pitsawing images and records, etc.

Dutch sawyers

This is another type of pitsaw; a narrow blade tensioned in a wooden frame. Not commonly found in English work. Here the sawyers have their stock up on trestles, as in the Bruegel drawing the other night. (I’ve lost track of where I got this drawing, so I apologize, I don’t know who the artist is)

This next engraving is from a Dutch emblem book called “Sinnepoppen” (1614) – it shows this form of saw quite clearly.

Sinnepoppen, 1614

 Randle Holme commented on this type of pitsaw:  “a Pit Saw in a Frame: This kind of Pit-Saw with a Frame is not in use with us, but in the Up Countreys, it is altogether made use of, but for what Fancy I judge not, but think it much easier and better without it.”   Now – what he means by “Up Countreys” I don’t know – but it is used in Holland, Germany, Flanders, etc during the period. So maybe it’s northern Europe…

Now, for the questions. I do not profess to be an expert sawyer by any means. I did it regularly years ago, and thus I do know some of what has worked for us at the museum. When I get stuck, I will shout for the carpenters…

Chris Currie wrote from England and mentioned the angle of attack seen on pitsawn surfaces. He says:

“From memory, the period saw marks I can recall seeing over the years run at various angles through the board – from pretty ‘vertical’, i.e. 90 degrees, to quite shallow angles; sometimes inconsisently within the same board. So, I would imagine sawyers found what suited them best.”

I know we have worked the saw at an angle to start the kerf, gradually move it up to nearly vertical, then it goes back to an angle near the end of the log, this last in response to the top sawyer running out of a place to stand – he usually gets off the log and stands on a supporting timber.

“Do you also think the thickness of the material being cut might influence the angle of the blade to some degree?”

I will defer to the sawyers, and will ask them.

John Leyden asked “Is it part of the safety technique not to saw a board completely off the log, and thus to leave them all “attached” at the far end, for the top man’s footing?”

Yes, we don’t usually cut the boards off one-by-one until 90% of the sawing is done. Then it’s just a few strokes to sever the last bits of each kerf.

“Also wondering approximately how long it took your two colleagues to saw that white oak log into those 7 or 8 boards.”

Ahh, how long does it take? Many variables, and I will get back to this one.

And yes, it is great winter work. I almost never did it in warmest months…

NOW, some stuff from various period records pertaining to sawing. there’s a lot of it, so it ought to keep you busy.

In the 1670s in London the sawyers tried to incorporate, and the joiners, carpenters & ship carpenters petitioned the City to prevent it. The sawyers petition failed. The Carpenters’ Company records have some of the pertinent citations:

“The saweinge of Timber with the long Sawe (commonly called the whipp sawe) is sometimes performed by the Carpenters and other Tradesmen aforesaid in their owne persons and by their Servants and Apprentices (as occasion requires) and sometimes by Laborers (such as the pretenders to the incorporacon) who worke either by the day for wages or by the Load or hundred in Grosse.”

Then they go on about how over the last 25 years, prices have changed, particularly since the great fire of 1666.

“That these sort of Laborers have within these 25 years cut timber in grosse for 5s p load & not long before the fire for 6s and since the fire are risen to 8s and 9s p load …To the apparent prejudice of his maiestie and all his subjects.”  [the quotes from the Carpenters’ records are in E. B. Jupp, An Historical Account of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, (London, Pickering & Chatto, 1887)].

The joiners’ records also contain some complaints about the sawyers, complaining about prices, poor quality work, etc. These records date from the early 1630s:

“Report to the C of Aldermen…we caused to come before us as well divers of the C[ompan]y of Joyners as other freemen Boxmakers as also the Sawyers  we conferred also with the Wardens of the Carpenters Cy touching the matters complained. We find that some few men who were first freemen sawyers of the City were brought up as Weavers bakers clothworkers & the like & afterwards learned the skill of sawing from forreine Sawyers did about twenty years past begin to take apprentices whereby the number of freemen Sawyers are now increased to about twentie persons and that those freemen with their apprentices that work with them are as the free sawyers themselves do affirm number about fifty & eight persons and we find that all the free sawyers are not able to perform the eighth part of the labor and business of sawing within this City &c for the works of his Majesty & others. That within these twentie years the prices of sawing is so exceedingly increased by means that the foremen Sawyers have appropriated the performance of the work & that only forreyners have served under them as that there is now taken sometimes three pence and sometimes four pence for sawing a Curfe of Wainscott which was then done for three half pence and no more. And because when less rates were taken a pair of sawyers were able to get 21/ or 22/ a week.  We think that some course be taken that sawyers may take more moderate rates. We think the full aim of the freesawyers is only to get into their own hands the whole labor of all the Sawing works within this City & be enabled to keep up the high prices for their labor & only to use the labor of Forreners to the prejudice of this City. We find that the freemen do put the forrener on work as servants for them  We find most part of the freemen sawyers are not so skilful neither will they work on any heavy work as in heavy timber but only in boards &c  It was instanced that one Anthony Messenger a Carpenter was arrested for putting a forreyn sawyer on work   Was compelled to go to freemen sawyers to have the work done. This freemen sawyer & his three apprentices after they had taken the work in hand were glad for want of skill to leave the said work & Messenger was enforced to go to a forreyner to perform the same to his loss.  And the Joyners Carpenters Boxmakers complained to us that when they have been compelled to put some free sawyers on work they have so ill performed it for want of skill that the owners of the work have sustained much damage and yet never recompenced We find the Cy of Carpenters have orders for the correction of Sawyers but the free Sawyers themselves have no authority for government of Sawyers. And we find that the Sawyers have been heretofore laborers to the Carpenters & Joyners   We find that the Carpenters have been much hindered by the freemen sawyers by the excessive number of apprentices as also by the number of Carpenters yards which these freemen sawyers keep, some as many as four Carpenters Yards thus engrossing the timber & wainscot and the Carpenters are compelled to get their supply from these Sawyers. The Committees opinion is that the Freemen Sawyers should be limited to the number of Apprentices and to keeping so many Carpenters yards and that the foreiyn Sawyers be not sued for working in this City as they have been.”

[Henry Laverock Phillips, Annals of the Worshipful Company of Joiners of the City of London, (London: privately printed, 1915) p. 25, 26]

Oh, to know what is meant by a “curf of wainscot” – I know it means one pass of the saw down the length of a piece of wainscot. But what is the size of wainscot? There’s another blog post some night, the various uses of the term “wainscot”…

In New England, sawyers were employed regularly in the building trades. New Haven records contain information about wages:

Sawing by the hundred not above 4s6d for boards. 5s for plancks. 5s6d for slittworke and to be payd for no more than they cutt full and true measure. If by the dayes worke, the top man or he that guides the worke and phaps findes the tooles, not above 2s6d a day in somr, and the pitt ma, and he whose skill and charge is lesse, not above 2s, and a proportionable in winter as before. If they be equall in skill and charge,  then to agree or divide the 4s6d between them.  

[Charles J. Hoadly, editor, Records of the Colony and Plantation of New Haven, from 1638 to 1649 (Hartford: Case, Tiffany and Company, 1857)]

In the case of sawing by the “hundred” – I still am not clear on what the hundred is, whether it’s board feet, or just boards. I do know that in the seventeenth century, many things sold by quantity were measured by the “hundred” – which often contained 120, sometimes 110. Once in a while I have seen records in which a hundred really was 100…

From early 17th-century Newfoundland, there is a mention of sawing:

6 October 1610  John Guy to Sir Percival Willoughby:

“…we have digged a saw-pitt hard by the sea side, and put a timber house over it [co]vered with pine boardes; there are two paire of Sawyers workinge in it, the pyne trees make good and large bordes and is gentle to saw, they be better than the deale bordes of norway, there is now a pine tree at the saw-pitt, that is about tenne feete about at the butt, and thirtie feete longe is eight feete about…”  (from Gillian T. Cell, English Attempts at Colonization, 1610-1630 (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1982) pp. 61-2.  

These figures are circumference, not diameter. This ain’t redwood/sequoia country! Still, these pine logs are three feet in diameter at the butt, and not much less than that at the tip. That’s some sawing.

In Essex, England 1661, there were rates set for wages:

For a Master Sawyer, summer wages, with meat got 10d (pence) a day. Without meat, he got 16d. His winter wages were 8d with, and 14d without. His yearly wages were ₤4-10 shillings; with another 10s for “livery” i.e. food. His “labourer” got slightly less in most cases, but equal to the master in some cases. Makes no sense, I know.

These wages are about equal to a joyner, but for some reason the joiner got higher allotment for food. A master carpenter got a little more than either of these tradesmen.

There are also records for prices for sawing and riving:

Planke, the hundred, viz. sixscore 2s.6d.
Board, the hundred 2s.6d.
Slitting worke, the Hundred 2s.6d.
Lath, the Hundred 4d.

Pale, the Hundred 12d.
Clapbord, the hundred 4s.
The felling, cleaveing & hewing of pales, shores and rayles, and setting up of every rodd of six foot long pale not exceeding seaven foote with single raile, after the rate of 16 foote & halfe to the Pole 2s. (see http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/result_details.asp?intOffSet=0&intThisRecordsOffSet=3 )


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