One of the benefits of a 10-acre site is the enormous amount of history that can be discovered. Machines and equipment that were used at Britannia Beach, or similar industrial townsites like it, have now found a new home in the Museum's collection. However, some items are still hiding in plain sight waiting for the right person to find them so their story can be properly told. In September one such item was discovered and voluntarily restored to its original condition by one of our guests.
The following blog comes to the Museum courtesy of Daniel Jackson, a Filer from East Vancouver who restored our pit saw. Thank you Daniel.
In September, I visited the Britannia Mine Museum with an old friend from New Zealand.
Hidden amidst the collections in the Machine Shop, we were delighted to find a very rare example of a pit saw—stashed along the back wall. Despite it being my first time encountering a pit saw, my friend, who is a bit older than I, was able to confirm its authenticity. The pit saw was in very good condition with a pristine wood handle, minimal rust, and was dead straight. To our further surprise, located nearby was a beautiful example of a wooden lower handle—the first either of us had ever seen. A real gem.
A pit saw is a long, human powered saw designed to cut down the length of a log. As its name suggests, a pit saw was used overtop of a pit with one sawyer standing on top of the log and the other underneath it. Prior to the emergence of water and steam powered sawmills, this was the preferred method for cuttings planks and beams from the trunks of trees.
To effectively ‘rip through’ material, pit saws have a very aggressive angle on their tooth pattern. This cutting face (fleam) is typically found set perpendicular to blade. Unfortunately, for the pit saw we discovered, time had rotated its cutting face at a slight angle.
To help preserve this wonderful piece of history, I offered to spend and afternoon restoring the blade in the traditional way—with kerosene, an axe stone and several hours of hard work. After removing rust from the blade, the surface should be coated with tallow or beeswax to protect against future rust.
When it came time to file the pit saw’s teeth and round its gullets, I recognized the skill of the previous filer immediately. The saw was perfectly in joint—meaning that all teeth had a consistent height and the tips were correctly alternating left and right. The last filer knew their stuff and did a really good job.
Regrettably, there isn’t enough information able to determine who the filer might have been or how long ago the blade had last been restored. The Museum’s records indicated the saw had been donated to the collection in 1980, so perhaps it was donated by a Squamish local. No doubt the filer would have been performed their job a long time ago.
It was a real honour to restore this wonderful old saw to its original condition and it is my sincere hope that it will cut again. Perhaps as part of a demonstration at the Museum.
In the time of COVID-19, when our lives have been turned upside down, it can help to reflect on what has gone before, in order to find hope for what may come.