After wailing away at logs for years with a single sharpened piece of steel at the end of a stick, lumberjacks wised up, technology improved, and the simple axe gave way to the immensely more complex single buck saw. The saws used in competition are finely tuned, racing only, top fuel dragsters of hand saws that rely on cutting technology born more than 100 years ago but given a modern polish. A single sharp edge has given way to a series of small, sharpened teeth on a roughly six foot long, 15 to 18 pound piece of steel. Affectionately known as the "Misery Whip," there is very little that is miserable about modern single buck saws. The saws current STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS® Series competitors are using are able to cut through a 19-inch diameter piece of white pine in as little as 9.40 seconds - the current world record held by Jason Wynyard from New Zealand in 2007 - while other competitors hover in the 15-second range.
The cutting technology of modern single buck saws has its roots in the first hand saws fashioned more than 100 years ago and are still used for work and competition. A series of small, sharpened teeth stand like four fingers extending from the main body of the saw. Each finger is alternately sharpened and set a measured distance off to the left and right so in a group of four teeth, there are two rights and two lefts. As the sharpened ends of the teeth are drug across the wood fiber, each tooth cutting one side of a ribbon of wood that is just as wide as the distance between the sharpened left side teeth and the sharpened right side teeth. Early attempts to create a faster cutting saw abandoned the tooth and raker configuration for teeth that looked like the letter M. These saws were creatively called "M-tooths" and are still favoured in some areas where racing occurs in harder wood. After the "M-tooth" saw, builders tried making saws that had untoothed ends opposite the handled end to weigh the saw down and pull it into the wood. Some of these saws had beaver or shark faces lasered into the untoothed area while still using a peg and raker configuration on the rest of the saw. Current racing saws have returned to the peg and raker configuration resembling the older saws, symmetrical from end to end but built specially for racing.
After a set of cutting teeth, looking down the saw, is first a gap called a gullet, which is meant to fill with wood ribbons, followed by a fork-like raker. The raker takes the ribbon of wood that the teeth cut and rakes it out of the kerf. As the saw is drawn back and forth through the log, the gullet is sometimes out of the kerf on one side, which allows the ribbons to be deposited outside of the log. When this happens, the gullets empty and the saw cleans out so the teeth can cut a newer, deeper ribbon. This pattern of cutting teeth, gullet, raker and gullet repeats across the length of the saw evenly from one end to the other. Now a whole team of sharpened and tuned cutting edges attempts to work together to cut through the wood quickly.
Modern racing saws have the size, shape and location of the cutting teeth, gullets and rakers varied, to produce a saw that cuts from the top of the log to the bottom as fast as possible. Depending on wood species, sawyer needs and saw manufacturer, the cutting teeth can be in collections of two, three or four while the rakers take on different shapes: some look like the letter "Y," some are more bowl-like configurations, and some look like they came from the Greek alphabet. The three best saw builders have complete control over these parameters as they start from scratch with a piece of industrial bandsaw steel before having their proprietary pattern, shape and depth laser or water jet cut into the 60 to 66 or more inch long piece of steel. After the teeth, gullets and rakers are cut into the bandsaw steel, the basic shape of the saw is set, each piece of the saw is hand-sharpened with files and stones to a razor's edge based on the wood species the saw will cut and the sawyer the saw is being built for. If you can get $2,000 to California, Quebec or New Zealand and afford to wait two to 18 months, you too can have a single buck saw specially tuned to your sawing needs.
Buying a fast single saw does not assure a win in the single buck event. The saw manufacturers, like any good mad scientists, are trying to improve and adjust their designs so that each saw they produce is faster than the last one. A competitor will look to form a good relationship with his chosen saw builder and filer to keep his garage stocked with the fastest saws available for all the wood species he sees in competition, while also being able to get old saws re-filed as they become dull or get damaged by hidden knots. At $2,000 per saw, competitors do not like to have a saw performing poorly nor do they like to be without a saw for very long if it needs to be freshened up from a season of use.