Yes we cant

We need sheathing for our Hatch Mill project.

Its roof and walls will be covered with flat sawn boards.

But they can’t be just any sawn stuff.

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Because we’re restoring an 18th-century sash saw mill, and the original sheathing boards were made by an up-and-down saw, we can’t in good conscience just lay up circular sawn material with their characteristic arcs across the board’s face. Sash sawn boards are identifiable by their regular and almost perpendicular saw marks–not quite pit-sawn, not quite band-sawn, and certainly not circular sawn.

And yet, we haven’t a working sash saw.

Enter Bob Reimels:

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There are 50,000 Wood-Mizers, but only one Bob Reimels.

He is, The Saw Whisperer.

Bob’s out of Middleboro with a keen sense of wood grain, saws, and history.

He’s an affable fellow, with an old Yankee lilt to his tongue and a frame built for projects and work.

A few Thanksgivings ago, I had the pleasure to pit-saw with Mr. Reimels. He’d brought his family out for a visit to Plimoth Plantation and we made some snarky comment about him professing to be a sawyer. He jumped into the pit, immediately took hold of the box on the end of the saw, and proceeded to outsaw all of the younger men in attendence, even though he had never used a pit-saw before. The way he used EVERY tooth of the long pit-saw, the angle which he set the first few teeth to the grain, and the efficiency of his cutting showed us how deeply he understood both saws and their relation to grain.

It was quite remarkable.

So it was without hesitation that we called Bob out to help us approximate the marks of a sash saw using his portable Wood-Mizer saw mill.

Dean Copeland–also a thoughtful historian-sawyer–sawed out the cants of white pine at his mill, Copeland and Sons Lumber Co. A cant of wood is a length of timber that has been sawn with a flat or multiple flats to stabilize the timber for further processing. A can’t of wood is when the timber is so knotty and so dry that we dare not go at it with our dull chisels, saws, and axes.

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In the back of Dean’s yard, Bob and I set up for a day of band saw work.

Bob goes over each log with a metal detector. There might be nails or battleships in those trees.

You can’t always trust a cant.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of pine?

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Unlike metal detecting at the beach on the 4th of July, there’s no fun finding metal in saw logs.

He’ll get hits from time to time. There was a 6 penny finish nail deep in the heart of the morning’s second pine. What the dilly!? Nail gun hijinks? Pre-nailing baseboard?

Later, Bob and his metal detector found what was likely an old piece of lead shot or bullet. The soft lead didn’t hurt the saw, however. And the pine seemed impervious as well.

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Back to sawing: We had about a dozen cants to saw into 1″ boards and a few 2″ planks.

The nice thing about sawing with Bob is his attention to detail.

He is acutely aware of the history we are trying to reflect on the face and edge of each board. So he’ll saw tapers from Dean’s tapered cants–old boards don’t always have parallel edges. He also put a small wedge on the near-end of the cant in order to replicate a small angle of the saw to the board face. This slight angle is commonly seen in sash sawn stuff.

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Edges are jointed as well, using the same angled block to approximate the right saw marks. No detail is too small for Bob.

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After several cants and a few hours of sawing, the blade began to vibrate a little more than usual in some “angry grain”, as Bob called it.

A dulling blade creates more heat in the kerf and leads to more sap left on the metal. It also wanders a little more on the face of the board leaving an uneven surface.

Some of the sap can be taken off with a stick to get a little more sawing out of a blade–

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Some big, hard-boiled egg gets a look at a pretty face and bang, he cracks up and goes sappy- -Carl Denham, King Kong

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But with a couple of cants left to saw, Bob knew it was time to change up.

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With a flick of his wrist, Bob took the open loop of the removed saw blade and instantly folded it within itself to a third of its size. He could make serious coin doing this trick at Faneuil Hall.

Bob sharpens his own blades. The saw set and tooth angle changes according to the material.

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As he set the blade–guided by feel and experience as much as anything else–he spoke of the micro-fractures that occur in the saw’s gullet and how filing those out helps to keep the blade from breaking.

Bob is a smart man.

The day’s haul:

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As we rounded home in our sawing, a local woman stopped by and asked Dean out in front if he knew of anyone who could saw some small white birch for a display in her store. The stock was far too small for Dean’s saw, but he thought Bob might be able to help.

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This was utterly spontaneous and unplanned. It was a treat to watch Maria describe what she wanted from the birch and Bob improvise ways to accomplish this.

Bob had never sawn anything like this on his Wood Mizer before.

But as a result of Maria’s good nature and Bob’s patient generosity and skill, there was no questioning a successful outcome. And several wedges and shims and careful sawing later, Bob had sawn out just what Maria wanted for her store.

This wasn’t a surprise. Whether it’s pit-sawing, band sawing, or sawing out aesthetically pleasing store displays, Bob’s one of those humble fellows who just gets it. And though it was the end of a long day of sawing, there was never any doubt he’d help Maria out with this tricky but doable project.

Yes he cant.

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Maria was VERY pleased and gracious.

These days, Bob saws mostly for fun. He enjoys what he does and he does it very well.

He will go back to continue his work volunteering to restore an historic outhouse in Middleboro.

Just another day for The Saw Whisperer.

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8 thoughts on “Yes we cant

  1. saw him at the Plantation a few times I think–

  2. Wow. That’s awesome to see a master sawyer at work. And it’s so different from the pitsaw!

  3. John Wolf says:

    Rick, you really do meet the most interesting people! I haven’t looked for it in years, it might be gone now, but there was a foundation for a sash saw mill about 10 miles from here. I should try to find out more about it, I was just told “that was an up – and – down sawmill”.

  4. Richard Law says:

    Those special jobs – that’s what life’s about.

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