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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.

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

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

Many of the sawmills were initially small stream sawmills owned and operated 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 "quantum saws" had the right to produce for export, and in the latter half of the 18th century almost all of these mills were owned by citizens from Bragernes and Strømsø. They also had the opportunity to consolidate production in larger units, for example by transferring quantities from the smaller mills. In this way, more and more of the sawmill production in the Drammensvassdraget was collected at Hønefossen on Ringerike and on Eiker, especially at the mills in Vestfossen and Skotselv.

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