Saw skills

Two of Dan White?s hobbies have teeth. Well, at least they did until the teeth were pulled from one of them. The 70-year-old rural Newton resident cuts logs with a 52-inch round blade that has 42 large teeth in his antique sawmill, while another of his hobbies, musical saw playing, had teeth on his favorite saw until he cut them off.
Around 1975, White bought the sawmill from the now late John Younkman. White had gone to Younk?man?s rural Newton home on occasion because Younk?man had steam engines. It took Younkman six to eight months to convince White to buy it.
?It took me two years to put it together,? White said. ?(Younkman) hauled it from Oklahoma in pieces…. It?s been around.?
The antique sawmill, which dates from the 1920s or ?30s, White said, was made by the Reeves Manufac?turing Co., which made tractors and machinery. Originally, the mill was in Arkansas and then Oklahoma. White is the mill?s fourth owner.
?Sawmill is the first step in the processing of lumber,? White said, sitting at his dining room table. ?It always intrigued me.?
White said he became interested in working with wood as a child, and then it developed into a larger operation.
?It started out as a hobby,? White said. ?It?s still a hobby that I like.?
White, who?s retired, said running the mill, which is housed in an open-air shed on the property he and wife Karen own, was a great second job when he was working. Now that he?s retired, he can saw ? and quit ? when he wants to.
For 17 years of his career, White ran White Construc?tion, which was a concrete construction company for building basements and other projects. Then, for 22 years, he worked for the city of Hesston.
?Now (that) I?m retired, I can run (the mill) anytime I want to,? he said.
?Instead of weekends and nights,? Karen added.
Before he starts cutting logs, White uses a metal detector to locate any metals in them, such as nails. Then he works on getting the metal out of the log. On a wall in his ?office? next to the mill, White posted some of the metal he?s removed from logs. This office helps him cope with the weather ? if it?s cold, he can go in there and warm up with an old heated stove, and if it?s warm, he can get cool refreshments.
White attaches the log to a part of the mill, then one side of the log is run through the large blade that operates at 450 rpm. White squares up the log by turning it several times and running it through the blade each time. From there, he can cut boards to fit customers? wishes.
As part of the work, White sharpens the Simmons blade, which came with the sawmill; he doesn?t know how old the whirring blade is. He can get about a half day?s cutting done with one sharpening, although he said he only uses 21 of its teeth.
At one point in his life, White said he logged his own logs, but now he doesn?t do that anymore. His son, Todd, helps him cut logs if they?re big or if he needs assistance, White said.
?Now we custom cut for anybody who brings ?em out to me,? White said.
Recently, White cut the siding for several new houses in the neighborhood out of rough-cut cedar. He?s also cut wood for a man who makes violins, beams for a building addition, back and front porch beams for his own home and about 300 80-feet-long high line poles.
A couple of years ago, two men called White and asked if he could cut such poles. He and Karen thought the men maybe would make one little trip to their home. As it turned out, they brought semi load after semi load to them for a couple of weeks.
White can cut wood that?s 18 feet maximum and 3 feet minimum.
?If it?s less than that, it?s firewood,? he said.
White has cut a variety of wood, including pecan, walnut and oak.
?Most of all your hardwoods I?ve cut over the years,? he said. ?I think that some of the prettiest wood was pecan. It makes real pretty furniture too.?
Right now, walnut probably is one of the nicer woods he cuts, and it?s probably the most expensive wood now too.
Around the time of his interview in early April, White was expecting a semi load of wood from a farmer who wants to build wagon boxes his horses pull.
People wishing to have White cut their lumber can call him at 620-327-4156.
The antique saw mill makes a melodious sound as it cuts through logs. White uses another kind of saw, not as it was originally intended, but rather to make another kind of music ? more of the traditional kind.
White became interested in playing the musical saw, which he does with a bow, when he was in Iowa at a steam show. At the show was a barn dance. Bands performing switched every hour, and one band had the drummer play the musical saw in one of its songs.
?I thought, ?That is awesome. I have to try that,?? White said.
He then purchased a saw and taught himself how to play.
?There weren?t too many musical saw teachers around,? White said.
His favorite saw is one he purchased at a hardware store.
?It?s the cheapest hand saw that you can buy at the hardware store,? White said. ?I bought the cheapest one, and it was flexible enough it worked out for playing.?
To it, he added a palm grip on the end and cut the teeth off. He also owns two other saws, which were sold as musical saws.
White has performed. For example, he played ?In the Garden? at a funeral at their church. White enjoys playing old hymns, 1950s and 1960s tunes, and band-era music.
Turning back to wood, White also does woodcarving as a hobby. He calls his work Woodland Carvings, and he has used cottonwood bark, like a saloon he made in 2004. As of early April, he was working on a lighthouse. He?s also carved elves and churches.
?I?ve had some kids ask me, ?How do you carve a dog or a mule??? White said, laughing. ?I said, ?Just carve everything away that doesn?t look like a dog or mule.??

Photos and Story by?Wendy Nugent