Wood Business

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Saw Filing 101: Leading the way


August 13, 2020
By Walter Peat

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Hello to all my saw filer friends! I would like to start out with a huge thank you to Trevor Shpeley for his long-time dedication writing so many interesting articles and providing great information. I personally have enjoyed reading most of his articles, and I think we will miss Trevor’s insights into our world of magic.

I am honoured to have an opportunity to share my life, stories, and knowledge of many years working as a saw filer in B.C. – in Richmond at Terminal Forest Products; in Princeton at Weyerhaeuser; in Elko, and Canal Flats at Crestbrook, Forest Products – for 44 years. All have been positive experiences, and I would suggest in all locations, great people to work with.

I would like to start with a little insight on one of the most important aspects of being successful in the filing room and the trade. Over the years, due to a variety of reasons, the head filer has become obsolete at most sawmills. Many mills in today’s world struggle to find experienced saw filers, partly due to the fact that the trade has always been a posted position in our sawmills. For many opportunities, you had to have a lot of sawmill seniority to get into our filing shops, with only non-union sawmills and/or saw shops being able to recruit younger employees to train.

Fact is, like Trevor suggested in one of his columns, it takes a minimum of four years to get a ticket as a benchman. When I started my apprenticeship, it took two years to become a fitter, one year to become a circle saw filer, and one more for a benchman’s ticket. Today, it looks like it has been streamlined to two years to become a saw filer, which would be suitable for most sawmills in B.C. The very limited amount of band saws used today has reduced the need for a benchman’s endorsement.

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But this is where I have an issue. I was lucky enough to go through the entire program; by socializing with our fellow filers, we are able to learn, compare, and experiment with different solutions to the daily problems we encounter.

How does this relate to the management of a sawmill’s sawfiling shop? I feel that we have lost touch with the ability to plan, schedule, and co-ordinate our crews to be as efficient as possible. That would include working with all trades in the sawmill industry related to cutting lumber, since accuracy is key to recovery and well-manufactured lumber.

Now, we must start with justifying equipment purchases. Having direct access to your manager or owner can be crucial, but, here is the key: they need to understand why! Most understand numbers, and if we can convince them that purchasing quality equipment is a financial benefit, then not only is the saw filer happy, but the managers and owners are happy. Gaining confidence and trust from these people are key. Doing all your homework and making sure you get the right equipment is vital. Always look at the long-term availability of parts and either have the ability to maintain your equipment or have access to service for your equipment.

There are four steps in purchasing equipment:

  • Determining the benefit
  • Determining the cost
  • Calculating the value
  • Writing the proposal

A very important aspect of being able to get respect when purchasing new equipment is having a good relationship with the lumber quality department. Both departments need to work together to achieve the best quality lumber and recovery at your sawmill.

In order to do this properly, I believe every shop should have a leader, a mentor, or a self-motivated individual to help his fellow filers succeed. Whether it be a charge hand or a head filer, I think it is important for most saw shops to have someone with a vested interest or a caring attitude for the trade. This will lead to the filers feeling good about themselves and their value. I see too many situations where filers are lacking respect and/or commitment from management or owners. Fact is: a well-run saw shop will produce great lumber and a successful business, with all personnel working together. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend a trade school and have mentors to lead me down the garden path. We need to get back to caring for our future as saw filers.

I hope this doesn’t offend anyone. I have been to many saw filer conferences. Today, we see sawmill management setting up hiring tables at the BC Saw Filer Association’s conference. I’m not a big fan, as I see it as a tool to steal filers from other sawmills. In my opinion, most sawmills have dropped the ball when it comes to supporting the training program I was lucky to go through. Yes, we can improve the system and there are companies who do train people, but there are also companies who steal trades people.


Walter Peat, head saw filer, Terminal Forest Products Ltd.