Hand Tools Archive

The nasty side effect of efficiency

david weaver
I like to watch an old sawyer named "Mike McCoy" on youtube. He's got a circle mill that's not even remotely close to new - it looks like it's probably a 50 year old frick mill.

But I finally see, watching him, the drive to get the most board feet out of a log, and the continuous flipping until every flat sawn face is out of the logs, never a quartered or rift piece to be found anywhere.

I wouldn't be surprised with veneer logs if each iteration of machinery was pushed further and further to maximize the amount of the log used in veneer, advertised as such (the economic proposition is easy to make), and all that's left as trimmings for people to pick up is stuff that my dad would've said "makes too much ash to burn".

I would love to work with nothing but quartered cherry. It planes easily, has fantastic personality and to my eye, wonderful color without any stain (not to most eyes - and my wife calls the figure "marks. Why does it have all of the dirty marks on it? Can't they be cleaned off?"

Of course, most of the efficiencies were found long ago. I grew up close to waynesboro, pa. There were a lot of old frick mills in the hills around Gettysburg where local sawyers were running, and there were still some when I was a little kid (but more rusting mills with U-farmall power units by that time - just sitting waiting for a buyer). By the time I was in college, I worked at a cabinet factory (pure production, didn't have any resemblance to woodworking). Our weekly scrap and rework cost was about $800 total on 3350 cabinets, and every monday, we'd get the spiel "we've got to keep working to get the scrap and rework down, $800 is too high". Fill in the number. If it was $900, it was too high. If it was $550 one week "it's getting better, but still too high".

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