hum of rubber tires on paved roads, the drone of factories, and the myriad sounds of human occupation.

Then imagine the steady chug, chug, chug of exploding petroleum in a heavy cast iron single cylinder engine and the shhh, shhh, shhh and ring of the saw slicing away through green wood. Add the clatter of a drive mechanism with a little slack.

Drag saws cross cut big timber. They were replaced sixty or seventy years ago by chainsaws. We had a drag saw on the farm that Grandpa left leaning on a five foot diameter Douglas fir log in the woods the year Dad bought a chainsaw. No one ever fired up the drag saw again. By the time I was old enough to notice it, the drag saw was covered with bright green algae and its wooden rails were beginning to rot. Today, the fir log has rotted down to a little rise on the floor of the woods and the saw is a scarcely recognizable lump of moss-covered iron.

 Dragsaw demonstration at Cobble Hill Fair on Vancouver Island, late August 2007. Photo: Gord Webster from Victoria, Canada - Now *THATS* a saw!, CC BY-SA 2.0
Dragsaw demonstration at Cobble Hill Fair on Vancouver Island, late August 2007. Photo: Gord Webster from Victoria, Canada – Now *THATS* a saw!, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikipedia

A drag saw blade looked like an old fashioned two man cross cut saw, but heavy enough not to bend when it was pushed through the cut on the forward stroke. Imagine the man on one end of a cross cut saw replaced by a gasoline engine with an eccentric crank like one on the side of a steam locomotive to convert the rotary motion of the engine to the reciprocal motion of the saw blade and you have a drag saw. The single cylinder air-cooled cast iron engine was mounted on a wooden frame that leaned against uncut portion of the log. The saw pivoted downward as it sliced through the log.

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Drag saws were impractical for anything but cutting stove wood from logs that only a tall man could see over. Setting up for a cut required stopping the engine, moving the saw, and restarting the engine. Noting the weight and awkward shape of the saw, the altogether cussedness of starting those ancient single cylinder gas engines, and the disappearance of giant trees to cut up for firewood, it does not surprise me in the least that Grandpa left his drag saw to rot the day the chain saw came along.

Copyright (c) Marvin Waschke. All rights reserved. 
<a href="">Marvin Waschke</a>
Marvin Waschke

Waschke is a Ferndale native who grew up in a farmhouse on the farm his great-grandfather’s family homesteaded. As a software architect, Waschke worked on IT management projects for close to 30 years. He has authored 3 books on computer technology including “Personal Cybersecurity” (available at the Ferndale Public Library) which addresses problems faced by individuals in a computing realm that is becoming increasing hostile to users. Waschke currently serves on the board of trustees of the Whatcom County Library System.

** Do you have a computer, website or related technology question? Marvin is available at the Ferndale Public Library the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of each month from 3pm to 4pm. No question is too big or too small. No matter what operating system, hardware brand, phone, tablet, or software you’re using. **

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