Making a Wartime Saw
By Dick Young:
In the early fifties, soon after returning from WW II, my brother Rolly and I felt compelled to join the National Guard to help make ends meet. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but family members warned us that we were just risking another tour of duty. We ignored the warnings. Imagine our surprise when we were both given orders to head west to an Army training camp prior to service in the Korean conflict.
Rolly was first to be shipped out. Just a little later I also prepared to leave. I had attained the rank of Warrant Officer – a rather different title – and was sent to join forces in Korea. Rolly was assigned to a machine shop in Pusan after arriving in Korea, but I remained unsure of my fate. I was very fortunate to be able to meet him in Pusan when I arrived. We had exactly 1-1/2 hours together before I was sent to a dubious area that our soldiers named the “Punch Bowl.”
To my relief, I found I would not be involved in combat. I had enough of that in Germany, already. Instead, I was sent to a large building that was used for repair work on Army equipment. Though I am not sure of the exact location, it seemed to be isolated from combat. From our position we could easily hear the sounds of war and could watch the helicopters carrying wounded back from the front, but we did not experience any direct problems.
The building had many openings spaced around it that allowed plenty of room for a large number of trucks to be backed up to the doorways. The trucks were equipped with machinery – lathes, milling machines, drill presses, etc. We were allowed to share the equipment and, all things considered, it provided a pretty fair machine shop, not quite like home, but very workable. Surprisingly, there was quite a bit of material available to handle the various jobs that came up.
It‘s interesting that we were not given much direction as to our duties while being stationed there. In between jobs we had a lot of free time. One day I noticed a piece of black plate iron that gave me an idea. Though we had plenty of equipment to work on metal, we had few tools available to handle woodworking chores such as cutting plywood and ripping boards.
What we needed was a table saw. The steel plate was about the right size, so I squared it up, cleaned and flattened the surface, and cut guide grooves for the miter gauge. My plan was to design the saw to handle an 8” blade. With the materials that were available, the saw began to take shape. One important machine tool we were missing was a band saw to trim parts to size so all the parts had to be machined directly from solid stock. There was plenty of time available though. With knowledge of table saws gained from working with my father back home and some patience and persistence, I was able to create all the features found in the popular models of our time.
The saw had a tilt feature and left and right miter grooves. The legs, made from steel fence posts, were cut long enough to position it at a good working height. A “borrowed” electric motor was obtained that promised to give the saw plenty of power.
After the saw was assembled, a slight problem developed. There were no 8” saw blades anywhere to be found. After coming this far, I was not about to be stopped. The closest I could come was a 15” diameter blade. I couldn’t rework the saw to fit the blade, but I figured the blade could be made to fit the saw. After checking some dimensions I was pleased to find there was enough room to fit a 9” blade on the machine. The blade was cut to diameter on a lathe, and I used an index plate to create an even number of teeth around the circumference. The exact number of teeth slips my mind today. The teeth were set one by one with a hammer and once the blade had a final sharpening, the saw was ready to go. Because my blade was cut from a larger diameter blade, it was slightly thicker than normal. This actually seemed to be an advantage for the rough things we worked on and the saw ran smoothly.
The saw became a popular tool with several of the men in my group. Though it would have been nice to keep the saw, I was not able to take it home with me when my tour was up. At least I had the pleasure of creating a machine that could be used to make life easier for the fellows still assigned to my unit.