John Gartner: A sawmill for Tmoknai, Papua New Guinea

The saw mill trainer arrived, he was supposed to come on a Sunday but came on the following Tuesday, which seems to be normal for arrangement in PNG. We had some luck in that Bishop had arranged for a local land owner to donate several trees to us for training purposes. We felled three trees to cut up and a number of smaller trees for firewood. The trainer was good at his duties and kept the boys working. They had a steep learning curve in learning how to use the machine, work as a team and also cut timber safely. They got through it well.

Fernando and I had a number of ulterior motives for the use of the cut timber. I needed timber for shade structures and to make double bunks where we didn’t have the money to fund them properly. It worked out well as the timber was cut free and so we are able to meet some essential issues at Emmaus Farm and around mission.

When the training was finished we organized the saw mill to be transported to Tmoknai. Bishop had let us borrow an aluminum dinghy which could handle the load. But it required the streams to be cleared to a greater extent than needed for a canoe. The 15hp outboard motor was given a good work out. That it was a little small for the dinghy wasn’t an issue as no one was going fast.

The sawmill arrived at Tmoknai in one day, which to me was a surprise, I thought they would take longer. As I predicted getting from the boat to the bank was an issue, which they solved with lots of man power. Yes the saw mill did weigh in excess of 450kg, but people were happy to do the work.

The people did draw the line at carrying 75kg drums of wood treatment chemicals. I had planned to provide a wheelbarrow for those loads. I was congratulated as it took the pain out of the operation.

Big surprise when they got the saw mill to Tmoknai, it wouldn’t start. They wanted to pull it to pieces to find the fault. I ordered the foreman back to Tmoknai and suggested it be brought back to Kiunga for investigation under my supervision. It turned out that the saw mill is equipped with a water tank to spray a little water on the saw blade to keep it clean which has a micro-switch which prevents the motor from starting without water in the tank. It started first time once the tank was filled with water.

Since then timber getting has progressed without any incident, except a little slower than I anticipated, mainly because they aren’t planning all the cuts well, many logs are being cut for big timber and not also cutting small pieces out of the offcut, to improve cutting efficiency and productivity.

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