Steam-powered Sawmill

Last weekend I was lucky enough to wrangle an invitation to Miner’s Annual Saw Day. What’s a “Saw Day?” In this case it’s private backyard mini-festival hosted by Dale Miner and his family that features an all-day demonstration of a sawmill powered by a vintage 1916 Case steam engine tractor. The steam engine is a beast of a machine that weighs in at 13 tons and generates 65 horsepower from a 250-gallon boiler. And like at any backyard festival, there was lots of wonderful food, some of it prepared over an open fire. Throw in a beautiful, sunny, fall day here in Ohio and it was just about perfect. Watch the video and you’ll see it all, including a “half-size” steam tractor Dale built in 1980 from scratch. It’s a scale model of the big machine he bought in 1983.

The sawmill was made in the early 1950s. It’s powered, of course, by the tractor and the very long belt connecting the two machines. The main belt not only turns the 54″-diameter saw blade but also propels the carriage that moves the log down the track and through the blade. The carriage has both forward and reverse motion and has a device to easily move the log sideways in small increments to set the thickness of each successive cut. Massive dogs hold the log in place. The big blade has 50 teeth that are just over 1/4″ thick each. With this setup, the mill has a 23″ cutting capacity.

The steam engine burns either wood or coal and Dale says it takes about 90 minutes to get up enough steam to be at full power. Not just anybody can operate the beast. Dale had to qualify to get an Historical Boiler Operator’s License.

Enjoy the video and thanks, Dale, for including me in this year’s Saw Day.

– Steve Shanesy

14 thoughts on “Steam-powered Sawmill

    1. Jonas Jensen

      Hi Dick,
      Thanks for the link, what a fantastic place. If ever had to immigrate, I guess that Oregon would be a nice place to live.
      Best regards from Denmark

  1. Jonas Jensen

    I really like the system for moving the log so that you make a uniform thickness of the plank. My sawmill has a fence more like a normal table saw, where you are supposed to press the clean cut side of the log against the fence yourself.

    I would love to have seen the half size traction engine steam around on the lawn. beautiful work.

  2. dmac4870

    For anyone near southeastern Ontario, the Upper Canada Village, a little west of Cornwall, has an operating water powered saw mill that they use to saw some beautiful wood for use at the village and by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission. A few weeks back, they also had a steam powered saw going, just like the one above. Very cool to watch. I prefer the water-powered mill, myself….the whole building shakes when that thing gets ripping…pardon the pun!

    Cheers,
    Derek

  3. bob_easton

    Traction engines are so impressive! Just try wrapping a power belt around a back wheel of your Ford F-150 and see if there’s enough “umph” to power that saw.

    There were 2 traction engines, a large one driving the saw (with a roof on it), and a smaller Case that passes by later.

    Do they still have traction engine festivals in the great midwest? I visited one in southern Indiana about 30 years ago.

  4. robert

    Very cool. One thing i noticed: the belt was set up to run in a two sided loop. Most times that a long belt is used to connect a stationary engine to a mill or threshing machine, the belt is assembled with a half twist, turning it into a Mobius strip which is a single sided loop. This doubles the life of the belt.

  5. tsstahl

    “Historical Boiler Operator’s License”

    Really?

    If you told me that in a bar, I’d call BS and make you buy a round.
    —-
    I have visions of the boiler police knocking at your barn door.

    1. Steve_OH

      It’s because steam boilers have historically had a tendency to explode, causing great mayhem.

      And yes, there are boiler police, of sorts. The regulations governing boilers and other pressurized vessels are generally taken from the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code (there’s a Wikipedia article, if you’re interested).

      -Steve (who in a previous life designed ultrahigh-purity gas handling equipment–that had to conform to the ASME Code–for NASA and DOE projects)

  6. aaronfrank

    Very cool. Thanks for sharing. They’re a similar set up at the annual threshing bee in Sycamore, Illinois each yer, sometime around the third weekend of August.

  7. AL

    Steve, thanks for sharing, that was great. Georgia’s Museum of Agriculture & historic Village, located in Tifton, Georgia
    among a number of other things, has a steam-powered sawmill.
    I saw the Tifton, Ga sawmill in action several years ago. It was definitely worth seeing & they saw wood with it thru out the day.

    http://www.woodworkingwithajo.com

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