Sutherland Steam Mill, Nova Scotia
Just ten miles from the Balmoral Grist Mill is the Sutherland Steam Mill, a lumber mill that operated from 1894 through 1958. The Sutherland Mill was unique for its use of steam power, which allowed more than four times the amount of lumber to be produced as compared with a water-powered mill. Only the basement level functioned to produce lumber however; the first and second floors contained workshops that produced carriages, furniture, gingerbread decorative trim, bathtubs, shingles, and more. The mill was also a place of innovation where time and labor-saving modifications allowed as few as fifteen men to run the basement sawmill and all the machines of the first and second floor. Alexander Sutherland also install other fixes such as fans for creating a vacuum that would suck up sawdust, and barrels of water affixed to the roof that could be overturned in case of fire. Unfortunately I’m writing this blog post about three months after my visit and this, combined with my below-average mechanical knowledge, has resulted in me forgetting many of these neat little shortcuts and inventions. However, I do remember how the basic mechanics of the mill functioned and I did take some notes so I’ll do my best.
In lieu of water generating power, the steam engine at Sutherland was fed from a massive boiler that evaporated water into steam which was forced by pressure into the engine wherein it pushed a piston within a cylinder. This part is a bit fuzzy but some combination of something converts this vertical energy of the piston moving within the cylinder into circular energy that spins a flywheel on which a belt is attached. This main belt then connects to other belts that power individual or groups of machines via drive shafts, the same as in water-powered mills.
The mill process started by logs being offloaded onto three braces, where they could be rolled onto the carriage. Once on the carriage, they were clamped and levers would be used to adjust the thickness of the plank by pushing the logs out and away from the back of the carriage. The carriage with the log was then slid toward the blade and the planks would pass through, moved by a splitter wheel. An ingenious adaption I noted here was the use of removable teeth so that the blade itself would not have to be replaced as often. Planks would then pass to a gang saw to be trimmed lengthwise. Standard size framing lumber (10 feet) would pass out the back of the mill to the hopper and into waiting wagons. Wood not being used for framing would go to a workbench where it could be cut to size specifications and passed up to the ground floor. Any scraps and swept-up sawdust would be collected and fed into the boiler.
On the ground floor were standard woodworking machines such as bandsaws, table saw, and lathes, many made on site from recycled parts or adapted from other machines. I got absorbed in this part of the discussion and unfortunately didn’t take notes here, sorry. I should also mention that I had a one-on-one tour and that my guide spent over an hour explaining everything to me, which was amazing. And also that this mill is super-interesting in general and I would highly recommend it. But anyway, I do remember that Alexander Sutherland designed the lathe to be installed on an angle and fitted it with rollers so that gravity would return the wood, which seems to be a good idea. He also had a variety of removable knives that could be used on the planar so that more exact specifications.
The second floor workshop was where most of the finished products were made – the carriage wheels, rocking horses, bathtubs, gingerbread trim, etc. The mill produced every imaginable wood product but specialized in wooden gingerbread trim, toys, and carriage wheels. The second floor also had a kiln floor which was situated over the boiler which would dry the green wood before it was shaped.