Evolution of the Sawmill

Old time sawmillThe earliest type of sawmill, or lumbermill,  was the sawpit. The sawpit was a pit overwhich the log was positioned and held in place by saddleblocks. The “top” sawyer would balance himself atop the log, and guide the blade for accuracy. This required strength, stamina, and skill. The “bottom” sawyer worked in the pit below, primarily providing muscle. The pit was often a basin of water, and the pit sawyer had to battle a constant downpour of sawdust. The two men used a two handled “whipsaw” to rip the lumber. Using this system the team could produce roughly a dozen boards per day. This was tough, demanding work. Sawpits were integral to early ship building.

As early as the 3rd century AD, the water powered mill was invented, and was widely used up until the industrial revolution. The water powered mill operated essentially the same way as a modern mill with respect that uncut lumber enters at one end and cut/dimensional lumber exits at the other end. The watermill used basic crank and connecting rod technology. As the watermill evolved, eventually water was also used to float the timber into position, thus alleviating the need for intensive manual labor to handle the timber. Windmill sawmills were also prevalent during this time period, and used the same connecting rod technology, simply substituting wind power for the water wheel.

With the arrival of the industrial revolution, several advancements were made, First, the circular saw had been invented. The greatly increased the speed of production, while decreasing maintenance needs. The second improvement was the introduction of the steam engine. This had several impacts. First, because of steam engine trains, lumber could be easily transported in larger quantities. Previous to the train, mills had to be built near rivers or lakes, which were the primary means of transporting heavy timber. With the train, sawmills could be built on site, wherever they were needed. An added advantage was that timber by-products, sawdust, branches unusable timber, etc. could be used to fuel boilers and kilns.

Today, sawmills have advanced to become highly efficient, computer controlled machines. The saws themselves are similar to their predecessors, with faster,  better components. Now when log arrives at the mill, it is analyzed by lasers which tell the machinery which types of cuts will provide the most yield. Furthermore, 100% of the wood fiber is used. The sawdust, chips for the kiln, bark for much, and miscellaneous pieces for paper, or composite forest products.

For more information on Channel Lumber millwork, or other products and services, please contact us.

Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis

Five Tips to Keep Your Holidays Green

sustainable holidays

Sustainability is one of our core values, here are five tips to your holidays green.


  1. Purchase a live christmas tree. There are many advantages to having a live tree. For starters, a live tree will be more fragrant than a cut tree. Although many tree farms are sustainable, you won’t be paying for a dead tree, nor contributing to the costs of transport and disposal. You get the joy of having the same tree year after year, and once is has become too big to handle, you simply plant it in the yard. Start a tradition with a live tree. Find your sustainable Christmas Tree here.
  2. Reduce packaging and reuse wrapping paper. Americans throw away 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. This year consider using your own shopping bags, buying sustainable foods, avoid extra packaging and reuse wrapping paper.
  3. Make hand-crafted gifts and DIY decorations. 35% of Christmas gives end up in the closet, never to be used. Make the holidays more personal and creative by crafting a gift by hand, and making a wreath with material from your own yard.
  4. Give a gift that supports your community. This could mean buying local products, giving tickets to the theater, a museum membership or art classes. Make a donation in someone’s name.
  5. Conserve electricity. Those festive lights use electricity. Try switching to LED lights, and rethink the importance of over the top lighting. Would candles in the window be better choice to create the feeling of warmth and community?
The list of ways you can have a more sustainable Holiday goes on. Use your imagination and enjoy creating traditions that feel good and support the planet.