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The water saws

Written by Bent Ek

Around the year 1500, hydropower was used in Norway to cut planks and tables, and this largely replaced hand-sawn planks and hewn tables. They were powered by water wheels, which for hundreds of years had been used to power grain mills and brooks. However, the saws used small attack wheels, which gained sufficient speed to drive the saw blade through the log.

Oppgangssag Vestfossen bilde 1899.jpg

The first saws were so-called "rising saws", which consisted of a single vertical blade. During the 18th century, saw frames also came with two or more parallel blades, so that one could cut several tables at the same time. This was called "silk saws".

Most of the water saws on Eiker were flood saws that lay by small rivers and streams and were only in operation during the spring and autumn floods. But there were also larger sawmill sites, with vintage sawmills that were in continuous operation both day and night. The crew of each saw usually consisted of two men - a sawmill master and a sawmill boy. 

Many of the sawmills were initially small stream saws that were owned and run by local farmers. During the 17th century, the industry was regulated by the authorities, and an upper quantity was set that should not be exceeded. Only these "quantity saws" had the right to produce for export, and in the latter half of the 18th century almost all of these farms were owned by citizens of Bragernes and Strømsø. They also had the opportunity to gather production in larger units, among other things by transferring quantity from the smaller farms. In this way, more and more of the sawmill production in the Drammensvassdraget was gathered at Hønefossen on Ringerike and on Eiker, especially at the mills in Vestfossen and Skotselv.

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