Mechanized One-Man Sawmill

The title of ‘maker’ is conventionally applied to the young-adult age group. In the case of 84 year-old Ralph Affleck, a lifelong sawmiller, ‘maker’ perhaps undersells the accomplishment of building a fully functioning sawmill that can be operated by a single individual.

Starting in the trade at the age of 16 under his father’s tutelage, fifty years of working in sawmills saw him still loving what he did as retirement loomed. So, with pen, paper, and a simple school ruler he designed the entire shop from scratch. Decades of expertise working with wood allowed him to design the machines to account for warping and abnormalities in the timber resulting in incredibly accurate cuts.

With no other examples to guide his design — aside from perhaps old style steam-powered sawmills, and newer portable ones that he feels are inadequate for the job — much of the shop is built from scratch with scavenged parts. And, that list is impressive: four hydraulic cylinders from a Canberra bomber, levers from an old locomotive, differentials and gearboxes from a MAC and 1912 Republic trucks, a Leyland engine that operated for 13 years without the need for maintenance, and an assortment of old military and air force vehicle parts. This is complimented by his log skidder — also custom — that would look at home in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Built from two tractors, it combines three gearboxes for 12 forward and 8 reverse gears(what!?), and can hit 42mph in reverse!

Affleck’s sawmill operation is an impressive testament to lifelong grit, skill and fabrication that young makers can aspire to. If you’ve got some lumber lying around and want something that’ll fit in the average backyard, you can always home-brew a band-saw to take care of it.

[via Nelson and ABC Landline]

53 thoughts on “Mechanized One-Man Sawmill

  1. “The title of ‘maker’ is conventionally applied to the young-adult age group.”

    Because the young-adult age group is more mobile familiar with social media outlets for sharing ?

      1. Then the research is telling you that age discrimination exits in this field just like it exists everywhere else. So that must make it ok?

        This is not personally aimed at you [Benchoff]. I am just taking this opportunity to make this point.

      2. Lol
        So if you are “young” you “make”, if you are “middle” you “hack”, if you are “old” you “tinker” and everybody else just “futzes-about”.

        1. The ‘arts and crafts’ movement isn’t a new thing, but those jumping on it now a days want to feel like they’re doing something ‘new’ and ‘outside the box’.

      1. I will admit it never really sat well with me and I could never really figure why. At least not until after that whole Makerbot closed source meltdown* at which point it really click as to why. It really feels like it’s always been about branding, which explained why when people brought it up I would always get that sickly “what are you trying to sell me” feeling.

    1. Ah, the first “maker” was the caveman who tied a stone knife to the end of a stick with some rawhide and threw it at a deer! No actually the first maker was the guy who made the stone knife, so it’s been around a while.

  2. I think this guy is the patron saint of a new genre “Diesel Punk.” because those machines are amazing, and that story about his toe is the essence of “stoic”. What an amazing human, and it seems that life rewarded him with a wonderful partner too.

    The second video, on the linked page, has a classic quote from him,

    “There are things in it that I didn’t do right, because, let’s face it,
    the fellow who’s never made a mistake, he’s never made anything. “

    1. That’s dead on bub and for the record, pretty much church for those that tinker. That old fella has his sh%t together and sealed as a deal. What astonishes me is how commercial setups relinquish the basics of learn how it is done not merely forcing what is easy. Learning is key or Queue..or wtf ever it seems as I have relearned over the decades. I love how the old fart bruises through and abuses the hell outta some nice hardware that lasts as far as it “cannot” be used. Sawmills aside, this looks like what we all face when cool things are done but not in any way divulged.

        1. Apparently he did accurate scale drawings of most, if not all, of the thing. It would be really awesome to get those scanned in and put up online…

          As an aside, I believe that it was a Mack truck, not a MAC that he mentioned getting some pieces from

  3. Many modern manufacturing operations (a sawmill takes in logs as input and “manufactures” lumber) are moving in this direction too. Fewer employees, more mechanization. Though probably using a bit more, err, standardized and easier to obtain parts for. Probably a bit higher yields as well, due to more accurate, computerized operation. Nice work though, this is clearly a labor of love.

    1. Not really. First, this is designed to be operated by one person so OSHA doesn’t apply if he has no employees. Secondly, he is not in the USA. No OSHA there. Worksafe, WHS/OH&S and Occupational Safety and Health Act and OHSA might apply though.

      1. Looks like an Australian – WHS bull is alive and well here doing its best to stop any productivity with out increasing REAL safety.

        Had a run in with the WHS inspector a couple of years ago all worried about the lack of documentation I had for a few cans of spray lube but the section of floor that had rotten away and the collapsing ceiling which was filled with asbestos wasn’t a problem…..

        1. What gets me is the requirement for earth moving equipment to beep when it is reversing. On a construction site they are reversing exactly half of the time unless you believe earth moving equipment is doing laps around a construction site. So of course the beeping sound gets mentally blanked out after a short time.

          1. Just scrapers tend to do laps….I found I tuned out beepers. Once had an operator ask for some wire cutters…I gave him mine and asked what they were for as he was running out of the shop. That effing beeper! I took my cutters back, showed him the inline fuse holder and asked him to wait until I was gone before pulling it. Ahhh, Amnesia Lane!

          2. The UK now requires many vehicles to emir a white noise hiss instead of a beep. Supposedly is more noticeable h certainly less obnoxious for urban development.
            Good luck hearing either over a power hammer though.

          3. @dave

            Obnoxious to the residents who have to live next to 24/7 construction in a modern metropolis.
            As for the noticeably part apparently the broad spectrum cuts through other noise better. I presume someone payed for a study on the matter but I haven’t bothered to find it.

          4. [madwelder] I’ve seen a lot of backup alarms connected with a wire nut.
            When we had to work before 5 A.M. off it went!

            I have seen those annoying-as-hell alarms save lifes before. When one is cutting pavement and wearing earplugs you’re usually preoccupied, and that alarm does it’s job.

  4. This mill is the product of a man’s pathological need to keep busy and cut lumber and it’s great his wife goes along with it. It’s lovely for what it is.

    Thinking on mills:. You need big volumes to run at capacity and get ROI on heavily automated operations. They’re a beauty to behold but sit idle if there’s a slump in log supply or lumber demand. The sawmill I work in is on the cutting edge of 1980(but with better guarding on saws and conveyor drives) and nothing is automated. While we’re not as efficient as some operations, we’re profitable at smaller volumes because our production lines are scalable and the equipment is fully paid for.

    1. And that probably keeps him alive, apparently there are is evidence that once people retire and do nothing anymore, they die quicker.
      Anyway, more of these stories, very inspiring!

      1. It depends on your temperament. My father is 71 and works full time just to keep busy. My mother’s father retired and spent the next 25 years chewing tobacco and the grass grow. What is true for all of us is that once the rocking chair gets a hold of you, it doesn’t generally let go.

    2. It clearly isn’t “pathological”, but your envy of him is of concern. The guy has happily contributed an extra 25 years of his life to his community’s economy while keeping fit, there is nothing pathological about that.

        1. I have made no mistake, there is nothing pathological about the guy or his lifestyle, particularly when compared to the “average” person. In fact I see the complete opposite.

          Perhaps you need to look at a dictionary from time to time? I do it all the time, or at least I will highlight a word or phrase from my own text before I post it and run a google search on it to ensure the sense in which I use it is appropriate, because you are never too old to learn.

        2. Pathological and pathology have counter intuitive meanings in different areas. I any case I simply ignore anything that may sound like a diagnosis from the DSM as it is highly unlikely that the poster has the qualifications to make such diagnosis’s, especially given that it is based on a short video.

          Where I am Pathological is a category that includes psychopath and sociopath and may be expressed such as pathological lair and pathology is simply the medical process of evaluating a medical condition prior to diagnosis.

          The more common interpretation of anything that has ‘path’ in it is like the interpretation of ‘psychopath’ as bad bad bad.

          So just ignore these things as they are regional and most likely have a different meaning on your region.

          1. Not in the world I live in. Go google and you will find different meanings. The words pathological and pathology have completely different meanings in some regions – mine included. In some places they ‘actually’ do have different intended meanings but they are simply confused.

          2. Uh huh like in Australia where you can call your mate a cunt and it means mate, but if you call a cunt mate it means he is a cunt, and in both cases mate has nothing to do with mating? OK mate, whatever you reckon.

          3. I really don’t get where you’re coming from. I was simply observing that these ‘words’ have different meanings in different places as is the very well accepted case for other such ‘words’.

            Some examples –
            Thong – US clothing – AU footwear
            Fanny – US ass – AU vagina
            Pharmaceuticals store – US drug store – AU chemist

            In Australia, should I need a blood test – I get referred to a place called pathology where blood samples are taken. The resulting report given to the treating doctor is called a pathology report. It has absolutely nothing to do with the DSM or a psychological / psychiatric / neurological condition whatsoever. On the other hand ‘pathological’ has a completely different meaning that relates to psychology / psychiatry / neurology.

            I don’t consider ANY of these differences to be right or wrong. To me they are just differences associated with different places / cultures / languages.

            In any case, no matter were you read, having a physical activity that you enjoy doing after retirement is good both for your physical and mental health. Well all have a ‘mental health’ status and that does *NOT* mean the we have a ‘mental condition’ that needs diagnosis or treatment. God! When did being normal stop being normal.

          4. Sigh – you win hands down [Dan]

            Being into science / maths / technology where a lot of our words / symbols stem from Latin / Greek history, I have absolutely no trouble accepting that there are *correct* interpretations to words.

            Your next steps are –
            Re-write many foreign and even domestic dictionaries updating them with the *correct* meanings.
            Re-write the DSM – it’s full of these errors.
            Re-write common medical practices and procedures globally as there is a great level of *incorrect* interpretations there.

            Let me know when your done so I can update files here to.

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