What do you think of when you think of vacation? Sunny climes and fruity drinks? Hiking above the tree line? Lighting votives in an incense-infused space and listening to A LOVE SUPREME by John Coltrane until your vinyl melts? It’s all of it, good.
How about, pit-sawing?
As you’ve likely guessed, dear reader, the bubble in our spirit level is just a wee-bit off. And in that off-center spirit, we include many of Plimoth Plantation’s former artisans who just can’t get enough of the sweat and dust that is pit-sawing.
Why hit the gym when you can work your cardio AND make scantling for a timber-framed house at the same time?
Old friend Stuart Bolton and his lovely family were up for a visit from the DC-area and via several texts and calls, Stuart made absolutely clear his interest in jumping on the pit.Wait–you’re on vacation amidst some of the most sublime beaches on the east coast during the full flower of summer and you want to go do work in our stinky and dank saw pit? Sure, ok!
Sawyers work best when they share a similar mental and physical aptitude for the work–their pace, the saw’s angle, their relative height to one another, and a consistency of stroke. If the pit-man is an olympic distance runner and the tiller needs a smoke, they may be somewhat out-of-sync. If the tiller has T-Rex arms and cannot bring the majority of the saw’s teeth through the kerf leaving the pit-man without a full extension, it may lead to early-onset exhaustion
Stuart and Michael, however, proved a sawyers’ match made in heaven–or at least Devon.
Oh sure, it was a little awkward in the beginning, getting the saw to start plumb in the end grain of the red oak, a few tentative starts and stops, awkward silences followed by talking over one another…is this going to work? Is there enough set in the saw? Does he even like me? Then, like a cascade of arpeggios coming out of the bell of Trane’s tenor, the work all at once clicked and the two made the saw sing with a long run.
As in any relationship, however, there are inevitable rough stretches. A small amount of steering was required to keep the saw on line. Stuart and Michael’s almost plumb approach to the work made it easier to twist and “throw” the saw back on course because there’s less steel to drag in the kerf.
So while Justin and I ran interference, driving the occasional wooden wedge in the kerf behind the saw and documenting the work for posterity, Stuart and Michael sawed on. And on. And while we forgot to count the actual number of strokes in their run, we did mark the start and end points and we kept time.
Tale of the tape
Sawing an 8×10 & 1/4″ x 16′ red oak into one 7×8 beam and one 3×8 sill.
- Stuart and Michael cut 160″ (13.3 linear feet) of 8″ thick oak in 50 minutes, real time.
- That equals 25.6 square inches of cutting/minute.
“Real time” included moving the timber to another position over the pit as the kerf progressed as well as a small rest about halfway through the run.
From the pace of 25.6 square inches of sawing per minute over 50 minutes, we can extrapolate the real time sawing average over an 8 hour work day:
- 12,288 square inches of sawing or 128 linear feet through 8″ stock of red oak
These are very rough estimates, to be sure. There are a host of variables to consider. From E.B. Jupp’s, An Historical Account of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, (London, Pickering and Chatto, 1887), we have a 1655 record of sawyers’ wages (thank you Peter Follansbee):
“for oake by the hundred 2s 8d”
The record gives different wage rates for oak, elm, fir, and deale boards. These are a day’s wages and, presumably, the standard amount of material which 2 sawyers can process in that time. The question is, what is a “hundred”? Is it a measure of board feet (1 foot wide x1 foot long x 1 inch thick)? If this is true, then a sawyer in the period is expected to saw aprox. 34.5 square inches of material per minute, which is somewhat more than our rate.
How sketchy are these estimates? Very sketchy. The Riven Word stands ready to be corrected. And more delving is needed. Just what is “sawing by the hundred” anyway? Regardless, such sawing runs give us valuable insight–not to mention house parts–and, we hope, puts us in the same ballpark as our pit-sawing forefathers.
These pieces are going into the new Francis Cooke House frame. All in all, it has been a pleasant “vacation”. Outstanding work, Stuart and Michael. And thanks for your time, Mr.Bolton. So while some folks want an umbrella in their glass–others prefer sawdust in their mug.
Editor’s note: This was the second day of sawing for Stuart and Michael. Two days earlier, The Riven Word caught a streamlined 8-minute run on video in real time.
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Thank you for reading!