Steam Sawing

Providing high-quality sawn timber the old-fashioned way. From eco-friendly managed woods – doing all we can to be carbon neutral while still offering time-honoured craftsmanship.

The Sustainable Steam Sawing Company has been developed over a number of years with the aim of sawing quality home grown timber using a process with minimal impact on the environment.

This is achieved using a 100year old steam power plant designed to burn the offcuts of wood and sawdust from the mill.

My sawing operation is not going to change the world, but it is a small start.

Why Sustainable Steam Sawing

I have lived in the county side all my life. In 50 years, I have noticed first-hand changes to the environment around me. It is probably more apparent from my perspective as I have lived in a rural setting for so long and can compare these things from season to season.

The stream, for example, that runs past my cottage, twenty years ago full of water and trout, water voles and kingfishers in abundance, is now a shadow of its former self. The water disappears when water is extracted to feed the ever-growing conurbations nearby. The voles and kingfisher have gone, not so many trout come up the stream to spawn, and the river gets choked up with weed in the summer due to the nitrates washing off the fields.

It is a catch 22 situation, I fully understand why agriculture use these chemicals; at the moment as we are under great pressure to produce more and more food for an ever-increasing population. People need water to drink and it must come from somewhere, and the poor old trout is subject to all sorts of problems (not so many flies about) affecting their lives.

I am not opposed to industry or change, but I think a more considered approach is necessary as I witness first-hand the impact it is all having on our environment.

“You use water for the steam engine”, I hear you say.

I try to catch as much water off the farm buildings as possible. The engine is also fitted with a system that catches the condensed water in the exhaust and pumps it back into the water feed tank to try and recycle as much water as possible. So, with a bit of thought, change is possible.

Long term, I would like to see a few more trout in my stream and a drop more water, but I know the reality of it, and it is not a favourable one. I am trying to make a difference in a small but positive way. It’s not perfect, but something I can build upon, and I hope it is something my children can get involved in and build upon for their future too.

The Saw Bench

The rack saw benches that cut the wood were first designed in the late 1800s to be driven off a steam engine. Many of these engines were known as “portables”. In other words, they could be towed by horses to where the power was needed.

This set-up requires a VAST amount of knowledge; skills that would have normally been passed down from father to son have been sadly lost. These old benches fascinate me, and it is only through perseverance over thirty-odd years and talking to the few old gentlemen that used these saws that I have been able to operate all this machinery.

Originally most of these old saws went into the woods where the timber was felled to be sawn on site. The trees would have been cut down by hand, extracted with horses, manhandled onto the bench and carefully sawn into the sizes required.

One of the advantages of my equipment is that it can all be taken into the forest as it is all mobile, and should there be a very large quantity of wood to process, it can be more favourable to do it on site rather than transport the saw logs elsewhere to be sawn.

The Power Plant

All the power for the saws comes from a portable steam engine, this particular one was built by an English firm called Marshalls of Gainsbouough in 1912 and was designed to run on wood. She went to a French monastery and was dutifully named Madam du Bois (lady of the woods), as she was used in their sawmill.

During the war portions of the engine were cut off to prevent her being used by the occupying forces. After hostilities ended, she was welded back together and re commissioned, and repatriated to England in 1978.  She has been well looked after and It gives me great pleasure to think she is still doing the job she was designed to do 100 years ago.

Biomass – How it Works

Hydrogen fusion from the sun is captured by green plants on Earth, and complex molecules, including carbon dioxide and water, form wood. Burning wood in the firebox of my steam engine breaks down these molecules and re-oxidises the carbon releasing energy as heat. Heat converts water in the boiler to steam, which, as it is in an enclosed space under pressure, wants to take up a lot more space than when it was liquid water.

When a valve is opened, steam is fed into a cylinder and, as it expands, pushes a piston that turns a big flywheel forming a rotary motion. This is transferred via an 80’ drive belt that turns a pulley on the saw bench, which turns the saw blade (tip speed about 100 miles an hour) that cuts the wood.

The plan is that the carbon dioxide in the wood that is released into the atmosphere from the burning process is re-absorbed in growing trees, thus keeping a closed carbon cycle.  This is opposed to burning fossil fuels; Coal, diesel, gas etc., that has been locked in underground for millions of years and overloads the planet with an excess of carbon dioxide when released into the atmosphere.

Timber Sourcing

I have developed an excellent working relationship with many local woodsmen/landowners whom I call upon to supply me with the quality of timber I require. I often visit the woods, so I can see the intended extraction process and any re-planting program, and then I can satisfy myself that the timber is removed with minimal impact on the environment.

Wood Types

  • Western Red Cedar
  • Douglas Fir
  • Larch

Other types are sourced upon request.