7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Details of Colonial Saw Mills

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

For those of us writing colonial historical books, at some point we may need to know more than just a few basic details about the saw mills and lumber mills during that time. It was a huge industry, the backbone of building up our great country, and provided many jobs, thereby, spurring the colonial economy. 

By 1706 there were 70 saw mills operating in the colonies. Large saws were used to cut wood into planks, boards, and veneers. Smaller saws were used to cut boards into smaller pieces, joints, and decorative objects.

Types of Large Saws

Single Sash - It was pulled downward by a waterwheel and upward by an elastic pole. Often, a waterwheel pulled the saw both up and down.

Parallel Saws or Gangs - Set in one frame so it can cut several boards simultaneously.

Muley Saws - Had a lighter guiding mechanism for cutting wood.

Types of Small Saws

Ripsaws and Handsaws - Simple small blades with a handle that allowed men to cut through smaller pieces of wood by hand and mostly used for general purposes.

Cross-Cut and Pit Saws - Two-man saws that contained handles on each end for both men to operate tugging the saw back and forth through the wood. Logs were cut to length with these saws.

Backsaws - Contains a thin metal blade that is designed to make very fine cuts. A thick iron or brass strip fit on the back of the saw to make it more sturdy since the blade was so thin.

Compass Saws - Contained narrow, pointed blades to saw holes in the middle of wood.

Framed Saws - Blades were mounted inside wood. 

Felloe Saws - Were used by Wheelwrights and furniture makers to create curves in the wheels and the arms and legs of chairs and wood furniture.

Note: Several images of these saws are located at the Colonial Williamsburg link at the bottom of this page.

Before the Industrial Revolution, Oliver Evans developed a wood-burning, high-pressure steam engine that began to appear in saw mills by 1810. These engines allowed lumber to be manufactured without water power.

Since most saw mills operated by water wheel power, most were located on rivers or lakes. While some logs were shipped on long wagons by the load, many were simply thrown in the river and floated down stream to their destination. A logger's worst nightmare would be a log jam in the river. Many died trying to unjam the logs.



  1. Thanks for this article, Jennifer! My grandfather and great uncles and great grandfather were lumberjacks (not in colonial times - although my son might feel I am that old!) This is great info!

  2. Fascinating, Jennifer!! Thank you so much. I never knew there were so many different types of Saws!

  3. Great article! Thanks for alerting me to it, Carrie!

  4. This is a great post, Jennifer (though I'm getting in here at the eleventh hr.-literally). I have a mill that is part of a setting in my WIP! Thanks!

  5. This is a great post, Jennifer (though I'm getting in here at the eleventh hr.-literally). I have a mill that is part of a setting in my WIP! Thanks!

  6. Oh, where was this post in 2004 when I was writing a lumber mill into my 1794 North Carolina story? ;) Great information, Jennifer. I enjoyed that particular research so much and am still fascinated by early mills of all sorts. There's a grain mill in my debut novel, but I confess my first love is the lumber mills, as my grandfather was a carpenter, and I can still remember the smell of sawdust in his shop and the screech of his table saw through wood....

  7. Lots of good information, Jennifer. I'm saving it to my research file.


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