For the last year or so I've been focussing obsessively and compulsively on single skin kites.
They've become a track burnt into my head that I'm going around and around on and can't get off.
I think it's been worth it though; useful progress towards establishing this new type of kite.
But now I need to step away for a bit to get a refreshed perspective.
And I just have.
Caterpillar Wakanui 31 July 2015
The Caterpillar (Click to see last months Newsletter)
did it for me; not just that after so much effort it's still a marginal flier but that it's one of the ugliest kites I've ever made- which, I can hear you all saying, is quite a high bar!
So, for the last month I've been hiding away doing something different.
Which is completing the restoration of a Wehrhahn Brothers horizontal reciprocating sawmill of about 1906 which I bought out to New Zealand from Germany 9 years ago and have been working on sporadically for the last year when the weather hasn't been kite friendly.
(Click to see the July 2015 Newsletter).
It has a kite connection, having been originally owned by the Hoberg family at Nordleda, near the mouth of the Elbe River. Volker and Christian Hoberg hang-out with notorious "No Limits" kite team.
Nor is it a completely new direction for me, as during the '70's and early 80's I made, used and sold a few portable sawmills of my own design:
Peter Lynn Portable Sawmill 1979
Wikipedia: "---1975. The original 'tipping blade' portable sawmill system, using a single (circular) saw blade which rotates 90 degrees at the end of each pass through a log to enable the production of sawn timber in one operation. While Peter Lynn held the patent on this invention until 1980, after the patent lapsed it became the world standard portable sawmill system."
The description and dates are correct, but though this tipping blade layout is widely used now, I'm not sure that it has yet become "--the world standard portable sawmill system.").
As a style, the Wehrhahn is quite different to anything I've ever operated, and I haven't found any references to horizontal log frames of this type having been used in New Zealand.
Actually I haven't been able to find out much about the origins of the horizontals at all. There are references to this or that one in this or that place. Most are in Europe, a few in the US, some in Australia, and none are earlier than the late 1900s, but every Google track I follow on this leads to things I've written about the subject myself while restoring the Wehrhahn- and I know NOTHING! So far I've been unable to ascertain when and where horizontals first appeared. They seem to be predominately German, and my guess is that they weren't developed until the production and machining of cast iron became well established by the middle 19th century.
First Cut Beginning
First Cut Completed
But while looking for this, I somehow wandered off into the history of sawmilling in general:
The development of saws for cutting wood was a significant technological step in human- and pre-human- history. Perhaps the first saws were jaw bones but serrated flint saws existed before 'anatomically modern' humans made their appearance. Bronze was much better than flint could ever be, but for making planks, the saw didn't challenge splitting until the Iron Age, beginning in Egyptian times.
Wrought iron and (later) steel hand saws that are not significantly different to current styles have been in use in the East and the West (and places in between) for more than 2000 years.
Pit Saw during the Middle Ages
With these, until quite recent times, the usual method for turning trees into useable timber has been pit sawing: A log is positioned above a pit while one person below and another above push and pull a double ended saw to cut it into boards, 10 planks a day being a reasonable output. Even into the 21st century, pit sawing is still common in some undeveloped areas.
The first reference to the application of water power for sawing is a 3rd century Roman reciprocating vertical water powered mill at Hierapolis (present day Turkey), but it was used to cut marble not wood- presumably because marble's greater value supported the costs of this technological step.
By the 11th century, vertical reciprocating water powered saw mills were in use in Islamic North Africa, Central Asia and Spain - and there are references to one in Normandy (France) at this date also. The application of wind power to sawmilling, never widespread, seems to have been a 16th century Dutch invention- big surprise!
AD 1700 Water Powered Sawmill Molveno Italy
But most early mills used water power and were built on site by millwrights with local materials, metals being used only for critical components. Typically they were located adjacent to suitable stands of timber, and once these had been cut out, were abandoned or moved- unless river, lake or coastal shipping could be used to bring logs from a wider catchment.
Vertical reciprocating saws could easily cut 10 times as much timber per day per person as pit sawing, so it's no surprise that they become the preferred method wherever a suitable head of water was available. New Zealand's first powered sawmill, established in 1838 at Mercury Bay in Coromandel, was of this type.
Circular saws have been known since at least Grecian times but had limited application because of their much higher power requirement. Reciprocating saws that can handle 1.5m diameter logs require around 4 Kw, while circular rigs need at least 10 times this, but can be > 100 times more productive. By the later 19th century, steam engines capable of the required 40Kw became available, and circular saws then took over- only to give way to even more efficient bandmills by the middle 20th century. Bandsaws had also been known since classical times but didn't become reliable enough for log sawing until the development of nickel alloy steels.
Sawmill Building Nordleda 2006
Stand-alone horizontal reciprocating mills like the Wehrhahn, usually steam powered, were therefore a late arrival on the sawmilling scene, unable to compete with the much higher output circular and bandmills except for one man operations supplying local users, often seasonally.
They're not so different to Stirling engines (one of my other diversions) that also had a brief flowering in the middle to late 19th century than lost out to better technology (the steam engine in this case).
I seem to be collecting lost causes.
And there's been an unintended consequence; a long time ago I sort of promised myself never to own another chainsaw. They are high maintenance items and I'm just too rough; always cutting rocks, nails and the like- not to mention that they probably class as WMDs. The best chainsaw therefore, is someone else's- like Tequila really. So for 30 something years I've been either borrowing one or getting someone else (usually my long suffering brother-in-law) to cut down trees that attack kites (one strike and they're out). But now that I need to go out and collect logs, I've had to get one of my own again. Damn.
The Wehrhahn is a great toy though; I've never had a better. With all its moving parts and flapping belts it's mesmerising; collects spectators like flies to a knob of goat poo. Eventually it will be re-located to the Lynn Historical Woodworking Museum (my father's life's work) at a local heritage park. We'll run it there as an attraction when there are other events on.
And yes, I'm sure it can cut kite sticks- not that I have yet, but I will.
PETER LYNN, ASHBURTON NEW ZEALAND, 1 SEPT '15