Sawfilers, a Dying Trade?

What is a Sawfiler, who are they, what do they do and why is the trade slowly dying? The best response to these questions is to quote Thomas Walz:

“Sawfilers design, build, repair and maintain ultra-precision tools and make them run beautifully. The term (sawfiler) comes from old, steel saw blades. Now sawfilers may work with several million dollars worth of equipment. They must know different materials and their applications. They are, perhaps, the single most important person in determining whether a cutting operation is profitable or not.”

Walt and Large Saw Blade

That is quite an opinion that seems to ring true throughout an industry filled with such talented and humble people. I have often heard Tom refer to Sawfilers as “salt-of-the-earth”, “honest & hardworking”, but I would say his favorite description would be, “extremely good looking with a high intelligence and universally loved by children and animals”.

Now who wouldn’t want to hire a Sawfiler, or aspire to be one for that matter! So if being a Sawfiler is so extremely important, than why aren’t there more of them, and why do sawmills struggle to fill those job openings?

guy looking at saw blade

I have heard several arguments in response to this ever growing problem. One of them being there are not enough skilled laborers to fill these jobs. That reasoning alone could help to explain the continuous vacancies at sawmills. Think about it, in the U.S. education seems to be the predominant concern on everyone’s mind. You can’t go anywhere in America without being assaulted with the idea that you “need to go to college” or how important it is to “get an education”.

That is a great idea, foster the importance of educating yourself but this option is not for everyone. We all know someone who is employed and their degree has no bearing on their present job. At what time did our country decide that creating, inventing, or honing a specialized skill wasn’t worth anyone’s time? When did the importance of manufacturing or learning a trade become an undesired occupation?

Corey and Tyler packaging up a bandsaw

Perhaps if we stressed the importance of maintaining and developing the valued skills of a Sawfiler, sawmills wouldn’t have to waste resources in finding them.  Those resources could be put to better use by operating at maximum capacity, or investing in necessary equipment. Or, how about investing in the Sawfilers themselves! There is no better way to retain or recruit valuable Sawfilers then to pay them.

Offer a wage that reflects their value and provide benefits that help them and their families stay healthy. Give opportunities to increase their knowledge and skill base by sending them to conferences, industry related shows and seminars. Break the skills gap that exists by fostering good morale or mentor-ship within the workplace. Create goal related incentives, by organizing a “task force” committee made up of your seasoned and new Sawfilers. Use the committee as a think-tank on current, past and future obstacles and how to problem solve.

Take the proverbial “bull by the horns” and address this looming  problem today. Secure the future of sawmills and the lumber industry by investing in your most important asset, Sawfilers.

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One Response to “Sawfilers, a Dying Trade?”

  1. Brian Millen says:

    I hope it’s not a dying art, I have a stack of handsaws and losing the accurate use of my hands to continue sharpen them.A great Uncle taught me years ago, he made saws sing!

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