Saws have no moving parts
By Trevor Shpeley
Oct. 13, 2016 - If you have worked in a sawmill for any length of time, then you have seen it happen many times. The saws are running great, the mill is producing and everybody is happy. Then all of a sudden, the saws start wandering, or there is a wreck, and then another wreck. Nobody is too worried at first, these things happen right?
By Trevor Shpeley
It is a sawmill after all and wrecks are going to happen if you are pushing the envelope. But it doesn’t stop. One wreck turns into 12 and before you know it, stocks are dwindling, downtime is adding up and tempers are running short. Nobody has been able to figure out what is going on so inevitably, the finger pointing begins.
Laying the blame on someone else is human nature. Since the problem is wrecking saws, the logical first step is to look to the filers for answers. Now I’m the first guy to admit that saw filers have a reputation for being a little prickly when it comes to being criticized. We work very hard within precise parameters to make our saws as perfect as they can be and having somebody say they aren’t working properly is like having your child berated by a stranger. That’s why it’s important for non-filers to remember that saws have no moving parts.
The statement “saws have no moving parts” seems a bit too obvious to actually be meaningful dialogue on a complicated concept but in fact, it says something important. It says, “If the saws are running well when they go on, they will continue to run well until acted upon by an outside force or they get dull.” It is impossible to bench a saw in such a way that it will run great for two hours and then suddenly fail of it’s own volition. Something had to change, either the saw got dull early (that’s possible) or the wood wasn’t delivered through the saw correctly due to a machine or operator issue. If you take that simple statement as fact, then you have narrowed down your troubleshooting dramatically.
There are two things you have to remember about saw filers.
No. 1: We are creatures of habit, we do the same things in the same order looking for the same result, every single time. Occasionally we will try an experiment, which may or may not work but we abandon such endeavours at the first sign of failure. We would never purposely cause extensive downtime and cost to try and make an improvement.
No. 2: Saw filers are basically lazy. The better our saws run, the less work we have to do. We work extra hard to make sure the saws will work for the full run so we don’t have to go for early changes or worse, to clear a wreck.
That isn’t to say that it is never the saw filers fault. For example, it is possible that the saw wasn’t as sharp as it should have been. Saw fitters are professionals and take pride in their saws being sharp as razors but sometimes an undiagnosed problem with the sharpening machine or an inattentive eye allows saws onto the floor duller than they should be. When there is a problem in the mill, this is one of the first things a head filer will check. If there is an issue, it will be found immediately under closer scrutiny.
The point I’m trying to make here is not that saw filers are perfect, or that they do it right every time. We aren’t and we don’t. What I am trying to say is that when things are going well and then suddenly go south, it isn’t because the benchman suddenly started benching differently after 25 years of predictable work. Finger pointing is a waste of time and a failure to funnel energies into fixing the actual problem. It is also a source of workplace disharmony, often resulting in rifts between departments that are difficult to heal.
If the saws run great at the beginning of the shift and then fail before the end of their scheduled run then by all means look for the problem but do it from the first wreck, not the tenth. Look to your filers as a wealth of information as to how the saw centres work as a balanced whole because chances are, they have seen this problem before. Remember, saw filers are very protective with their saws, if there is a problem in the mill they watch very carefully and may have theories you haven’t thought of. But don’t just blame the filers and hope that the problem goes away, nothing positive can come from that approach. We are here to work with you, not against you, and remember: “saws have no moving parts.”
Trevor Shpeley is the head filer for Tolko’s Kelowna division and is currently the financial secretary for the BC Saw Filers Association.