Rex Thomas GOLDSMITH , 19282003 (aged 74 years)

Rex Thomas /GOLDSMITH/
Given names
Rex Thomas

Recollections of Rex Goldsmith:

Family History

"Grandfather George Goldsmith started in sawmilling in the Wyong area about 1870. He ended up with a big company, said to employ between 600 and 800 people about the turn of the century. He went broke in the depression years, until the sons took it up.

About 1932 father went up to Elands, with a car engine on a stump and a sixteen dollar lathe. He was making broom handles until 1939. I used to come home from school and help sand down the handles. Then he shifted to a mill at Riamukka, nine miles from Nowendoc. During the war he cut softwood logs for plywood. The freight cost was too high to send hardwood timber to Sydney then. After the war he sent timber to his- brother- in- law's big timber yard at Epping. He was killed in 1951.

His Own Business

Max, my brother, and I carried on our father's mill. We had about three or four men working for us. We stayed at Riamukka until 1957 when I went to Sydney and opened up a timber yard at Villawood. I worked there until 1964. During that time I started building a few machines. I built a little fork lift truck out of an old International road truck. That's how I got a taste for building machinery.

In 1964 Max and I changed jobs. He was managing the mill at Riamukka. My elder brother, Jim, who is a bit of a mad designer like me, had begun rebuilding the saw mill. He put the first new machine in, which is a roundabout breaking down bench for flitches.

I came to Taree and lived and managed the mill by going back and forth to Riamukka by light aircraft. At the same time I opened a light engineering shop in Taree. Sometimes we'd see a need for improving our sawmill machinery and if we couldn't buy what we wanted, we had to build it. We only had two or three fellas in our Taree workshop, so it took us eight years to rebuild the mill. We made no attempt to market the new machines.

From 1964 to 1972 we rebuilt the sawmill at Riamukka with all the equipment we built in Taree. We built two other benches and a lot of specialised machinery for cutting mining timber. We started supplying North Broken Hill with mining timber after the Oberon area ran out of hardwood. We got half the supply order. In the 1960s the Forestry Commission of New South Wales, rightly or wrongly, decided to replant many of the areas that we had under our license at Riamukka. Our quota was increased from about two million to about four million. [superfeet] We were able to expand and cut more. We carried that on until about 1982 then shifted to a new site at Gloucester. We sold it out the Christmas before last. [1984]

Saw Sharpening

The way we sharpen saws here in Australia is different to how they do it in the rest of the world. In the northern hemisphere they use what they call a "straight chisel tooth" which is widened at the tip so it cuts a wider tract than the rest of the saw, to allow clearance. Whereas, in Australia we have developed a system of spring setting and sharpening the saw to a point at the front. At the back the tooth has two angles, forming the hog and the bevel. We've developed this special shape over the years. The old timers must have found that was the only way to cut our very hard wood, which they don't have in the northern hemisphere.

For a long time a gulleting wheel was used to sharpen saws. A man turns the saw which is hanging on a centre shaft. He turns it by hand, and with his other hand he moves a grinding wheel around the shape of the tooth. It forms the front of the tooth and the hollow in the bottom they call the gullet. The back of the tooth you had to hand file. The file was held at roughly 45 degrees to the side of the saw. One surface was filed wide, the hog, and one surface filed narrow, the bevel.It made the top point into a four angled point. It was a skilful job. Saw sharpeners were becoming difficult to find by the 1970s. It was only the old families in the business who knew how to sharpen saws properly.

Saw Doctoring

If you had a piece of ordinary steel and spun it, it would flop about. A saw, when it spins, has to stand up straight. Through spinning the outer part of the saw gets too big in proportion to the inner. It was quite a skillful job, and still is, putting tension into a saw. A saw doctorer tensions the stock steel of the saw.

Saw doctoring is a trade which needs an apprenticeship. Probably most of the saws that have been sold in Australia in the last thirty years have been sold by one company, Spear and Jackson. They have saw doctorers who travel about, and any saw which has been abused through overheating, or logs rolling when the cut is half way through, or being buckled and bent through wear, they bring them back into tension and shape.

The Goldsmith Circular Saw Sharpener

My older brother, Jim, started work on designing an automatic saw sharpener. He worked about six months on it, got sick of it, threw it away. Later I had a disagreement with our man who was sharpening saws in our mill. He said,"Don't tell me what to do. I'm leaving on Monday anyway!" So I came home and pulled this machine out, and three years later I had one working. Weve sold about 160 since then.

The advantage of the automatic saw sharpener, other than the labour it saves, is that it corrects a lot of inaccuracies in hand sharpened saws. When they manually worked the grinding wheel there was nothing to keep the saw on, what you call, pitch. It meant that the teeth weren't an even distance apart. To get the saw into "round", out of round being caused by different length teeth, they used to "strip" them. This was done by holding a file or a piece of emery wheel against the saw when it was running to bring the teeth all down to the same length.

Mill Management

In the prewar days of small family mills it was the father who managed the mill. More recently, the ownership is remote from the management, and managers are employed on their ability. Men have to prove their ability in handling men and the problems of sawmilling. I employed Tom Waite, who started off in our mill as a fourteen year old and at twenty he was made manager and managed from 1955 to 1985.

The manager had to speak the language of the mill hand, who, like a shearer or those working in the country in isolated conditions, is often rough and ready. You might say mill workers are a pretty wild mob. The manager has to get along with them, at the same time understanding the mechanical problems of sa wmilling. It's a job on its own."