Not sure if there are any experts here on historic water power but figured I would give it a shot. On my property is the remains of an old saw mill. I have a map of the area from 1858 which shows a dot for the mill. And an 1873 map which shows the dot still remaining and also my house as a separate dot. So I know the sawmill existed for at least that period and my house was built sometime in between that range. Not sure when the saw mill ceased operation but all that remains now is the stone stacked foundation. I can make out the stone towers where the wheel sat which are approximately 5 feet high so potentially up to a 10 foot diameter wheel sat there. I am not sure whether this would have been breast shot or overshot or what. The site is about 50 feet to the south of my waterfall. I can not make out exactly where the brook would have been dammed but what I imagine was that the brook was dammed into a trough where some or all of the brook flow was led to the wheel, whatever type it may have been. Depending from where the water was diverted there is a potential for about 15-25 feet of head difference from the waterfall top to the ground level below the wheel position. I am really not sure how to make a guess at flow and I have never measured it. At average flow, (excluding spring and rain rushes and drought) the brook is probably 6" deep in places where its 8' wide and flows fast enough for the kids to not get too bored racing sticks...Conservatively I would say 500-750 gpm but perhaps much more. The higher the dam sat the longer and more complex the water trough would have needed to have been to get to the wheel's location. From there I am not really sure how the water got back to the brook which is about 100' away. As it sits there is a brook fed pond that comes up to basically the base of the stone foundation, but a previous owner had that pond dug in the 1970s so perhaps there was a channel cut back to the brook or maybe they just let the water spill over the ground until it found its way back, I am not sure.
I have done lots of research trying to find out any specifics of this saw mill but in that time frame the area (Moretown Vermont) was littered with small to medium size mills I can not find anything specific about mine (or much of anything about the rest other then that they existed and one story of a flood killed a hired man at a sawmill less then a mile from mine). I would love for a picture or drawing or even description of it but other then the dots on the historic maps and the obvious foundation remains I have no other evidence.
I am very sure it would have been a sash (up-down) style mill for that period, and for the amount of available water I do not believe they would have had a circular mill, beyond that I don't know. Anyone have any guesses as to what type of wheel would have been used or anything else pertaining to construction? Maybe pictures or information of any similar new england small mills? The primary ones I know of still around the area are mostly at operating historic farms and museums and all larger then what would have sat here.
I would love to someday rebuild the mill or at least the wheel with some level of historical accuracy. If I could even get town/state permission, I would want to build the dam in such a way it could be put up when I wanted to run or showcase the mill but at other times I would not lose my waterfall.
So anyway anyone have any thought, comments or stories on the matter?
First of all. Sorry for any language mistakes. I find i need to use several words/concepts for which i don't know the english translation.
It looks like the historical record is gone beyond recovery in most places for the local mills but have you checked land deeds and such things? Also surveyors might know of source material you could use. There must be some historical section in the land registry office you can acces.
If this fails you can always do a archeological approach using remote sensing.
Don't know about your area but in Europe many countries have open source digital height models available to the public. Sometimes height differences of just 0,1 m are shown. Once you have a possible location you could use a manual ground dril to check for disturbed soils. A colleague had a 'steekijzer' - i guess the best translation is 'prodding iron'. He had it made out of smooth rebar. He used to locate foundation edges, underground storage tanks etc....
If the mill was demolished it is likely that any stonework was dropped into the canal and sawpits (if present). That might show in different vegetation, different thermographics (remote sensing).
Perhaps your state geological service/society/university can help find remote sensing data.
Another avenue for info might be found in analysing the way the logs were shipped in and the lumber shipped out. Carts ? rail ? .....
First of all your language is plenty good. I have in fact looked into the deeds. I spent a great many hours at the town archives searching through deeds in the old books. I followed the deed back to the early 1800s unfortunately all that is ever said are phrases such as "land with buildings" or similar phrasing. In these parts the deeds are far more concerned with things like spring rights and boundary lines then physical structures which can change with time. To be honest I have never so much as raked out the old foundation spot I may find more clues just clearing out the 100 years of decaying leaves. There are rocks everywhere around here so prodding with a rod may not yield much in the way of results its hard to dig a hole anywhere around here without hitting a rock in your first 2 feet. Hence the old stone walls on many local properties (including part of my own). I am not sure if the mill was ever demolished or if it just rotted away in time. It may have been as simple as an un-roofed platform with a sawing sash and the wood would have quickly deteriorated with time leaving only the stone behind as a clue. This summer I will plan to rake it out and borrow a metal detector to search the area better.
I am thinking my best bet for this location may be a pitch-back style wheel, someone could correct me if I am wrong but I believe that would be period correct technology as well?
I know a little about sawmills, as I have a few working sawmills of my own. An old one near me is listed as "Steam S M" on the 1869 map. The only thing left is the old stone foundations and piers, and of course the rocks strewn across the stream, but not completely taken out. Most of the steel and iron has long since been scraped, not so much from today, but from World War I and II. Yours might/might not have met the same fate.
You are probably right in that it was an old Sash type saw mill as indicated by the stone piers. Granted they used rock for building long after making rock walls, but in New England, most rock walls were built between 1830-1850. This was before the era of the circular saw mills. The patents on those started about 1870 until the 1930's when band saw mills started making more sense. Myself I got about every type of saw mill there is, but the circular sawmill is a 1900 Roberts sawmill, though it might have sawed its last board...it is in rough shape.
I cannot tell you what your sawmill had for as a wheel type...a disappointment I know as that is crucial information for you, but can tell you this. Lenard Wood's which is a logging museum in Maine, has a working sash sawmill powered by a an overshot water wheel. I would say roughly the stream it has and the stream you have, is about equal...not a whole lot of flow and yet not a lot of head, 10 feet maybe. Anyway it has all wooden gears and yet as we watched it, one of the log dogs came off and that old up and down saw POUNDED that building. Everyone took off a running, and that log...maybe 12 inches in diameter...14 feet long or so, was SLAMMING up and down like it was nothing. And all that power came from a mere trickle of of water churned by all wooden gears!!!
This is the straight up truth; water has weight...a lot of weight. Try holding up 5 gallons of water at arms length, and then imagine those 5 gallon buckets held out at 12 feet...and 10 of them at a time! I am not talking down to you here at all, I know you are very intelligent and know this stuff, but I am just trying to explain it to others who might be reading, just how much torque a water wheel has! It is a lot, and a lot of work can be accomplished with an old water wheel.
You are certainly taking on an undertaking there, BUT I am not discouraging you...far from it! They built those old sawmills with less equipment and tools then we have today, so it can certainly be done!
How close are you to Johnson, VT? I have a friend that has been logging since before VT had trees. Okay, maybe not that long, but knows VT logging for sure. I do not get out there but a few times a year and see him, but its always fun.
As to the type of wheel, I think an overshot would be most efficient at converting the water's velocity as well as head into rotation. Given that you have more head available than the apparent wheel diameter could use, I would say that is very likely to have been what was there. Have you looked at Eric Sloane's books? He wrote in the 1950s or 60s I think - I remember enjoying them as a child in the later 60s - on many facets of 19th century technology, tools, customs, etc., with beautiful pen-and-ink drawings. These would be helpful in capturing the feel and setup of an old mill.
Travis, I am probably a bit over an hour from Johnson I am just outside Montpelier. I just watched a video on the Lenard Mill in maine its impressive how much work they are doing with a seemingly small amount of water flow. I should clarify when I said I wanted to rebuild the mill close to historically accurate I have no vision of doing a Sturbridge or Plymouth Plantation style historical restoration with only period correct tools and materials. I really just want something that resembles a sash mill of old and try to get as close to the dimensions and look of what an old small farm operation mill may have looked like. Id cheat with power tools though and I wouldn't be opposed to something like a pulley and belt system as opposed to a wooden gear for construction simplicity and maintenance sake. Because I now have a small pond sitting next to the mill site what I picture is being able to stack a pile of logs next to the pond in winter and in spring they could be rolled into the water one at a time and raised into the mill from the water onto the log carriage.
Glen, I haven't read any of Sloane's books but I will try to check them out.
I went out this morning and snapped a few pictures of what I have on the property which are attached....
A couple show the old foundation. The next one shows the waterfall from the base, it has finally stopped raining around here for a few days so this is about average flow, its generally slower in august and faster in rain or melt times but this is roughly how it looks May-July. Then there is a picture of the upper falls where I think its the most likely place where it may have been dammed into a sluice just guessing by the lay of the land and path of the brook it seems like the easiest place. Then theres one picture standing on the far side of this likely dam spot looking back at the mill. Its hard to make out but if you look directly above the broken tip of that dead tree on the ground theres a pair of yellow birch near center frame, one standing and one leaning in towards it. Just to the right of this down over the bank, you can see the closer of the stone pillars, beyond this you can make out the pond a bit.
Our house was built in 1880. There's a building up the creek with a waterwheel. Don't know in what year it was built. The wheel is metal, about 8' across (guessing). We had a tornado in July of 2012, now the building is about to collapse into the creek. The wheel is on the opposite side of the building from the creek, but I think it once had a trough carrying water from farther up the creek.
The saw still exists. It has a wooden frame and a circular blade that's maybe 2' across. The board or log, evidently, is layed on the table of the frame, then the table and board both are pushed towards the blade. Table pivots towards and away from the blade and has a chain attached to control its distance. Looks like a wooden sawhorse with a metal shaft across the top. One end of the shaft has a blade attached and the other has metal gears and a coupling that would attach to the drive on the waterwheel (guessing). I don't know if that makes sense without seeing it. The saw is at one of our other barns (that we've rebuilt since the #!∆* tornado), not at the waterwheel barn. Weeds kind of grown up high around it.
It may not be exactly as yours was but I can take some pictures if you like. There is a chance of small stream flooding for the next 2 days. I can try to get up there when there's a break in the rain if you are interested. What do you think?
With forty shades of green, it's hard to be blue.
Garg 'nuair dhùisgear! Virtutis Gloria Merces
Karen I would love to see a picture. It sounds like you might have a shingle mill, a saw for making cedar shingles. I am not sure, as it might be a cordwood saw. A picture would tell me instantly as the headworks on a shingle mill is very unique.
Okay...I am jealous...lets get that right out of the way now, so I will just have to live vicariously through you and Karen as I live well away from moving streams.
I am sure you could cobble together a nice sawmill, especially a Sash Type Sawmill, though do not let those wooden gears scare you. I might have a picture somewhere of them, but all they were were two big discs with 1 inch dowels drilled around the parameter of them to allow them to mesh. Today pieces of plywood could easily be made to fabricate the same thing and without special tools. You could easily do it.
Back in the mid 1970's Fine Woodworking (back when they were still black and white) always did articles on how to build your own tools, and in one it showed how a guy built a sash type sawmill. I have it kicking around, but it would take shy of forever to find it. I got every issue of that magazine, but the old stuff was the best. Need to build a bridge across a stream using logs...yep it was in Fine Woodworking, but unfortunately in the late 70's they changed their format and got rid of the good content.
I have a lot more I want to say on this topic, so this is an incomplete posting I know, but I must get to a funeral so I must run. But if you are not bent upon an exact replica of an old sash mill it could easily be done with modern equipment. Heck you could even have a mill that would saw your own lumber for your house. All the wood for my house came off my own farm.
Very cool stuff Karen. I am surprised how narrow that wheel is I was under the impression a circular mill took a considerable amount more horsepower to run then a sash mill. At 8 feet in diameter and only maybe a foot wide by the looks of it I dont think it would be making a tremendous amount of horsepower as the small buckets could only utilize a fixed amount of available flow, but I'm no expert obviously.
Travis I have seen the wooden gears in various examples of pre industrial revolution stuff I guess if I really look at them they aren't that complicated at all, just a fair amount of parts to make which are all the same just lots of them. I don't need this thing to be period correct but I will not be using plywood even though the convenience factor is awesome and its ability (the nice marine grade stuff anyway) to not warp in wet conditions is nice it just wouldn't look the part.
If I did build it then it would definitely see some real use for my wood needs around the home. I currently have an alaskan sawmill as my only means to make lumber. From videos I have seen it looks like even a sash mill is a bit faster then that, and at least it would be easier on my back. Actually thats what I will be doing at some point this weekend if the rain holds off. The power company dropped about 10 pine and hemlock 18-22" in diameter on my property the other day that they felt were endangering the lines. Even if a sash mill was just as slow or even slower then the alaskan at least it leaves both hands free to drink a beer while you wait.
I broke out the rake this morning and cleared off a bit of the area near the pillars. Looks like there is a stone covered slope running up from there up the hill behind it. Makes sense as otherwise the water would erode away the ground under the wheel quickly and eventually also compromise the rest of the mill foundation. While over there I had a revelation I had always pictured the wheel between those pillars and then the saw in the center of the foundation which is maybe a 25x25' square with those pillars in the center of the back wall. But I realized this does not make sense as the direction of the power axis ie: the center of the wheel, faces parallel with the rear wall. This would mean the saw should be inline with that wall. Its possible that the wheel had a gear or pulley on it and there was a secondary crankshaft (jackshaft more toward the center of the structure but I have never seen a picture of a mill like this they tend to all drive directly off the main center shaft of the wheel from what I have seen.
You may be able to see from the picture that this one is not driven off the main center shaft but there is a cog visible in the picture which would be in gear with the main cog. This (smaller cog) is on the drive shaft for the saw, not the main shaft. It is a bit misleading in the picture, as it is not in it's bracket and engaged in the main gears. It's just kinda hanging.
I didn't get the best picture because my phone battery died just after taking one shot. The area has grown up quickly since I was there a month ago. I've never been inside the building. It looks like a great place for copperhead and rattlesnakes.
(Edit to add: We've been researching several Alaskan sawmills. Haven't settled on one yet.)
With forty shades of green, it's hard to be blue.
Garg 'nuair dhùisgear! Virtutis Gloria Merces
Jeff can tell you more, but I have a ProCut which is a chainsaw mill, but on a carriage you build yourself. The basic premise is still the same, a chainsaw runs it and that is the weak point. As Jeff mentions, it is slowwwwwwwwwwww....by that I mean you start a board today, and finish it tomorrow. Okay, maybe not that slow, but you get the idea.
I mentioned in my first post that I am working on a new sawmill as I just cannot cut enough with that chainsaw mill. I am using an old bandsaw I have (Gilliom) and mating it with the Procut carriage to get the best of both worlds. The beautiful long log carriage of the Procut, but a faster cut and less waste with a bandsaw. The latter is super important if you have small logs. It is all about the kerf. A chainsaw has a 3/8 kerf, while a bandsaw has 1/16th of a kerf. lets say a log has 16 boards in it just for easy math. With a chainsaw mill, you would only get 10 boards, where as with a bandsaw you would get 15 boards. Explained better; 6 potential boards would be reduced to sawdust with a chainsaw mill, whereas only 1 board would be lost to sawdust with a bandsaw mill. Another reason to consider a bandsaw mill is the cost. It is possible to speed up the chainsaw mill somewhat by buying one gigantic chainsaw to power it, but by then you are going to be $1500-$1800 in just a chainsaw alone. You can buy a bandsaw mill for $2000. Granted the bandsaw mill can only cut wood, and with a chainsaw you can saw lumber AND cut wood, but as much as I log (everyday) I don't have the stamina to run a huge chainsaw.
But that is just something to consider, and I got plenty of sawmills. A circular sawmill, a shingle sawmill, a chainsaw sawmill, and soon a bandsaw sawmill. I am building the latter for a reason. better conversion of logs to lumber with less waste.
Your picture did not show any headrig parts so it is impossible for me to say what that saw was used for. Circular saw blades of that diameter were used for a lot of different things. It could have been a shingle mill, used for making shingles. It could have been a bucking saw, used to cut pulpwood into 4 foot lengths as was the practice back in the old days if an old paper mill was in your area (this is rather doubtful though as they tended to use steam engines as paper was not invented until pretty late in the 1800's and used softwood for their long fibers). It could have also been a resaw, which then (as it is now) a saw that cuts wood coming off the main saw rig to width. It's position does suggest POSSIBLY a resaw saw blade as it would be an accessory saw and driving off line shafts coming from the main water wheel.
That kind of leads to another point, most waterwheels powered line shafts that had an amazing array of pulleys and gears, and the reason was simple. Water flow was seasonal and they needed to get as much work out of that flowing water as they could. That same water wheel was sped up or slowed down to get the speed needed to run jointers and planers, as well as resaws and sawdust blowers. The Maine State Museum in Augusta, Maine has a nice sawmill display where the sawmill works is on the inside, and Museum-Goers walk down winding ramps from the top to the bottom. The amazing array of belting would shock you. Now on bigger sawmills locations were often rented out to other trades other then making boards. A gunsmith might rent a bench out so that the water wheel could power a metal lathe, a tailor might have a spot in the mill to power his loom, and a furniture maker might have a wooden lathe powered all by the same water wheel. The reasoning was simple, it cost a lot of time and money to develop a mill pond, dam and construct a water wheel. Why not just rent out a spot in the sawmill and tap into the waterwheel already at work, and use the flow of water during Spring Freshet's?
Now both of you should realize this too, more than likely you are the oldest homestead in your area. Back in the old days often times a sawmill was one of the first buildings to be built in a community as it was needed to build the houses and barns.
As for building a sash type sawmill Jeff, I looked into this pretty hard and would have probably built one if I had not had the old bandsaw kicking around. In my case I was going to just use a pitman powered by my farm tractor to make the sawblade go up and down, but naturally you would just use the water wheel. A ramp made out of planks sticking into the mill pond would allow you to bring the log into the sawmill and onto the carriage with block and tackle...or an electric winch. They can be bought pretty cheaply now and saves a lot of work with the ole arms. I am not telling you how to make your sawmill my friend by any means, just throwing out some ideas...
Well I found my book on Sash Sawmills, also called Up/Down sawmills.
From everything I read, most Sash Sawmills had a flutter wheel, or undershot wheel as a way of powering it. Yours may not have though. My book, produced by the Maine State Museum (who has a Sash sawmill on display), says that an overshot wheel might have been used if it was close to a waterfall, or significant dams were constructed. It goes on to say...in a manner of words...that the constructors tended to be lazy and did not do a lot of digging! But with a waterfall of 12-15 feet high...only 50 feet away, a simple sluice would enable it to be powered easily enough. So you might have a rare gem on your hands. But maybe not...sawmills tended to be very high, supported by stone piers because a lot of the machinery was done in the bottom of the saw mill. I wish you could see the picture of Samuel Dutton's sawmill which they acquired their sash workings for. It sounds similar to yours in set-up. In fact it is almost identical to a drawing by Oliver Evans, who helped illustrate the Young Millwright and Millers Guide in 1795; both used undershot waterwheels. Iron turbines were not designed until the mid 1800's and were a necessity for circular sawmills as their speeds were much higher then the 80 strokes per minute your saw would have averaged, but by then they tended to be portable in nature because the logs were getting in short supply close to water sources, and steam engines could power them.
The book also said that the saw blades were about 7 feet long, mounted fixed to the top, but wedged at the bottom to adjust for "kilter"...or drift. Again they would do about 80 strokes per minute with the fender posts lubed with lanolin or tallow. Its been said that on a good spring freshet tallow would start to smoke from the friction of wood upon wood! Production would have been about 1,000 board feet per day.
One other question you originally asked, and one thing the book kind of answered was what happened to your sawmills spent water. It was most likely returned to the stream because even on Bond Brook which "is not very large, and the volume it carries is not very great", ultimately (5) mills were set up on that stream!
Sorry all this information is on Maine Sawmills, I just do not have any information on Sash Sawmills in Vermont.
Thanks for all the great info Travis, hopefully some day I have time for this project but right now there are too many things higher up the priority list.
For Karen or anyone else interested, as far as the chainsaw mill goes, I have a the "Granberg Small Log Mill g-777" its a handheld unit. Its major advantage is you can carry it into the woods to a felled or fallen tree and mill it into lumber where it lies if you don't have the means or the terrain to haul the log out to a fixed mill. As stated its major disadvantage is that its painfully slow and also generally not very ergonomic to use, as the log is sitting on the ground you end up crouching/crab-walking along pushing a heavy saw through a tree with two hands. I just purchased a new (well new to me, actually probably 30 year old) much more powerful beast of a chainsaw, so hopefully things speed up a little bit for me. Once the new 32" bar comes in the mail I will likely buy the upgrade kit for the Granberg 777 mill which turns it into a MK-III mill, which tends to make a little bit more consistently flat boards due to holding the tip and base of the bar rather then just the base. This adds even more weight to carry into the woods and push through the log. One other advantage to the chainsaw mills is unlimited length of cut, you could cut a 60' long beam if you need to. I don't know of any home owner bandsaw mills that have a carriage much more then 16'-20' even with add on rails. Right now I am cutting some 24' 1.5" planks for the floor in my new shop. The price is right but it is slow and back breaking work. If I had a way to get the logs out of the woods I would probably pay a local sawmill to do them for times sake. But, they sit up on a steep wet clay bank on the wrong side of the brook. I could winch them across but they would be so muddy the mill wouldn't want to touch them, I suppose I could then wash or debark them but then how much time would I really be saving especially when I only have the trailer and truck to haul one or maybe two of the logs at a time (wet green 20-24" logs 24' long are very heavy). So I will pick away at them a few boards at a time as I have the time this summer.
Karen, please forgive me, I did not look good enough at your saw. Looking closer (which I should have done before), I see there is two boards bolted to your saw and shaft and pulley arrangement : one standing upright and the other flat that the 6 x 6 beam is sitting on. This means your saw cross cut wood and did not rip it, so it was not a shingle mill, nor the major saw in a sawmill. It could have been used to trim the ends of the lumber square after final milling, but the angle iron bars at its base, its width and other characteristics makes me think it is a cordwood saw.
You can still buy them today, and we had one at one time; dangerous as all get-out and hard work as you had to cut the tree down, limb it, cut it into four foot lengths, load it onto a trailer, haul it out of the woods, pile it, then lift it onto the saw, cross cut it, then split the rounds of firewood, haul them to a shed, and stack them. As I said hard work! We used to do this as a kid, but don't use this saw any more. (I am not even sure where it is any more, probably on a rock wall somewhere).
Jeff I understand priorities, especially if you already have a saw that can produce lumber that you need.
I am going to be building some barns this summer, so I was hoping to get a bandsaw mill going to cut my logs myself (well I was hoping my wife could do it. It would really free me up for some other work). You are absolutely right though, my circular sawmill can only cut 18 foot wood, and my chainsaw mill/Bandsaw mill can only cut 24 foot wood, so the unlimited length of your mill is pretty amazing.
The homemade bandsaw mill I am building now (it is almost done) will be powered by an electric motor just because I never plan to move it away from the house, but I bought a log trailer last year to help me move logs around. Before I got it I had to really plan ahead, cutting my logs in the winter so they were skidded upon frozen ground and did not get dirty for the sawmills or sawmill guys. Yes, I have learned time wise, sometimes it is better to just have a custom bandsaw team come in and knock out a few thousand board feet a day. What I like about the log loader is, with it I can get my logs up off the ground so they never get dirty, then of course put them on the carriage of the saw so I am not wrestling with them by hand. BUT I log everyday so I can kind of justify the cost.