Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Portland Oregon Crosscut Saw Sharpening

Life is a funny thing.  I started this blog to showcase the forgotten history of the Mt. Hood National Forest.  My intent is to make the past come alive and incorporate classic outdoor skills and tools into our modern world.
  Through my search for the surviving past, and my experiences restoring wilderness trails, I came across a familiar old friend to grizzled veterans of the woods - our friend the crosscut saw.  Little did I know how much interest these old saws would bring; so many people are seeking modern answers for these old relics and continue to require the services of a good saw sharpener.  I was also surprised to learn that it is quite difficult to find someone to sharpen these saws in the Portland area, despite the profusion of forests surrounding Stumptown and the classic historic use of these tools.

I'd like to begin this article with a very brief explanation of the crosscut, why anyone still cares about this old antique, and finish with my experiences sharpening a brand new crosscut saw.

Crosscuts really did change our lands within a generation.  Although they're powered by sweat and muscle alone, those floppy old saws could clear entire forests surrounding the steam powered logging camps.  It's all now just a distant memory.

Crosscut saws are precise instruments from a lost age, impossible to even recreate in these modern times.  Both the equipment to create the saws and the men who knew how to run them have passed into history.  

The era of the crosscut saw ended rather abruptly in the 1950s with the development of a practical gas powered chainsaw.  Although rather heavy and cumbersome, it was clearly a more efficient machine despite its belch of foul exhaust and deafening yell.  The writing was on the wall.

Feb 1938 Modern Mechanix

However, a strange exception was about to occur.  Federal law was about to outlaw the use of the chainsaw - on certain lands of course.  Elsewhere on the National Forests, clearcutting continued at unprecedented levels.

With the coming of the Wilderness Act in 1964 came new rules for ancient lands:


(c) Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.

These new rules once again changed the role of the crosscut saw.  Taken down from dusty shelves and rusting in barns, saws were resharpened and put back into use clearing the historic trails that they helped create.  It quickly became clear that those old timers were built of pretty strong stuff as a new generation took to the trails with the sleek silver saws gently flopping over shoulders.

I have written a couple of previous articles on my own experiences with the crosscut saw, including restoring and sharpening old saws, then later using them on the trail.
Let's Sharpen a Crosscut Saw
Let's Sharpen (Another) Crosscut Saw

Now, let's sharpen a brand new saw.

Recently I was contacted by Ray Marsh of Albany, Oregon.  Ray owns L&R Saw and Supply, and he has been sharpening crosscut saws for the past 60 years.  Remarkable, and I was eager to meet the man.

L & R Saw & Supply
438 Queen Ave SW
Albany OR 97322
541-990-0490 cell
We can cut any material up to 6" thick, 5 ft x 10 ft. in size. In some instances we can cut material 40-50 ft long. 
Our hourly charge for computer work is $70 per hour. If customer has the ability to have drawing for auto cad 2005 will save them lots of time. There is still computer time because we have to make sure all lines are connected for reading. 
We can cut logos in existing saws or wood or plastic or glass but no SAFETY GLASS. You give us a design and we can draw and cut it.

Ray owns a full service saw and metal cutting shop in Albany, with the ability to water jet cut any pattern of saw in any material and length.  He needed a local person to sharpen a brand new 6 foot lance-tooth bucking saw, and was having a difficult time, until he discovered the Green Cascadia blog.

Ray drove up from Albany to deliver a brand new 6 foot saw blank as well as a control sample.

"Make it this way", he told me with a smile.  The saw would be used for competition for a local high school.
  We talked a while about his life and business, and then I was left with a shop full of gleaming teeth on silver bands.  What is this, 1935?  Well I wanted to recreate history, so here we are.

Never before have I sharpened a brand new saw - all of my other experience has been restoring vintage saws that had already been used in life and were somewhat set already.  Heck, until Ray contacted me I had no idea there was a local saw manufacturer to begin with.  I was excited for the experience and quickly got to work.

On the bench and ready to go

Brand spanking new!

This saw is considered a blank, which means the outline of the teeth have been cut from bare metal.  In this case, high speed bandsaw steel, strong and springy enough to withstand the rigors of heavy use.  Other than an outline of the teeth and rakers, the saw has no sharpness whatsoever.  

before sharpening

Jointing the saw.  I discover that the process that cut the saw tapered the material slightly, so the jointing must go deep enough to compensate for this.  Of course I found out the hard way, well into sharpening the saw...

Next comes setting the raker depth, then filing and swaging them.  The tooth pattern and size is somewhat unusual - this is a custom designed saw with smaller than usual cutting teeth and exaggerated raker shape.  I find the rakers challenging to swage with a crosscut hammer due to the hardness of the material and the odd shape, but soon get the hang of it.  Just like falling off a log.

After consulting a few metalworking experts, I decide to sharpen this saw by hand, pointing each tooth individually with a hand file.  This becomes unbelievably tedious; next time I will use a small grinder to rough in the teeth first.  It was however a good way to get to know the properties of the material.

 pointing up cutting teeth

Done! (with 2 at least...)  Razor sharp, watch your fingers!

Finished with the cutting teeth after many long hours.  Although I was still very careful I still managed to cut the hell out of my fingers.  A lesson learned: I really (really) need a better saw vice for positioning the saw.

Finally it's time to set the splay of the cutting teeth with hammer and anvil.  Once again this takes quite a solid whack to get this tough material to bend.

 A crossshaped gauge called a spider is used to verify the correct set.  Mississippi  John Hurt's lost words from '28 ring through my ears, "I'm a spider, I'm a spider crawling down your wall sweet mama".  

And then just like that, I'm done.  A job well done no less.  
Be sure to oil the saw or it will quickly rust, ruining your hard work.

And not a moment too soon.

Please contact me if you have an old crosscut that needs restoration or sharpening.  I can also custom sharpen a new saw (like the one shown here) manufactured by L&R Saw and Supply. Just send me an email for more information and I'll be happy to get back to you.  Thanks for reading, and please check out the other Green Cascadia articles if you've enjoyed what you've read.

Happy trails!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Little Badger Camp - March 2012

The first days of spring 2012 bring forth a fury of winter weather, with deep snows in the mountains and to the Pacific.  It is cold, white and unexpected after weeks of unusually soggy weather.
Nervously I scan the National Weather Service for updates.  Warnings abound.  Deep snow expected in the Cascades.  Abandon all hope.
Let's go camping!
 Loaded up in Portland

End of March camps have been a godsend for us Westside (of the Cascades) Oregonians.  After a long and relentless winter coupled with short days, those who love the outdoors near madness as we sit cooped up like hens.  GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!

 Randy fueled and ready

From the Pacific Ocean to the sagebrush plateau of Central Oregon, the climate gradually changes from cool and moist rainforest to a sparse and beautiful land of juniper and sage.  The prevailing weather is from the West, with storms losing their moisture in great quantities over the Coast Range Mountains, followed by the Willamette Valley, eventually losing steam over the rough and gentle peaks of the green Cascades.  Remarkably, the west side of the Cascades has a completely different climate than the east, each ridge progressively drier as one treks eastward.  Habitats and forest types often bear little resemblance to each other on each side of the Cascade Crest.  It is very exciting country to explore, as you never know what you might find.  Elevation also plays a major factor, with lingering snowpacks above and almost tropical growth below with gigantic firs and decadent moss.
This is all well and good.  By the end of a Northwest winter, the salvation sun is on the tip of most lips.  Most of the brave souls I know would camp in hypothermia just to get out there, but oh God where is the sun?
Usually by the end of March, the Eastside provides some respite.  

 Road above Little Badger

After a long and uneventful drive down Interstate 84 and up 197, I am fretting at the deepening snow dusting trees and roadside.  A long cold climb into a Dalles sky brings snow, draping crops and piled along side the road.  Past Tygh Valley, the snow is deep into the Mt. Hood National Forest but still passable.  
And then I see the road down into camp.  Nervous making in the summer with deep ruts and steep grade, it is absolutely terrifying hiding under thick snow.
What to do?

 photo by Randy Matheny

After a long, slow, and careful deliberation we decide to press on and drive down into the canyon.  "A bus can go anywhere" we reason.  "Elves will help" we say.

True, my beloved bus has returned me safely from many insane adventures and I really can rely on it.  But I grew up in Chicago and do not like driving in snow.  It is dangerous and unpredictable.  Chains help a lot, but I did not want to climb under a wet and snow caked vehicle to deal with it.  
Down the chute!  And it really wasn't so bad.  My heart stopped racing only 4 hours later.  But I was safely at camp.  But where is Randy?

Stuck in a ditch.  "Bald tires" he tells me with a smile.
Photo by Randy Matheny

We get her unstuck.

 cold beer

 And then the thought: "how the HELL are we getting out of here?"

No matter.  We have dropped into a white heaven on the edge of high desert.  The aqua creek flows cold and fresh, clean enough to drink on this purest of days.  There is a lot of snow down here...
It is time for a beer and to settle down.  The snow falls all around us in polite bombs, dusting down as diamond jewels.  A fire is wonderful.

 Randy tries to catch a fish

 very, very good

After the best sleep of my life, I am awakened by the most gorgeous sun a fellow could hope for, filtered through tall trees and dappled onto the rolling snow like bits of dancing flame.

It is time for breakfast and for life.

By noon it is hot enough to remove my shirt and expose pale salamander skin.  It is pure heaven as the creek sings to me.  The road is beginning to melt out.  Our friends are due to arrive this evening and we worry about their safety.


 The road is declared safe for travel by the Little Badger Highway and Beer Department

I hear helicopters and panzer tanks nearby, so I assume Jasan is arriving with his distinctive engine. 

 We warn him about the road, but he just smiles and rolls down into the slop.

We enjoy this incredible day and watch glowing day shift to night.  Soon Gypsie and Mike and family arrive, wild eyed after braving the road into camp at night.  All are safe despite it all, and enjoy the cold night.


After breakfast, we walk up the road again to reassure our jangled nerves.  The snow is mostly gone, leaving deep and steep muddied ruts in places.  But the day begins blue and dry.

 Oaks, firs and pines together in one place.

Little Badger has been around for a while.  It was probably built in the 1930s along the now defunct "North South Road".  In that era, a trail once connected the campground with the rest of the forest.  In the 1950s came other roads, and the trail was abandoned for about a mile to the wilderness boundary nearby.  Although it skirts a road, the old trail is still there, blazed and somewhat easy to follow in this dry country and following the creek in it's entirety.  You just never know where you'll find a piece of history.  

 "National Forest Land" something something on this old sign

 A very old fire ring and camp along the trail.  Who slept here over the years?  

 Mike checking out the old route

Back at camp, we settle down for a cold and graying evening.  Luckily there is plentiful food and good times.

We collaborate on a pineapple upside down peach cinnamon cake in a dutch oven.

 It was the best cake I ever ate and should have taken a photo instead of stuffing it down.  Just imagine...

The night falls in a thump.  It is time for one last stumble of the evening.  It is time for warm beds and good sleep.  It is time for unfounded worries about horrible roads, and the loving embrace of those we miss on the other shores of this Earth lying locked in cities instead of forest.  

Absolutely and completely insane.

Thanks guys.