Cutting Edge Technology in the Newfoundland Woods.

Cutting Edge Technology in the Woods.

Some of the first AND Co  loggers cutting pulpwood  around Red Indian Lake 1908. The men cut logs with axes and crosscut saws and skidded out full length logs by horse. Within a few years these methods had fallen from fashion in favor of cutting short wood and winter hauling.
Some of the first AND Co loggers cutting pulpwood around Red Indian Lake 1908. The men cut logs with axes and crosscut saws and skidded out full length logs by horse. Within a few years these methods had fallen from fashion in favor of cutting short wood and winter hauling.

The first loggers cutting pulpwood for the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company went into the woods cutting most of the wood cutting was done by axe. Saws-which will be discussed later were only used for the largest trees. Both single and double bitted axes were used with the latter type being preferred. The double bitted axe had the advantage of having a very sharp edge for chopping and a less sharp edge for cutting the branches and limbs from  a tree, of if a woodsman preferred he could have two sharp edges which would prolong the time between sharpening. Every camp had a grindstone on which the axes would be sharpened as needed. Over time and repeated sharpening’s an axe head could become ground down to a stub!

A.N.D Co logger chopping down a tree circa 1919. (GFWHS)
A.N.D Co logger chopping down a tree circa 1919. It is interesting to note that he is cutting down a birch tree either for firewood or lumber. During this period the mill in Grand Falls burned a substantial amount of wood because of a coal shortage due to the Great War (GFWHS)
every camp had a grind stone. The soft steel used in axes made them easier to sharpen but more susceptible to wear. After repeated sharpenings it was possible to wear an axe down like the one in this picture. (From Across Newfoundland with a Camera)
every camp had a grind stone. The soft steel used in axes made them easier to sharpen but more susceptible to wear. After repeated sharpenings it was possible to wear an axe down like the one in this picture. Sharp tools were so important that most camps employed a saw filer whose job it was to keep saw blades sharp(From Across Newfoundland with a Camera)

It may come as some surprise but chopping down a pulpwood sized tree with an axe is not as challenging as it first appears the time it takes is a little less than it would take with a buck saw. But the axe needs to be very sharp. In those days (1908-1920) men were paid on a daily basis and cut wood in long lengths so it is very hard to judge how many cords a day a man could manage with an axe.

As noted saws were always present in the woods, they were just not as prevalent or cost effective in the early years. The first type of saw was the two man crosscut saw. Judging from examples these ha d pretty standard triangular teeth and was operated by one man on either side pushing and pulling the saw through the tree. Another type of saw-indistinguishable to the untrained eye – was the Simmonds saw. Commonly called the “Simon Saw” the Simmonds saw was a two man cross cut saw with deep pick and raker teeth-which would cut, tear and remove saw dust as it cut down a tree. Both the cross cut and the Simonds saw had a disadvantage-they were both two man saws. Because of this two men would be tied down cutting a tree at the same time-cutting in to production time. There were one man versions of the older saws but they were very unwieldy and not widespread in Newfoundland. What was need was a saw that was handy for one man to use when cutting down pulp sized trees.

The two man crosscut and
The two man crosscut and “Simon” (Simmonds) saws like the one used by the men on the left were common in the 1910’s-20’s before being replaced by the metal framed bucksaw.

“The Old Bucksaw Days”

The buck or bow saw had been around for hundreds of years and consisted of a blade placed in a wooded frame that was stiffened by tension on a string or wire. The problem with the old wooden frame bucksaws was that they were relatively flimsy. By all accounts wooded framed saws were used in the Newfoundland woods, but because of their fragility it is likely that they were mainly used for cutting or bucking logs into lengths, not so much for cutting down the trees. The solution to the problem of a good one man saw came from a country that would become known for its cutting edge contributions to forestry-Sweden. Sometime in the early 1920’s the Swedish firm of Sandvikens came up with the idea of stretching a blade into an oval metal frame and locking it with a tension handle. Coupled with a thin blade with pick and raker teeth like the bigger saws this became the ideal tool for cutting pulpwood. By 1927 this type of saw was widely adopted by Newfoundland loggers.

The metal framed bucksaw introduced a change in the lumber woods it increased individual production. Around the same time these saws came into the woods the AND Co started to change the way they paid loggers. Since the bucksaws increased how much an individual could cut in a day some men could cut much more than others so a system of piece work was introduced. Piecework had existed side by side with wage labor since around 1920 but gradually it replaced the latter. Loggers working on a piecework basis were paid by the cord and how much money a man could make depended upon how much he cut in a day. There was no guaranteed wage and a man had to cut at least enough to pay his board at the camp or he would be sent home.

The metal framed bucksaw, developed in Sweden revolutionized cutting because it enabled one man operation. This increased productivity and hastened the transition to a piecework system of cutting. (Atlantic Guardian 1947)
The metal framed bucksaw, developed in Sweden revolutionized cutting because it enabled one man operation. This increased productivity and hastened the transition to a piecework system of cutting. (Atlantic Guardian 1947)

The introduction of the bucksaw meant that the size of pulpwood junks could be reduced since it was less labor intensive to cut the trees to length. For most of the AND Co operations (with some exceptions) pulpwood was cut to about 5 feet or 5 feet 2 inches. This again changed in 1948 with the installation of new machinery at the mill in Grand Falls, to 4 foot wood.

What the old time loggers referred to as the old bucksaw days lasted from roughly 1925 until about 1955. 30 years that have been fairly heavily studies and documented in relation to woods operations. It was in this period that a settled pattern of seasonal operations was carried on. It was also a period that say forestry rise in prominence in terms of exports and employment, at one point during the Great Depression the value of pulp and paper products surpassed the value of fishery exports! There were years in the 1930’s and 40’s that somewhere around 12,000 men made some of their yearly living cutting with the old bucksaw. This number does not include those cutting firewood for their own personal use, there is no doubt that there was an old bucksaw hanging in every shed on the island.

When camps were cutting a full time saw filer was needed to keep bucksaw blades sharp. Sharpening and setting saw teeth was a job that required quite a bit of skill.
When camps were cutting a full time saw filer was needed to keep bucksaw blades sharp. Sharpening and setting saw teeth was a job that required quite a bit of skill.

Cutting with a bucksaw was labour intensive work which favored the young loggers. The old larger saws still had a place in some camps when loggers camp up against exceptionally large timber, but both types of saw would be replaced by better technology in the 1950’s.

Enter the Chainsaw

IPP and Bowaters experimented with Chnasaws in the 1930's and 40's. It isn't known if A.N.D did the same. The early saws were cumbersome two man units.....
IPP and Bowaters experimented with Chnasaws in the 1930’s and 40’s. It isn’t known if A.N.D did the same. The early saws were cumbersome two man units…..
that were electrically powered and required a huge portable generator for power. (Bowater's Woods Department and Jim Falconer Truck Photos).
that were electrically powered and required a huge portable generator for power. (Bowater’s Woods Department and Jim Falconer Truck Photos).

The first chainsaws were invented in the 1920’s and they were huge cumbersome affairs that often required a crew of two men to operate. Interestingly enough for a country that is often seen as backwards or underdeveloped chainsaws appeared fairly early on the island of Newfoundland, albeit on an experimental basis. International Power and Paper experimented with chainsaws on the West Coast around 1931 and photographic evidence exists of their use. The saw in use appears to be the large two man type, electric with power supplied by a portable generator. It isn’t known if AND Co acquired any of these saws to experiment with. Bulky, sometimes requiring an external power source and anything but handy chainsaws didn’t catch on until the 1950’s.

One man chainsaws started to filter into the woods around 1952. At first they were very heavy, vibrated heavily and cut wood at a relatively slow rate. Early models could not even cut if turned sideways because of the layout of their carburetors.  One old logger told me of how they used to race men with chainsaws against men with bucksaws, and sometimes the bucksaw won out! In that era of the early 1950’s a man who wanted to have a power saw was expected to buy his own. Besides being heavy and slow they were also very expensive costing around $2-300.00 at the time, a significant amount of the money a man could ear from cutting. Some of the earliest brands included Homelite, Maculloch and Pioneer. The old Maculloch were big old yellow machines often very slow, some had extra sprockets to improve their speeds, even with their limitations they managed to catch on. By 1959 only a very small fraction of loggers were still using bucksaws-often these were older men who were probably borrowing their sons chain saws when they were not using them! By that time the first really good and reliable power saw come into the woods-including the Pioneer.

The Pioneer chainsaw was a favorite of loggers in the 1960’s. By that point the paper companies and logging contractors started to purchase the power saws themselves releasing the loggers from the financial burden of having to pay for the saws. At the same time the power saw combined with other factors like the wheeled skidder was leading to a dwindling number of loggers.

Cutters and Buckers-

Chainsaws bowater jim falconer 1962

Chainsaws coupled with the introduction of the skidder fundamentally changed the nature of woods work by the mid 1960’s. Before, loggers would cut, buck and pile their wood along their individual “roads” from where it would be hauled by tractor or horse in the winter. A skidder could get just about anywhere and haul full length trees to the road. So fellers started to cut trees, leave them whole, then they would be hooked on to the skidder and hauled out to the road. At road side another gang of men worked bucking the trees into short (originally 4 foot) lengths. The bolts of pulpwood would be piled on pallets which would then be winched onto trucks and driven to the nearest lake or river.

The introduction of the powersaw and skidder in the 1950's and 60's revolutionized pulpwood cutting and led to a drastic decrease in the number of men needed in the woods. (from Forestry in Newfoundland)
The introduction of the powersaw and skidder in the 1950’s and 60’s revolutionized pulpwood cutting and led to a drastic decrease in the number of men needed in the woods. (from Forestry in Newfoundland)

The last big development in cutting technology was nothing that could be held in the hand-although it could be operated by one man. Like the metal framed bucksaw the tree harvester came from Sweden. The Swedes had experimented with all sorts of harvesters after World War Two and had the technology more or less perfected by the 1970’s when Price and Bowater’s brought the first harvesters to Newfoundland.

The harvester consisted more or less of a tracked excavator with a cutting head where the shovel head normally was. This articulated head could fell, de-limb and stack a tree in a matter of seconds and with floodlights it could operate in the night. One harvester could replace a whole team of men and could level an area the size of a couple of football fields in a few days. But in all of their efficiency the harvester never fully replaced the logger. There were still something like 40-80 chainsaw  men in the woods when the Grand Falls mill shut down. They were needed to get into places that were either too difficult for the harvesters to go or by law or regulation they couldn’t go.

Bryan Marsh

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