Columnist Jim Hilton’s portable sawmill with the extra blades and disc sharpener.                                 Jim Hilton photo                                Columnist Jim Hilton’s portable sawmill with the extra blades and disc sharpener. Jim Hilton photo

Columnist Jim Hilton’s portable sawmill with the extra blades and disc sharpener. Jim Hilton photo Columnist Jim Hilton’s portable sawmill with the extra blades and disc sharpener. Jim Hilton photo

Forestry Ink: Saw filers are critical for the forest industry

Jim Hilton returns with his regular column

Meat cutters, wood carvers and firewood users all know the importance of keeping their equipment sharp and in good working order.

When I had my wood-burning furnace, I was always on the lookout for firewood even if it meant scrounging through cull piles. While some cull logs were reasonably clean, others presented a challenge in keeping my chainsaw sharp. It was amazing how a little dirt on the logs or how a slight touch of the chain on the ground would take off the edge of my recent sharpening job. I learned a few techniques over the years of dealing with dirty logs, like never dragging the dirty bark into the log when cutting. It takes a little more work to use the tip of the chainsaw to enter the log in a clean spot and then cut from the inside out. Band sawmills are notorious for losing their edge quickly with dirty logs. The newer mills have a device that cleans the dirt away from the entry side of the blade, which extends the life of the blade considerably. While I have a carbide tip blade on my portable sawmill, which is much more forgiving of dirty logs, as soon as I see more fine sawdust compared to the long chips, I know it is time to get my diamond disk sharpener out.

The more wood you cut, the more critical it is too keep the processing equipment sharp and in good repair. Winter logging helps keep logs clean, as do forwarders in some situations (i.e. carry rather than drag logs).

When the logs get to the mill, debarking should eliminate any contaminated bark, and metal detectors work well to warn of any metal objects. I had a load of logs from a subdivision development and found staples from barbwire fences, nails from things like birdhouses or feeders and who knows what, and the contamination did wreck a few saw blades. If sharp blades are important for the small business, it is understandable how important it is for the logging and sawmilling industry that process millions of logs each year.

A recent article in the Logging Sawmilling Journal describes how industry is attempting to keep up with training new saw-filers. Williams Lake is fortunate in having a saw-filer training facility at our TRU campus. According to the article this local program continues to be the only one in Canada and the Western United States to offer technical training for the trade. As expected, this trade is so critical for the logging and sawmill industry that an association has been established. The BC Saw Filer’s Association had a recent Annual General Meeting in Kamloops, where attendees were able to see and hear the latest about new filing and automation technology, along with the best maintenance and safety practices.

The TRU schooling is only the first part of the necessary training, which is followed by 1,680 hours of work-based training in two of the three levels of education, which leads to the final certification. For those so inclined, this could be a very interesting career, and as a small sawmill owner-operator, I can certainly appreciate the importance of having people skilled in this trade. It is a treat to put a new reconditioned blade on my mill and see how it slices through a tough hardwood log.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo-Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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