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Axes & Saws of the Lumberman

Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!

By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Society Museum

Two of the primary tools of the Maine woods lumberman were the axe and various kinds of saws. In McLeod’s massive work of the history of Great Northern Paper Company, he describes the use of these important tools.

Single bitted axes were used for “notching” or “undercutting” and for delimbing and topping. Axes were used to fell trees and to strip the bark from them (also used bark spuds and draw-knives). All blades were kept very sharp and most of the axe-men carried an axe stone with them at all times. Some used the double-bitted axe while others believed it to be a dangerous choice. Those men preferred to use two single bitted axes, using one to cut through the bark and the other to cut into the tree itself.

The bucksaw was introduced to the Maine woods about 1912 and had thick blades with triangular teeth. Most often, the frames were wood, often home-made and were tightened by a double rope at the top and twisted with a short stick. Some loggers chose the thin Swedish type blades for their saws. Those has two types of teeth. This thinner type blade was more efficient, but also more expensive. Some inventive loggers made their own saw blades from the springs of hand-wound phonographs. Two different lengths of blades were used, the 42-inch and the 48-inch.

Crosscut saws were in use in that same time period. Two-man crosscut saws cut in either direction on the pull stroke. They were from 4 ft. to 7 ft. long. One-man crosscut saws had a D-shaped handle. Crosscut saws had different shaped teeth and tooth patterns for different uses.

The saw blades and axes used by the early logger were considered “expendable” materials and needed to be replaced sometimes. Each logging operation had its own “saw filer” who was one of the three highest paid men in the GNP lumber camps. The other two highest paid were the head cook and the head blacksmith. One chart shows all three getting $2 a day in 1916 and $3 in 1922.

The museum has a display of several bucksaws, crosscut saws and axes. The axes are part of the Dana Brown collection. Brown collected Maine logger axes as well as some from earlier time periods such as the very large-bladed axes (displayed in Brown’s barrel of axes) and the French axe he liked to point out to visitors.

McLeod states, “Wood cutting in those days was a quiet operation as early versions of the chain saw did not come out until the late 1940’s- early 1950’s. Crews were scattered around the job. Tractors were not used until winter. Horses yarding the wood made little noise. Saws were mostly silent. The ‘chock-chock’ of axes and the crack and thud of falling trees could be heard from a long distance on still days.”

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