By Steve Wright, 12/10/2012
Tailoring Crosscut Saws
Jim Taylor makes saws that fit the man
Jim Taylor has an appropriate surname. It would fit even better if it were spelled "t-a-i-l-o-r." Taylor's sartorial skills, however, are applied to steel rather than cloth. No one has a better reputation for making crosscut saws that fit the man doing the sawing.
"Jim has changed the tooth-and-raker patterns to where he can fit an athlete to a saw," said Arden Cogar Jr., who used his Taylor-made crosscut saw to take second place in the single buck while winning the U.S. STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Series Championship last summer. "Jim knows that when I ask for a saw, it needs a certain characteristic."
Taylor never planned to be a saw-maker. He was simply trying to fill a personal need when he made his first crosscut saw. Now, at age 65, it's all he does.
"I was a timber-faller," Taylor said. "I started competing in the sport and I couldn't get the saw that I wanted. The New Zealanders would come over here and win everything, but they wouldn't sell them to you because they were winning."
Taylor, who lives in Redding, Calif., made his first crosscut saw in 1978. Two years later, he was making them fulltime.
"The last three years I've been really busy," he said. "I'm not high-production. I just want to make a living, and I enjoy it."
The benefit of that expertise has a price: Taylor's saws cost an average of $1,500. "The most I charge is $1,600," he said.
He makes them from band-saw steel ordered by the roll from Sweden.
Over the years Taylor has experimented with the tooth-and-raker patterns to learn what works best, not only for the person doing the sawing, but also for the type of wood being cut.
"Back when these competitions began, we used the old factory-made saw that was used in the logging business," Taylor said. "They were tooth-and-raker saws like we have now, but they were made for the logging industry, made to work with, so the teeth were much farther apart.
"The Australians and New Zealanders started coming over here to compete and they brought their M-tooth saws. It was superior to all the logging saws. Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, everybody had to have an M-tooth saw to win.
"Later on, guys like myself and J.P. Mercier – Mike Slingerland's grandfather – started making a different tooth-and-raker pattern. It literally made the M-tooth obsolete. So it's kind of funny how that all changed around."
And with the inarguable results from lumberjack competitions comes continuing innovation. If something new and different works better, that news travels quickly.
"We're experimenting with the raker height, different tooth patterns, the distance between the rakers and the teeth, the distance between the tip of this cutter to the tip of that raker," Taylor said.
As a result, what seems like a simple tool – the crosscut saw – becomes increasingly complex. And Taylor has become the ultimate source for how all those variables can be shaped from a piece of steel to best fit an individual sawyer.
"I've known Jim my entire life," said the 42-year-old Cogar. "Prior to 2010, my theory on single buck sawing was 'Hulk, Smash.' I would grab the handle, move it back and forth, and the log would fall off. I was completely reliant on my physical strength. To that end, Jim would put more 'belly' in my saws, and make the saws more aggressive on the angles.
"However, as I have grown more proficient with my skill, Jim has dialed back the aggressiveness of the saw to make it more smooth in the wood. That allows me to put more finesse into my effort for an optimal performance.
"The result depends upon how well the saw-maker has matched the saw to the athlete."
When it concerns competitive crosscut sawing, Jim Taylor is the ultimate matchmaker.