What to consider when it comes to saw wrecks

Trevor Shpeley
March 31, 2017
By Trevor Shpeley
March 31, 2017 - Wrecks, we all have them. We hate them and we wish they would never happen but sadly, they always have and always will. We can’t stop them completely but we can work to minimize our catastrophic failures and maximize the safety of the workers who have to get in and clear out the tangled, unpredictable razor-tipped steel that is all that remains of what were once productive saws.


The first thing you have to consider in any upset condition is safety. Saws by their nature, especially bandsaws, store energy when they are pulled and stretched and torn apart. Even though everything seems stable when you approach the machine, very often the saw is held back like a coiled spring waiting to explode upon the people who are trying to clear it. I was involved in one such incident dealing with a broken saw in a quad bandmill. My partner was on one side reaching in through the guards to stabilize the saw while I was on the other working on freeing the saw from the wheel. I had no sooner brought the torn end of the bandsaw from behind the guard when the saw flew from my hand and rocketed across the bandmill to the other side where it coiled into a tight ball. If the saw had come towards me I would have been badly injured. If my partner had been more inside the mill, he would have been badly injured. It was so fast and so powerful that neither of us could do anything to stop it and we were both well experienced in clearing seriously wrecked saws. You can never really know what a saw is going to do so you have to minimize your exposure to risk and whenever possible use artificial means to cause the saw to release it’s energy in as harmless a fashion as you can manage.

Clearing wrecks should never be attempted by anybody who doesn’t know exactly what they are doing. One person should take control of the scene and perform an inspection before anybody goes anywhere near the saw. Under no circumstances should anybody start opening guards or grabbing saws before the designated leader develops a strategy and relays his plan to the rest of the team. From that point, everybody follows the order of the person in charge unless they can see that doing so would put themselves or somebody else in danger. If that happens, the team leader will reassess and change the plan accordingly. Never go off on your own and do something the others don’t expect. Safety depends on no surprises. Apprentices should stand off to the side to watch and learn before they are ever allowed to go in and help.

Preventing wrecks in the first place is the safest course of all and sawfilers can do their part by observing the machines in regular operation and training their eyes to quickly recognize abnormal behaviour. Even if they don’t know exactly what the problem is they can relay their observations to maintenance personal. Sometimes mere observation isn’t going to cut it and the sawfiler will have to determine what the problem is by examining the damage to the saws and watching video of wrecks and near-wrecks to track down the issue. Any problem you can spot when it is small before it becomes a wreck is a win for safety, production and saw-cost.

We all know that environmental conditions play a part in saw-loss. Winter for many mills means a ramp-up in saw-usage and although we all know that slowing things down would be beneficial for preventing wrecks, we also know that mills have to make money or we are all out of a job. The tug-o-war between people who watch the bottom line and people who want the mill to run smoothly has been going on for as long as sawmills have been in existence. The answer lies somewhere in the middle ground and usually by February, the working parameters for that season have been figured out and the problem goes away until the cold comes again in the fall.

We are always going to destroy saws. The demands we place upon them pretty much guarantee that. All we can do is keep our mills as perfectly aligned as possible, bench our saws to the highest standards and perform as much preventative maintenance as time and money will allow. Safety first so be careful out there, the saws bite.


Trevor Shpeley is on the executive of the BC Sawfilers Association and works as a filer at Kalesnikoff Lumber in British Columbia.

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