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Hand Tools around the World


Pit Saw Mill in Nepal by Robert Wallace

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I've been addicted to travel, photography, and messing around with wood for many years.  I'm also interested in how things were done in the 'old days'.  I  grew up on my grandfather's farm in East Tennessee, where people still did a lot of their work with hand tools and even made some of their tools.

Trekking in Nepal is a very good way to bring all those interests together in one package.  In 2001 along with a couple of friends I hiked the Jomsom Trek, from just outside Pokhara to Jomsom, a walk that took about ten days of ascending into the Himalayas.   Once you leave the road and walk a half-hour into the mountains you have moved back to the 19th century in many ways.  While there are a few electric lights here and there thanks to micro-hydro generation, for the most part farming, weaving, and building are done with the most basic tools.  And power is supplied by humans and animals.

Along the trail I happened across two milling operations, both using two man crosscut saws.  The saw blades would be very valuable items in those mountains.  It would have taken a major effort to accumulate enough cash to purchase a blade and most likely a saw would serve multiple generations.   The boards from these sawmills will be used in local construction.  Houses are largely made of stone with lumber reserved for floors, windows and doors.  To a great extent roofs are thatched.  Beams and joists are often hand-squared timbers.  Exteriors are often stuccoed with mud and sometimes painted.

The resulting buildings are most likely unchanged from over the last hundreds of years.  These high farms are along the 'salt highway' that was used for trade between Tibet and India, with grain being traded for sea salt.  As one walks along paths that have served generation upon generation as their route between farms and villages it is easy to forget about modern life and experience life as it was for our distant grandfathers.

Here is my picture story...

Pit Saw Mill

This is a two-man “saw pit” in use along the Kali Gandaki River in Nepal. The workers are sawing logs that have floated down the river when it was in flood stage. This type of lumbering disappeared from the US years ago with the advent of water driven circular saws.

Here one can better see the construction of the log frame.

Further up the mountain there was an operation that was milling felled trees.

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Ice Saw



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