Strange stories from the sawmill

Sawyers trade tales of unusual objects discovered in wood, during processingd - June 21, 2000

All you sawyers out there -- what is the strangest foreign object you've ever hit in a log while sawing? Having spent a few years around a commercial mill, I've seen the gamut: electrical insulators, railroad spikes, net and barbed wire, and of course nails.

My personal best observation: a side-harrow tooth. It was about five or six feet up from the butt of the log and about six inches from the center of a 28-inch red oak. I can imagine a farmer years ago hanging the tooth on a limb stub on what was then a 10- or 12-year-old tree, and forgetting all about it.

Forum Responses
I hit an old lead musket ball a few months ago in a large oak log. I counted rings and it was about 100 yrs old.

While sawing up a very old oak log, I hit a small metal box. It must have been hidden in a crotch of the tree and left there by some forgetful miner in the late 1800's, as it had a small quantity of gold dust and flakes in it.

One of the benefits of sawing in California!

When I was having some wood cut last summer, the guy cutting it told me he had recently hit a Coca-Cola bottle in the center of a tree. It was probably placed in the crook of a small tree and left to be grown around.

Three weeks ago when sawing some red oak, we hit two 6-inch diameter by 8-inch long rocks, sitting vertically. The first was in the butt log about 6 feet above grade, the other was in the same tree in the second cut, about 14 feet above grade. Both rocks were near the center, with the edge of the rock about 3 inches out from the heart. The butt was 30 inches plus, and the second cut was at around 26 inches. There were no stains surrounding the rocks, so we hit it going about as fast as we could.

I cut into a nylon rope that the power company tied into a walnut crotch. They were running a power line next to my customer's tree. Instead of removing the rope they just cut it and over the years the tree just swallowed it up. It made for a few tense moments when my band encountered the rope. Nylon doesn't cut too well, but it shur does like to stretch!

I once found an automotive-type water pump when I was cutting up a fair-sized red oak for firewood. Kinda like the harrow blade, some shade-tree mechanic must have set it in the crotch and just forgot about it. I would have hated to hit it with a bandsaw blade.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the responses. Seems there is never a shortage of war stories about tramp metal. I have a couple more.

Ever hit a steel fence post in a log? The sawyer at the mill I was working at cut into a piece of a steel T-post one day. He didn't know what it was at first, but after they cut the section of the log out with a chain saw they were able to dig it out. At this point the cut-up deck operator noted that the log was the *top* 14-foot cut of a 62-foot pine. When the logger came into the mill late that afternoon, they told him about it and he did a little investigating the following day. Seems the area they were logging had a place where the wire had been taken down from a fence but the posts were never pulled up. The logger walked out to the spot where they had been cutting a few days before and found a line of posts, positioned every 12 feet. He started walking down the line and after having counted about eight posts he noticed one was missing, but the line resumed 12 feet later. He started digging around in the area of the missing post and soon discovered what had happened: The sawhand who cut the tree felled it toward the old fencerow, not knowing it was there. The tree fell directly on top of one of the posts, driving a piece about 6" long into the tree and driving the rest of the post completely into the ground out of sight!! When the log hit the ground it apparently rolled enough to break off the imbedded piece and no one saw it until the sawyer cut into it at the mill.

Now the second:

The most tramp metal I ever encountered in a log was while sawing on a small log scragg mill. I was sawing a 12-foot cut of 14-inch red oak for pallet stock, when about 2 feet into the cut I heard the unmistakeable sound of saw on steel. Knowing we would have to change the saws anyway I resumed sawing, only to hit metal three more times in completing the slab line. At this point, I shut the saws off and got out of the cab to get a better look. What I had cut through were four railroad spikes on one side of the log, three railroad spikes and an 8-inch lag screw on the other. This was the butt log of a tree and we found the same array in the second cut. We got the saws off the mill - 48-inch, 60 tooth, carbide-tipped circular saws - and assessed the extent of the damage: all 60 carbide tips on each saw were obliterated, there was extensive shoulder damage on about a third of each saw, pluc two cracked gullets on one saw. At about $6 apiece for the carbide tips, plush many, many hours of the filer's labor to regrind the damaged shoulders, weld the cracks, and re-tip both saws, this turned out to be a very expensive screw-up. The moral to the story is this: As soon as you hit metal, stop. Don't try to finish the cut even if the saw is still intact. And if you're a deer hunter, don't drive climbing spikes into a tree for your stand.

I operated a circle sawmill for about 20 years. I have hit a variety of interesting things including animals (raccoons, squirrels, mice, cats, snakes and of course bee's honeycombs) but the one that stands out is the disk blade with the 12-inch bolt holding it into the tree. Apparently it was used to hold up an old fence line and eventually the tree grew around it. It was not music to a sawyer's ears.

I guess the 1/2-inch rebar I "discovered" this past weekend in one of those backyard black cherry trees was pretty small potatoes compared to some of the above.

The biggest thing I have hit was a 4-inch diameter rock; and once I hit a steel, round-top fence post top. The blade followed the curved shape around it.

The funniest incident came while cutting a junk oak log. There was this mouse who would stick his head up out of a hole and duck right before the blade would cut it off. This went on for about six boards, each time he would sit there and peek out the top of the log and duck before he, literally, lost his head. I was a bit tense each time. Finally, halfway through the next cut, three mice popped out and ran all over, one right down the board, who stopped and looked at me while I was walking by. He looked pissed that I was hacking up their house. Then he jumped off and ran away. I felt bad for them, besides, the log was junk anyway.

This didn't happen while sawing, but when running a molder. My father was running a 4-by-12-inch Vonnegut sticker with flat back knives and hit a metal-jacketed 50 caliber round. The lumber came from near the old Camp Grayling Military Reservation in central lower Michigan. One of the 12-inch straight knives broke apart, went through the sheet metal shrouding, and into the boards of the second floor.

After shutdown, the guys went to dig the piece of steel out from the floor, and found it penetrated the 3-by-6 yellow pine subfloor and went almost all the way through the 5/4 maple flooring. They dug it out and kept it as a conversation piece.

Fortunately no injuries, and dad is still running the Vonnegut at 72 years old! Both dad and the Vonnegut were born in 1927.

It wasn't tramp metal, but the most exciting day I had sawing was when the wire rope that pulled the carriage on a circular mill broke and got into the blade. I was riding the carriage and there was some snow fence between where I was and where I wanted to be. I emphasize the "was" because it wasn't there long when I went through/over it.

I guess my worst was an anvil, someone set it in the crotch a few hundred years ago. I've also hit horseshoes, railroad spikes and one time I pulled 18 electrical staples out of one place in a walnut log.

Interesting to read all these stories. No one mentioned metal sap spiles. The mill where I work has hit quite a few here in New York.

Our mill hit a deer stand--that wasn't too bad, but the best part was that we had a bunch of Scouts visiting the mill at the time and they thought that the sparks were really neat.

Then there was the time that a dry log pushed the sawblade into the knee and sent up quite a few sparks.

But the most fun was when we hit an ants' nest - we had big ants all over the mill including the ceiling (thrown up by the saw). Ants on the ceiling don't stay up there very long, so we had a small ant shower for the next hour or two.

Although this question is "just for fun," we do have to remember that a few strange people are putting ceramics into trees to try to prevent their harvest. A blade will not cut ceramic - rather there will be a major disaster when the saw hits this ceramic, perhaps leading to loss of life. Ceramics cannot be found with metal detectors or iron-stained wood.

Gene Wengert, forum moderator

Amen, Doc! The mills I've been around that have hit ceramic insulators were all circle mills. I'd hate to see what ceramics would do to about a 14-gauge band blade, running at high strain and top speed.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I didn't hit this with a sawmill, but with my chainsaw. I was sawing up a red elm for firewood that was in the middle of the timber and hit a 3/4" wire rope. I then found the owner and he said that his grandfather had put the cable there when the owner was a little boy. They had put it there for a zipline for the boys to play on. I guess he had too much fun on that to remember that it was there.

Comment from contributor B:
Shrapnel in a teak plank. I tracked it back to ex-Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Apparently, finding bullets or shrapnel in trees from that area of the world is very common.

Comment from contributor C:
I'm more of an end user than producer. I just love bits in my timber. The best so far was a row of five barbs pulled into a bunch, which the sycamore grew around for about thirty years. The saw went right down the middle for two stomping book matched panels. Just bought an LT40 to cut my own (with bits in). I've also got an old Wadkin with 32" blade(s) for timber with bolts and big bits. I've also just been given an ash tree, 42" diameter that's grown through an old wrought iron fence. It seems to go straight through the middle. I'm dreaming of the table top it will make (when I work out how to cut it).

Comment from contributor D:
As a grader I have seen all of it, including a mushroomed ball of lead about an inch in diameter, nails, insulators, and a metal roofing cap serval feet long. I dug a bunch of stuff out and tried to sell it on e-bay. Sadly, nobody would buy it. I heard a story about a young man who shot into a tree with one of those old muskets... about 50 years later he was chopping the tree down when he hit the lead ball with his axe and it glanced off his axe and killed him.

Comment from contributor E:
In 1968 we were sawing a cant and hit a 50 caliber shell. Luckily, it did not go off but we carefully sawed it off and buried it very deep. How the thing got in this tree and got grown over we don't know, but the logs came from Fort Lewis, Washington. The shell must been put in the tree crotch and gronw over. The resaw hit the bullet projecle part and destroyed the saw.

Comment from contributor F:
I once saw two odd things sawing into the same log, one more obvious how it got there than the other. The first was an old lead cast bullet. Based on the estimated age of the tree and area it was taken from, it was more than likely from the Civil War. The second one was a spoon made from lead.

Comment from contributor G:
When I was a kid (I'm in my 40's now), my dad and I were cutting up old logs for firewood at an old army traing range. My chainsaw hit metal so we cut around the obstruction and we ended up splitting open the remaining piece with the metal inside. My dad jumped back and said "It's a bloody grenade!" Turned out to be a training grenade from WW1. I still have the grenade. It has no explosive and the detonator is disabled. How it got there, I have no idea. Great conversation piece, though!

Comment from contributor H:
As a kid, I'd often stop and marvel at a block of firewood in my friend's basement that had a chain seemingly growing from the center of the wood. This chain was visible enough that the cutters did not cut into it with their chainsaws, leaving this a great conversational piece.

Comment from contributor I:
My Dad and I were in the lumber business back in the 1950's and 60's. We had a circular mill and also cut paperwood and chemical wood for a charcoal plant. On the side we removed problem trees from yards in town. Once we were taking down a large bushy sugar maple from a yard. We used Mac 47 chainsaws at the time. Dad had finished cutting the notch and the chain got dull, like maybe it had gotten stoned. He filed it and started to fell the tree. The cut was almost deep enough and the saw quit cutting again. We axed away enough to fell the tree, and there in the center was a three inch hollow with an old five cent coke spinning when the chain hit it. It was chewed up but still intact.

Comment from contributor J:
My father and I operated an old Frick 00 for many years and hit a variety of foreign objects. The most memorable moment was not a strike, but a... bend? We were sawing a 46" white oak on a 54' blade, sawing one side, then rolling to finish the cut. On our 4th cut, the blade heated sufficiently to begin to cup, severely. It cupped far enough to catch the edge of the log, pick it and the carriage up and toss it down the track. Yikes! Strangely, no damage occured and after dad calmed me down, we continued without further tragedy.

Comment from contributor K:
My helper was cutting up the branches of a felled Virginia pine when a section of about 8 inches burst into flames, producing a bright white light like magnesium burning. There was a water hose nearby, and he instinctively tried to flood the flames with water. It continued to burn - this was not pine resin. Finally, after repeated attempts to put it out, he decided to just pile the rest of the freshly cut, very green pine tree on top of the fire. Even with all the water from the hose, the flames ignited the whole tree into a blaze.

I have a degree in biochem, and all I can figure is that some sort of explosives or fireworks, or a form of magnseium, etc. had been in a hollow, and the tree's new growth calloused over it.

We also found an old 1940(?) generator in a tree, old bullet slugs, rocks many feet up... The most unusual was in a healthy, sound red oak. It was huge, so we took it down from the top. It was between two houses, and over one of them, about 55 feet up, I discovered that the fork I had been depending on was, to my horror, hollow. I can not believe it did not break from my weight and the ropes and pulleys, plus the shock loads and leverage/distance over the house. So I am cutting off sections about one foot at a time, 56 feet, then 55 from the ground, and a small hollow appears - packed with dirt. It was about 9 inches, with no opening to the outside air. I cut it off, drop the section, and dirt sprays the homes like a huge dog with diarrhea. When I make another cut, many little skinny red worms pop up squirming. I suppose it was an old squirrel nest in a hollow which eventually calloused over.

Comment from contributor L:
As a saw filer in northern Wisconsin, I've seen plenty of things being hit. About 2 years ago we hit a ceramic insulator. The saws we run are 16 gauge 8 inch wide single cut bands. The saws origanally have 191 teeth. After the insulator, the saw had 153 teeth. The saw made the weirdest sound I've heard in about ten years of filing. Needless to say, the sawyer and the pregrader hit the deck and were very nervous after we changed saws and returned to sawing.

Comment from contributor M:
I was sawing a hemlock log with a 4 cylinder gas case motor using flat drive belts. The log was about the shape of a pickle - turned with the bow out toward the saw. About halfway in the slab I was taking off was clamped a 60 inch circle saw. This caused the belt to smoke and killed the engine. We had to cut the saw out with a chainsaw. The slab acted just like a caliper on the disc brake.

Comment from contributor U:
Back in 1993, I sawed a butternut log up and found a live monkey inside. He would stick his head out the hole I had cut and just grin at me. It was a squirrel monkey from the local zoo and when I took it back, they wouldn't admit it was missing, they just said "thanks."

Comment from contributor R:
I have a real strange find made by my father several years ago while cutting a tree in the oldest settlement in North Dakota "Pembina". While cutting down this huge oak for a customer who wanted it taken out of his backyard due to wind damage, he ran his chainsaw into the butt of the tree and heard the unmistakable sound of steel about half way through his cut.

After re-sharpening his chain, he took another swipe at it from the backside until he once more had sparks flying and luckily far enough through that the tree fell over. We couldn't make out for sure what the item was so we cut off a portion of the butt and split it open only to find and old flintlock rifle embedded in the tree from the time it was young. I always wondered what happened to the guy who set it there a couple hundered years ago. Pembina use to be a great fur trading post hundreds of years ago on the Red River.

Comment from contributor N:
When I was a teenager my dad was close with the groundskeeper at Belleau Wood (WWI battlefield) in France. As you might imagine lots of stuff was shot into those trees 90 years ago. On his desk he proudly kept a section of tree that, as they were cutting up for removal, the chainsaw hit the tip of an unexploded mortar round. Saw marks were clearly visible across the tip. After a call to EOD the shell was defused and they let him keep it. As an end-user, I hate to hit metal in my lumber, (and haven't for years), but while it costs me a little time and money, it pales alongside this (and the above) stories.

Comment from contributor T:
I found an old horseshoe hanging on a tree branch 40 feet off the ground in a cedar tree. I actually found it while felling the tree, before I had sawed it up. It had only lightly grown into the tree. The best I can figure, my grandfather, great grandfather, or someone even before them hung it on a branch at ground level many years ago and forgot about it.

Comment from contributor C:
I have hit several articles like fences, and rocks in several trees, but the story I've heard several times of another local sawyer is just about the oddest I've seen here yet. While sawing up a large mesquite, he suddenly came upon the typical scenario of metal to metal. He cut the log open to see the problem and unveiled an old musket that was lodged inside the tree. A hunter must have leaned it there years back and the tree grew around it.

Comment from contributor O:
Around 1982 we were cutting a large elm about 6 feet diameter on our MEM bandmill when about halfway through the cut we heard the blade whining. Reversing the carriage and then cutting around the area with a chainsaw we uncovered a complete Victorian Pram. The tree had grown completely around it.

Comment from contributor U:
I once sawed into an old maple looking for figured slabs around a crotch and out onto the belt dropped four raccoon kits. The edgerman took them home and raised them as pets. After rolling the log the next cut hit a chunk of cement someone had poured into a rotten limb - so much for that 54" blade!

Comment from contributor F:
Here are a couple of photos of a snake that lives in my mill.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

Click here for higher quality, full size image