This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Saw doctors repair and sharpen hand, chain, band and circular saws.
Saw doctors usually earn
$29K-$52K per year
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
Pay for saw doctors varies depending on experience and employer:
- Apprentice saw doctors may start on the minimum wage or a little more, with rates increasing as they gain experience and unit standards.
- Experienced saw doctors can earn up to $25 an hour.
What you will do
Saw doctors may do some or all of the following:
- examine saws for faults
- weld cracked or broken saws and replace any broken saw teeth
- hammer out any lumps and twists
- sharpen saws by hand or machine
- adjust saws to the right tension
- maintain sawmill equipment and machinery
- complete relevant paper work
- ensure workshop areas comply with safety standards.
Skills and knowledge
Saw doctors need to have:
- mechanical and technical skills
- knowledge of saw repair, sharpening and maintenance
- knowledge of saw speeds, and wood and metal properties
- an understanding of safe working practices
- welding skills.
- usually work regular business hours. Some may work shifts if they work for a sawmill
- work in workshops for companies that manufacture and sharpen knives and blades, or in sawmill workshops
- may work in noisy and hazardous conditions
- may travel locally to visit clients.
What's the job really like?
Gilbert Robinson - Head Saw Doctor
A lot riding on his shoulders
As head saw doctor at a large sawmill, Gilbert Robinson understands pressure. After all, the quality of the end product and the work of hundreds of other staff depends on his ability to produce sharp saws.
"It's high-pressure work here because it's such a big place. But, by the end of the day, we tend to work our way through it, and things don't look too bad."
More than just sharpening saws
After spending some time as a carpenter, Gilbert got into saw doctoring for the chance to earn while he learnt in a highly specialised trade.
He says he's never looked back. "I've never been tempted to go into another engineering trade. It is a specialised job and there is a lot more to saw doctoring than people realise - it's not just about sharpening saws. To tension a saw and put a background in a saw is a skill that has to be learned by experience, and you need to spend a lot of time doing it to get it right."
Watch the video to see what's involved working at a sawmill as an operator, a saw doctor or a timber machinist - 6.20 mins. (Video courtesy of Competenz)
Clinton: Well Isaia, we may have the perfect opportunity for you with the largest employer in Taupo. Tenon is an award-winning sawmill, taking high-quality clear wood and creating products for the American DIY market. The general manager of the Taupo site is Mark Taylor, who will take you through the mill's processes, once you’ve had your safety briefing.
Mark: When we’re employing someone to come and work with us at Tenon, there are several things that we’re looking for. First and foremost, we’re looking for people that have a good attitude, that have good values, good timekeeping and are prepared to give things a go.
Mark: So we’re in the head-rig now, and this is where the logs are initially broken down. Guy has got a really important job here, because he has to take the log on to the carriage and then look to extract the clear wood, or the high grade, from the outside of the log.
Mark: So the control stick Guy is using is similar to a helicopter, and you can see that Guy is needing to co-ordinate with both hands a number of jobs, as well as foot pedals, so it’s a really technical job.
Clinton: The central block contains knots formed when branches grow, making the timber low quality. Tenon specialises in timber milled from the outer layers that grow once the branches have been trimmed off. That is called clear wood, and has four times the value. But to get the most out of that clear wood, the saws need to be sharp, so you better call in the doctor, the saw doctor.
Isaia: So what is saw doctoring?
Chris: Saw doctoring is mainly is maintaining the saws we use in the sawmill. Every sawmill has saws, therefore a saw doctor is an important part of any sawmill.
Clinton: The big band saws are flattened to ensure a straight cut before being sharpened.
Chris: The classic signs of the saws going well is when you don’t see any of those guys out there. If there’s problems with the saws out there, they’ll be in here, and we’re lucky enough that we seldom see them.
Clinton: Much of the process is automated, but some blades are still straightened by hand.
Chris: So start here, check that little section there and see if you can find any lumps in it.
Isaia: Yeah, there’s one over here.
Chris: Yep, OK grab your hammer and level it.
Clinton: Is Isaia’s grip on the tools steady enough to make him a saw surgeon?
Chris: That is nice and flat.
Clinton: The saw is straight, so the timber’s not going to turn to dust, which is good because it’s back to the factory where the lumber is sorted and stacked ready to be dried.
Mark: Well we’re down at the kilns now, and you can see this timber has come out of the sawmill, it’s been filleted. We place these fillet stickers in between the boards and that’s to allow consistent air flow to dry the timber. So this timber is now going to head into the kilns.
Mark: So the kilns behind me run at temperatures up to 180 degrees. We’re fortunate in that they’re fuelled through geothermal heat, and the kiln drying can take anything from one to five days.
Mark: So we’re at the back of the kilns now. This timber has come out of the kilns. It’s between 10 and 12 percent moisture content, and by drying it that low we prevent any risk of sap-stain.
Clinton: The timber is dry and ready to be processed in the moulding factory. Each plank is individually cut to get the highest-quality result. The heart of the operation is the grinding room, where the blades are set and sharpened. Moulding line plant supervisor Peter Carter will show Isaia how it’s done.
Peter: Welcome to the grinding room. We’re going to turn this piece of clear wood here into this profile here. And this is the head that does it, with all these knives going around. Once this head is set on the machine, it spins at 6000 revolutions per minute.
Clinton: Isaia gets the chance to set the knives into the head.
Peter: Slide it in to the pocket, place it there, flush on both sides, grab the knife and slip it in. Yep, like that.
Clinton: If the blades are not in line, the head gets unbalanced, and at 6000 revolutions a minute all sorts of things can go wrong, so Isaia has to get it right.
Peter: So now we're going to place the head on the CMA stand, and we’re going to put all the knives into the same cutting circle. First we’ll turn it on, see that? It’s on the O-line. That’s good, turn it around to the next knife – not quite in the right cutting circle. Tap that knife across a bit, give it a little tweak, and that’s that knife done. Move on to the next one. Right, now you have a go.
Clinton: Once Isaia has got the blades in line, they are sharpened either by hand or automatically. Then they are ready for use in the moulders, where Peter shows Isaia a head ready to go.
Peter: You can actually see the head in there. So that's spinning, cutting the profile...
Clinton: The mouldings are used to edge windows and doors, it’s all about adding value. Off-cuts are used as kindling and all other by-products of the manufacturing process are either used as fuel or in the production of particle board, paper and the like. The goal is for Tenon to extract every scrap of viable timber. The mouldings are being packed into the container ready to start their journey to the United States. So what did Isaia think of his time at the mill?
Isaia: It was pretty good to see how the machine runs and all that stuff, where the logs come from, where all the wood goes to and all that stuff, so yeah, it was pretty good. I found the head-rig pretty interesting for me, just how the controls work and stuff like that. It was pretty good.
Clinton: Workers generally start off as a table hand sorting timber, a filleter or yard hand and can move on from there. Students can study national certificates in a full range of positions in the sawmill, including log yard operator, saw doctor and timber machinist. As mills become more automated, jobs skills are evolving, creating new challenges for the mill and it’s employees.
To become a saw doctor you usually begin as a trainee or apprentice, and complete a National Certificate in Solid Wood Processing (Saw Doctoring) while working and attending block courses at the Waiariki Institute of Technology. Apprenticeships usually take four years to complete, and are overseen by Competenz, an industry training organisation.
- Competenz website - information on wood industry apprenticeships and training
- Waiariki Institute of Technology website - information on forest operations qualifications
NCEA Level 1 in workshop technology, maths and science is usually needed to become a saw doctor trainee or apprentice.
Saw doctors need to be:
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- patient and methodical
Useful experience for saw doctors includes:
- general engineering work
- timber machining
- work in a sawmill.
Saw doctors need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
Find out more about training
- 0800 526 1800 - firstname.lastname@example.org - http://www.competenz.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
The closure of about 30 sawmills after the 2008-2009 economic recession led to a 22% drop in the number of sawmill workers, among them saw doctors. However, latest Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates show the number of saw doctors has since stabilised, with only slight variations from year to year.
While vacancies often arise for qualified saw doctors, there are fewer vacancies for apprentices, so you may need persistence to get a job if you are starting out.
Demand for saw doctors likely to increase again
Forest product export earnings were $4.7 billion in 2011, but earnings are expected to more than double by 2022 because of a 40% increase in the amount of wood harvested – from 25 million cubic metres to 35 million cubic metres. This increase, combined with growth in construction and building activity, is expected to improve job opportunities for saw doctors.
Most saw doctors employed in timber processing industry
Most saw doctors are employed by sawmills and timber processing plants. However, others work for:
- large engineering companies
- tool manufacturers
- specialist saw and blade-sharpening companies.
- Forest Owners Association, 'Forestry Facts and Figures 2011-2012', (www.mpi.govt.nz).
- Kelly, J, head of department – wood manufacturing, Waiariki Institute of Technology, Careers New Zealand interview, October 2011.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2013.
Progression and specialisations
Saw doctors may work towards becoming a head saw doctor, overseeing a team of staff. Some saw doctors start their own businesses.
Last updated 2 September 2016