Opinion: Saw filer advice from the right side of 30

Josh Penner
October 24, 2017
By Josh Penner
Oct. 24, 2017 - In my last column (May/June issue), I gave folks a bit of my back-story: how I managed to go from a production level grunt to the prestigious role of master and commander, all-knowing demi-god of the saw shop kingdom. That’s at least how I see myself. Or how I used to see myself . . . maybe that’s how others see me? At any rate, I seem to be the first one they ask, and the last one they tell.


When I first signed up for the saw filer apprenticeship it was mostly to give myself the opportunity for a better future; one that allowed me to get a trade under my belt in case things went south at the mill. I really enjoy exploring the links between old school and the new, bridging the gap of technology.

On the road to this hallowed office, I encountered a great many things. Bearded, sagely wise men graciously willing to impart advice. Sometimes it was relevant, and sometimes not. If it were not for those who had walked the path before me I would not have arrived so quickly. If I have learned one thing, it is that everyone has something to offer. Never close your ears or mind to the wisdom being shared. You don’t have to follow each piece with religious fervour; there have been times when the lesson learned is to not do what is being suggested! Or maybe it is a simple affirmation that what I am doing is correct. One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got is never doubt your abilities. Obviously when you’re knee deep in saws and cracks, this advice is easier said than done. I take a step back and remember that the way I am doing the saws today is the same way that I did them a month ago when things were running great. What’s changed downstairs? Typically it is something that has failed (or in the process of) on one of the machine centres.

Being the head filer at a young age means that the majority of the people I work with are of the silver-haired variety, and they don’t always take kindly to a brash, suave young buck. That being said, negative encounters with the older generation of saw filers are, in my opinion, few and far between. As a young person, I have the advantage of gathering up everyone’s past mistakes and pitfalls to try and avoid them. This industry has so much to offer someone who is motivated. Even within my own company I have had the luxury of travelling, sharing what little I know and selfishly devouring as much as I can.

There is an immense opportunity here for young people to get involved, make a difference and put a few coins in their pockets. Yet it is still a struggle to get young people into this trade. Saw filing is still an unknown black art, seldom discussed in the circles of trade. We don’t have a red seal, you don’t see us outside of a mill (not very often anyways), and terms like twist face or tire lines rarely qualify as pickup lines in a bar. It is also not a trade that you can easily (at the moment anyways) get into outside of an apprenticeship through a sawmill.

With all of the new technology, there are a lot of flashy toys to attract those who were not born with a hammer in his or her hands. For the willing person, you have the opportunity to travel the world! Sawmills can be found on nearly every continent, and where there is wood to cut someone needs to manage the saws or align the machinery.

You can also expand your role beyond the saw plate. Many mills promote supervisors from within; one can expect to be able to cross over to maintenance planning within other industries. Being able to align both machinery and saws to within .001” are very desirable traits in an individual.

I have had more than one individual take a chance on me, and it definitely motivates me to do my best, to reward the faith that has been shown in me. I could devote a whole column to the names of those that have encouraged me in some way. To them I am forever grateful.

A saw filer is a rare breed, and a young saw filer is rarer still. We have the benefit of growing with the trade, bringing it kicking and screaming into the 21st and beyond, in its entire button pushing auto-sensing glory!


Josh Penner is the head filer for Chetwynd West Fraser in British Columbia and a graduate of the Thompson Rivers University saw trades program in Williams Lake, B.C.

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