Saw Pits and Two Man Saws
By: The Working Man
A saw pit is the pit over which logs are positioned so that they
can be sawed with a whip saw or a two handled saw. Both saws were
operated by one man on the top end standing above and another man
on the bottom end of the saw, standing below the log. This
produced sawed planks from logs, which could then be cut down
into pales, posts, boards, and the like.
In the early days of the United States and other countries, when
the land was first being settled, there was a saw pit in
operation in almost every village and town. Of course nearly
every home or business needed planks and boards, but by far the
largest buyer of sawn wood in the past centuries has been the
ship building industry.
The people operating the saw (sawyers) were important
their community because lumber was so vital to the people. The
English dubbed the man who was in the pit a "bottom sawyer" and
the man standing above the pit (or balancing on the log in some
cases) the "top sawyer".
There are two types of saw pits, the Open saw pit and the Covered
saw pit. The open saw pit was more often than not built into
existing earth banks that were convenient to the woodlands. These
sites where selected for their natural protection from the
The pits were dug and then improved upon with wooden shutters,
posts and even bricks in some cases. Often the pits where dug,
used to cut the logs and then covered over again like charcoal
pits. They were not dug in places where flood or water seepage
was an issue.
The covered saw pit was basically a shed with a roof. (One is on
display in the Weald and Downland Museum near Chichester, West
Sussex, England.) The covering provided shelter from the elements
while the sawyers did their work.
The logs were usually hauled to the saw pits by horses and the
sawyers would alternate pull the saw up and down through the log.
If the kerf (the valley that the saw blade cuts into the wood)
began to close up on the saw and bind, often wedges or simply
bits of handy wood would be shoved into the kerf to keep it open.
Two-man saws where very carefully made so that the teeth would
clear the sawdust out of the kerf as it sawed and were designed
to cut in both directions instead of just one. Often so much
sawdust would accumulate in the pit that it would have to be dug
out from the pit so the sawyers could continue working.
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