Circle Saw Blade

Circle Saw Blade

Circle sawblades also called circular saw blades are really a pretty amazing invention.

circular sawblade

circle saw blade

The current story is that the circular saw blade was invented by a Quaker woman or maybe a Shaker woman. There are several other versions of who invented the circular saw blade.

In any case, before the invention of circle or circular saw blades all saws were straight and cut with a back-and-forth motion.  Larger saws were much like the saws we call crosscut saws today. These saws are often run by two people who take turns pulling. There are also one man crosscut saws.

It used to be that boards were made by sawing in a saw pit.  The log would be put over the pit. There would be one man on a platform above the log and another man down in the pit below the log.  They would take turns pulling on the straight saw and work their way down the log until they had a board.  Then they would do it all over again and make another board.

cutting lumber before circle saw blades

saw pit

It was difficult to automate the process for a couple reasons. One is the fact that you had to have a reciprocal motion which is a more complex gearing problem for a water mill than a rotary motion.  Another problem is that the straight saws work best when pulled. They were designed to be as thin as practical which meant there were likely to bend when you pushed on them.

The development of Circle sawblades or circular saw blades meant that you could design the saw blade to cut in only one direction. It also meant that you could take the rotary motion from a waterwheel and tear it up or down to run the rotary saw. This was not only a simpler, cheaper gearing solution then the receptacle motion for the straight saw. It was also a much stronger, more robust mechanism.

It was obviously a huge boon to manufacturing boards out of trees. By reducing the labor they greatly reduced the cost of boards and thus housing, wagons and everything else made of wood.

My favorite version of the inventor of the circular saw blade comes from Wikipedia and is as follows: “The use of a large circular saw in a saw mill is said to have been invented in 1813 by Tabitha Babbit, a Shaker spinster, who sought to ease the labour of the male sawyers in her community.”  This is just kind of a charming story and it sort of reminds me of my mother.

cutting lumber before circle saw blades

Pit Saw

My mother was on the board of our small, local hospital and they were going to hire some efficiency experts to come in and help them save money. My mother suggested that they see what they could do themselves before they spent the money on outside experts. Mom was voted down. Then the story gets interesting. Because mom was the only girl, she was also the secretary of the hospital board. As the secretary she gave a report on the boards activities to the local medical society. So mom got up at the medical society meeting and gave them the minutes of the hospital board meeting.  When she was through with that mom made some editorial comments explaining what a dumb idea was to hire an outside expert instead of seeing what they could do themselves first.

At the next hospital board meeting it was explained that mom that she would not be invited back when her current term of service was up. Mom did a lot of volunteer work and had a huge number of friends. Mom was very polite, funny, gracious and charming ordinarily but she did speak her mind when she thought it was necessary.

 So I have a soft spot in my heart for gutsy ladies like my mom and Tabitha Babbit.

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