Big Cut

Most of the Pacific Northwest’s ancient forests were cut by hand. With ax and saw, timber cutters bit into the tallest, oldest, hardest conifers in the deep woods of the Cascades during the last decades of the 19th Century. Here’s an odd portrait of a crosscut filer surrounded by his work and by the sharp edges of the most time saving tool in the early timber industry. Timber cutters would get above the root flare at the base of the tree and from spring boards would make a deep horizontal crosscut with the long, sharp toothed two man saws. Then with axes they would chip down to the crosscut, directing its fall by using the weight of the tree to bring it down. A good team with a sharp saw could set the crosscut in a few minutes and then spend the rest of the fall doing ax work.

In a way the filer is like a watchsmith, fine tuning the most minute parts of a an industrial tool that sliced through centuries. In the portrait he seems surrounded by precision timepieces.




  1. The USFS says it takes 200 years for an old growth stump to completely decay. At places like Lake Quinault, you can still see them, complete with the notches for the springboards, after 100 years. In twice that time they will disappear entirely, leaving no trace of the majestic natural cathedrals that once were the norm in our surrounding forests. We have lost a lot from all that cutting – all the more reason to save what little is left. And still, I have to admire what our ancestors did with simple hand tools…..


  2. There was a pallet stacked high with springboards at the Weyerhaeuser archives. I recall reading that a filer at a mill, at least, worked in private to guard his knowledge. Thanks for posting.


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