Wood Business

Features Equipment Sawmilling
A training curriculum for sawfilers by sawfilers


May 5, 2020
By Dave Purinton

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ABOVE: Instructor Phil Marsh demonstrates setting up swaging and shaping tools. Photo courtesy Simonds.

Like many of our customers, Simonds International has more than its share of baby boomers excited about the next stage of their lives and ready to take their decades of experience with them. We have looked for ways to capture at least some of that collective knowledge and have it available to the next generation of employees. And with our recent mergers with BGR Saws, Burton Saw & Supply, Cut Technologies and US Blades, we now have even more collective knowledge to catalog, secure and share.

In January 2018, work on a sawfiler training curriculum was already well underway and Simonds International announced the establishment of a new customer-focused facility in Florence, S.C. The facility consolidated some distribution and customer service activities for the southeastern U.S. wood fibre markets. The facility also includes a technical training centre and state-of-the-art filing room to assist customers with their education and hands-on training needs.

While a formal apprenticeship program was briefly considered, the company opted to go the route of intense and focused vocational training. Our company was in a unique position to leverage our considerable technical knowledge.

  • We offer the most extensive line of filing room equipment in our industry, including Armstrong, Wright Equipment, Simonds brand equipment and our partnerships with other world class filing room equipment manufacturers. Unlike pure educational facilities, we were able to justify the investment in putting this state-of-the-art equipment into our facility to not only demonstrate it to customers considering purchases, but also to utilize it for vocational training. We have over $500,000 in equipment and tools in the facility.
  • The tech centre has both manual and automated equipment for training. We teach the fundamental skills and theories required to optimize and leverage automated equipment.
  • We are the largest manufacturer of bandsaws, circle saws and machine knives in our industry. This gives us unique access to cutting tools to use in our training program. We have access to both factory new tools and well-worn tools used in our factories.
  • We had a great partner early on in Interfor. The company believed in our mission and stepped up very early on to participate in the creation of our program and have their employees experience our training.

As Ray Martino, president and CEO of Simonds said, “The new facility will enable our company to transfer the deep knowledge of our technical employees to the industry and demonstrate the operation of our new filing room technology. The ultimate objective is to improve the productivity of our customer base.”

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The Tech Center uses live video streaming to ensure instructors and others students clearly see what the student performing the hands-on activity is seeing. Photo courtesy Simonds.

Our students are reminded that their job is not just to put up better saw blades, but to help their mill make more and better lumber, reduce unscheduled downtime, prevent lumber downgrades and, importantly, work safely.

Our initial module of three wide bandsaw training classes was launched in March 2019. The bandsaw courses are titled: Focused on Fitting, Centered on Sharpening, and Better Benching.

The saw filing trade, like many vocational areas, is composed of many interrelated elements. Nothing happens in a vacuum. So, while each of the three courses has an area of emphasis, we also spend time on the other disciplines.

For example, in our Focused on Fitting class, we not only breakdown, reassemble, calibrate and use the swage and shape tools, we also sharpen the saws and have students keep at it until they have the proper cutting edge geometry. Large saw blades can be intimidating to those new to the trade. We spend time on properly and safely moving sharp saws around the shop. We work on maintaining abrasive wheel shape at the sharpener for proper and consistent gullet shape. And at the bandsaw bench we check the alignment of the stretcher roll to the leveling block and review how to check for bent teeth at the bench. Time is spent on what we call “filer math.” Some students groan at this section, but they accept there is no escaping it. And we use some of that math as we measure boards as a diagnostic tool. In our Centered on Sharpening class, we spend time on saw design and gullet geometry.

Looking ahead, additional bandsaw course materials will include stellite tipping, guide block maintenance and a concept of “outside the filing room,” where we are documenting techniques to work with cross-functional teams to help get to the true root cause of quality and performance problems. Six bandsaw sessions have been held to date with additional sessions on our calendar

Our initial circle saw class is on the calendar for spring 2020. It is titled Centered on Sharpening, but will necessarily include saw blade inspection, elements of leveling and tensioning, guide arm and pad inspection and more.

Class size is limited to six students and each course is three days of intensive hands-on and classroom training. Classroom time is optimized by short training videos to prepare students for the hands-on training. We’ve overcome the challenge of much of the sawfiler’s work being done close-up by utilizing video cameras and large screen monitors so each student can see what the instructors and other students are seeing while working on the saws. Students leave the class with a three-ring binder of printed reference training materials, links to the videos used in class and the cell phone numbers of the instructors.

A main theme of the training is to embrace getting out of the filing room and working with cross-functional teams at the mill. We work to integrate some elements of lean manufacturing into our training based on the lean journey our company has been on for many years.

One recent student made the comment, “It is pretty intense training. They pretty much expose you to the full range of the job in just three days.”

Another commented, “No one ever showed me how to assemble, calibrate and check my swage and shaper for wear and I didn’t know the back gauge had to be set up like that!”

Recurring themes in our training include: don’t expect, inspect; plumb, level, square; housekeeping, recording keeping and time keeping; symmetry, symmetry, symmetry; and if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing safely.

The article is part of our 2020 #FileWeek coverage. Read more here.


Dave Purinton is the vice-president of marketing and corporate accounts at Simonds International.