Warren Q Miller 1945-2014
The Foundation and the Wilderness community will miss Warren Miller, a member and long-time supporter. Warren was known for his skill in crosscut saw sharpening, a lost art mastered by few which Warren generously shared through teaching. Our field staff regarded him as an expert and an inspiration in the world of filing and maintaining their saws. An internship in Warren’s name has been established and donations are welcomed.
Warren worked as a Wilderness Ranger in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness from 1971-1991 (Moose Creek District), and he taught “Crosscut Maintenance and Sharpening” at the Ninemile Wildlands Training Center near Missoula every spring from 1993-2012. We all looked up to Warren for the wisdom he’d gained from so many years’ experience. He always gave us time when we needed a saw sharpened, a backcountry conundrum figured out, or to share a good story. He donated a free saw-filing every year to the auction at the Foundation’s Annual Gathering in Lewiston.
Warren was an independent, caring and brainy guy whose curiosity was piqued by the complexities of the saws he used when he started at Moose Creek. So many teeth! Spider guages, swedging hammers, the Gibbs jointer! He was always drawn to figuring out how something worked (he’d majored in physics at Reed) and he had patience for the many hours it can take to ready a saw for a wilderness season.
“Hmmmm” he would have said, “I wonder how you sharpen this thing?”
He taught himself how by studying with Martin Winters, a filing master who’d practiced since 1927. Soon he was sharpening saws for his district, and in 1978 he published “The Crosscut Saw Manual” through the Forest Service. Today an updated print version of the manual and a companion DVD “The Crosscut Saw Filer” are available on the web. People from everywhere send notes of appreciative feedback; I saw one from a fellow in Czech Republic!
Warren loved the challenge of figuring out how to tackle complex problems requiring non-motorized equipment. He was on the team that helped clear trails in the hurricane-damaged Juniper Springs Wilderness in Florida. He figured out how to breach a dam inside the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, a project that was written up for a Region One Traditional Skills Award. He helped Region One’s Historical Preservation Team stabilize remote wilderness lookouts and also buildings at the Jim Moore Place on the Salmon River. In 2005 he demonstrated saw filing at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington DC.
“So what makes filing a crosscut saw so technical and so difficult?” Debbie Lee asked him in a recent interview for the Selway-Bitterroot History Project. “Well,” he said, “it takes me a week to teach this. There’s a lot of different aspects that all have to work together. You’ve got … two different kinds of teeth and they each … have to be sharpened, or treated in a particular way so that they work with each other. A crosscut saw … is not really a primitive tool because … for it to work properly each of the teeth has to be filed … in a very precise way so that it interacts most efficiently with the wood, because unlike a power saw where you have a lot of power to muddle your way through a cut if the saw’s not sharpened properly, your crosscut is human powered … Humans have a quarter of a horsepower at most … so you want … a tool that is as efficient at cutting a log as you can make it … It’s a very precise tool made up of a number of different parts all of which have to be working in concert with each other for it to work efficiently and that’s basically what makes it complicated. It’s … not that each individual piece is very complex or difficult it’s just that they all have to be working together.”
The Foundation thanks Warren for the spirit and authenticity he gave for the continued use of traditional tools, and for his support of the work we do.
-Sarah Walker (SBFCF Advisory Board and former wilderness worker)