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Saw Filing 101: Goodbye and thanks for all the fish

March 23, 2020  By  Trevor Shpeley

Photo: Annex Business Media

Welcome, fellow filers, to my last Saw filing 101 column. I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts on the sawfiling trade for the last three years and it was great to take a peak into your filing rooms. But the time has come for me to step off in a different direction. Before I trade in my hammer for a shift-knob, I thought I would take a moment to relate a couple of truths that I have learned along the way to help you achieve a functioning work environment.

The head filer is always right
It has always been the nature of the sawfiler to be confident in our abilities – otherwise, how could anybody send their saws to the mill every day knowing that, if they aren’t perfect, the mill is going to grind to a stop? Therefore it should come as no surprise that filers will sometimes clash with the head filer when it comes to the best way to accomplish their duties and the acceptable parameters of a given task.

The short answer to this dispute is that the head filer always gets the last word. You should feel free to offer your opinion, and a good head filer will encourage you to bring your ideas forward. But, in the end, he or she is going to take the flak if things go wrong, so you can’t blame them for wanting complete control. As a filer you must respect and follow the direction that is given to you.

It is almost always pointless to fight management head-on
If you have worked in a filing room long, then you have no doubt been asked by managers to perform a task in a way that you know will be detrimental either to the equipment or to the mill’s efficiency. Our first instinct is to dig our heels in and loudly explain why they are completely out of their minds. This approach will never accomplish anything other than ruffled feathers and disjointed noses.


Mill managers cannot afford to issue directives and have them publicly shot down or otherwise disrespected. They would have no choice but to force the issue, even though they might know that the filer is correct. To avoid this situation, take the opportunity to educate the manager in a non-confrontational way, preferably one-on-one. Often just explaining the possible consequences of the proposed action and why it wouldn’t be a good idea will do the trick. If you can make them feel like they came up with the result you were pushing for, even better. If all else fails, go ahead and follow orders, provided it isn’t dangerous. The pieces can be picked up later. At least you tried and – who knows? – it’s possible they were right.

Winter comes every year
Snow, ice and cold come each year. Don’t let it take the mill by surprise every time. We filers can remind maintenance and shift supervisors of what to do so that every November, when the mill starts to run badly, they don’t go into a frenzy of focus groups and finger pointing to avoid slowing machinery to winter speed, along with other necessary changes. Getting the mill to run properly before January would be a wonderful thing. (Pro-tip: it probably won’t happen but better luck next year.)

QC – your best friend or worst enemy
In recent years, quality control (QC) personnel have taken an unprecedented lead in the operation of filing rooms. Whether that is a good or bad thing is the subject of hot debate, but they are here to stay, so we may as well learn to work in harmony with them to create a stronger mill.

Teach your QC how the saws work and how the feeds and speeds interact with various species, seasons and cuts. Then, show them what you do in the filing room. You are not giving away any secrets and it is doubtful you will accidentally train a QC to be a filer. The more they know about what we do and why we do it, the better direction they will be able to give us. QCs are in the mill for the same reasons we are and it works best when we all speak the same language. Teach them.

So with that, I will say goodbye. I will continue to show up in the magazine periodically and I thank you for reading my column. Hammer on!

Trevor Shpeley is a former executive of the BC Saw Filers Association and a former filer at Kalesnikoff Lumber in British Columbia.

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