The Single Buck Saw



Before Andreas Stihl invented the first modern chainsaw in 1926, lumberjacks took to the woods with axes and crosscut saws. Ranging from less than 4 feet to longer than 20 feet, the crosscut saw was a revolution in the woods, leaving only small piles of sawdust instead of the large chips left from chopping with an axe. On the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS® stage, much of the same crosscut saw technology is still being used in the single buck discipline, but now it’s the most refined, racing-specific version of the human-powered crosscut saw that was used to harvest timber more than 100 years ago. Some people call it the “Misery Whip” because of the long hours required to pull original, vintage, saws through enormous timber. Modern materials, design improvements and quality com-petition logs have made this experience much less miserable when compared to the single buck of old. Athletes are now ripping off cuts in the 10-second-or-less range; this is one of the fastest sprints in STIHL TIMBERSPORTS®.

Although it is still a human-powered cutting device, the racing single buck saw holds one foot in the 1800s and one in modern day. The saw is still a single, flat piece of steel with sharpened teeth used to cut the wood perpendicular to the grain. Now the saw starts as a piece of industrial, bandsaw steel in an enormous roll, much thicker than the older saws. The steel is then cut into lengths from just under 6 feet to saws approaching 6 feet 6 inches or longer depending on the com-petitor and the log size. A series of consistently patterned teeth are cut on one side of the saw based on the manufacturer’s recipe. Each tooth is then hand-filed to a fine edge and individually tempered before the saw is ready to cut in clean, knot-free, racing-only, wood. The design, construction and production of the single buck saw is very modern.

One part of the single buck saw stuck back in time is the pattern of teeth cut into the saw, but with a modern twist. Saw teeth are divided into two types - cutters and rakers - just like vintage saws. The cutting teeth are sharpened on one end resembling a tiny spear and are designed to sever the wood fibers as they are pulled back and forth. They alternate sides, left and right, so that a rib-bon of wood fiber is cut and lays between them and measure nearly 2 inches long. Look closely at the stage during the single buck event and what falls from the saws looks more like a fettuccine noodle than sawdust. Rakers, the raking teeth, are the teeth of the saw that clean up the work the cutters have done and move the severed wood fiber ribbon out of the way so the next cutter can start cutting more wood moving deeper into the cut. Rakers range in shape from almost crescent moon-like to a capital letter Y with abrupt corners. The edge of the rakers are perpendicular to the cutters so they can sweep the resulting ribbon of wood into the space between the cutters and rakers called a gullet.

Much of the improvement in modern single buck saws have come from changes in the number of cutting teeth, their length, spacing and sharpening angle when compared to the vintage saws. The modern saw is focused only on speed, so it can be sharpened to a finer, more aggressive finish. Performance needs to last a few cuts before being touched up with a stone or file, not days or weeks in the field like the vintage saws. Cutting teeth can be oriented in bunches of two, three or four so that a competitor looking down the saw would see a right cutter, left cutter, gullet, raker, right cutter… pattern on “two-cutter” saw, each cutter resembling carving fork with two distinct prongs.

It takes a tremendous amount of time, experience and knowledge to produce, sharpen and maintain these race-only pieces of steel. Jim Taylor, JP Mercier and the experts at Tuatahi in New Zealand have spent thousands of hours refining and improving the saw cutter design and orientation as well as the filing process to suit the saw exactly to the sawyer and the wood species. This expertise comes with a cost - in excess of $2,000 after a waiting time of at least a year. To protect this investment, it is common to see athletes cleaning each tooth of the saw with a toothbrush after each race, inspecting every single tooth and raker edge for deflection and condition. A cutter or raker that has been knocked out of alignment or dulled will prevent the rest of the parts of the saw from working in concert to cut and sweep wood out of the kerf for a fast cut.

Time and technology has allowed the single buck saw to advance from a work-focused, wood-cutting tool to race-only, more than 6-foot long collection of tiny scalpels. The same concept of cutters and rakers has been refined and modernized to make a tool that turns an athlete’s power into fine ribbons of wood and fast cuts. Costing around $2,000 or more, competitors may bring several different white pine single buck saws to the event to cover different wood conditions, similar to the quiver of axes each athlete may bring to succeed on the biggest stage in STIHL TIMBERSPORTS®.