Many of the modern sawmills do not like cutting western Red Cedar because the bark is very stringy and not at all suitable for modern peelers that strip the bark prior to sawing, as it jams up the rollers. It is also quite an abrasive wood to cut and soon dulls the teeth of a band saw.
My rack saw bench was originally made by Stenna & Gunn of Tiverton in Devon around 1890 and I believe it was one of the very first of its type. It was originally driven by a Burrell steam engine, and apart from a period of about 10 years, it has been in regular use, which is a credit to those who made it 120 years ago. It’s able to cope with western Red Cedar very effectively as you do not have to peel the log before it is sawn.
In addition, the old-style teeth (55 of them) can be sharpened by hand with a file every hour or so, to keep them nice and sharp. With its old-fashioned teeth, the saw creates chips rather than sawdust and this goes to the local stables for bedding, the horses prefer it.
The off-cut of the logs (known as slab-wood) are used to power the steam engine and also produce charcoal in my kiln, which itself is used to forge any iron components required by my Shepherd’s Huts and, of course, the occasional BBQ.
Sawing & Seasoning
I use western Red Cedar as it has a natural resistance to insect attack and does not require any environmentally unfriendly chemical treatment, I also use locally sourced Douglas Fir and Larch, both durable softwoods.
Once sawn on my 1890’s rack saw bench, the timber is stacked up to season; this process allows the moisture content in the timber to dry out naturally. This usually this takes about 12 months and the end result is a far more stable board, which is less prone to shrinkage and distortion than a modern kiln dried board, where they are cooked in an oven.
Years ago, you would not dream of using a piece of timber unless it was properly seasoned, indeed an elm hub of a cartwheel would be left for a good two years before a wheelwright would consider it fit to use.
Thicknessing, Planing & Finishing
Once seasoned the boards are thicknessed, then the mouldings are planed to match those used on early Shepherds Huts and thereafter, a light hand-sanding provides the finished board.
Accountability and Responsibility
Craftsmen have always used all the materials and skills at their disposal. Every part of the log is used and so it should be it has taken 50 odd years to grow, and I think it is only right that all of it is put to good use. I can even tell you where the timber for your Shepherd’s Hut originated from.