Finzean Saw Mill – 9th August 2018

Our summer outdoor excursions programme took us to the Forest of Birse near Finzean for a look at the water powered 19th century mills. I’d visited these circa 7 years ago as part of the photography course at Grays, and knew it would be good if we could arrange access to the buildings.  Guy Haslam, the chairperson of the Birse Community Trust  was extremely helpful and arranged to meet us at 7pm outside the mill. The mill is still in operation on a part time basis and manufactures fence posts, brooms and wooden kitchen implements like spurtles and dough rollers. In the past it used to make wooden stoppers for herring barrels.

Further along the river is the bucket mill, which we did not visit on this occasion. The following a bit more info from the Historic Scotland website: “The Finzean Sawmill and Turning Mill, on the N bank of the River Feugh, is a remarkable survival in full working order. The sawmill, and the site of the Bucket Mill were established in the early 19th century to exploit the Glen Ferrick pine woods. From the 1830s to 1871, the sawmill was occupied by a range of different timber contractors who were harvesting timber on Finzean Estate. During this period the sawmiller was Charles Young. In 1871 the operation of the Sawmill passed to Alexander Duncan, who had built the Finzean Turning Mill in the 1830s on the outflow from the sawmill. The Sawmill and Turning Mill is still operated by a member of the Duncan family. In 1999, the ownership of the mills passed from Finzean Estate to Birse Community Trust. Extensive restoration work has been carried out on the mills using local timber milled at the sawmill.

Guy Haslam (R) Chairman of the Birse Community Trust giving an intro to the water powered mills

After a brief intro he took us upstream to the weir that had just been restored after serious damage by storm Frank in December 2015.

The Feugh by Michele Emsley
This image shows the weir and the first sluice gate to control the amount of water flowing to the mill.
The channel leading to the mill (Steve Roberts)

We then walked back to the main saw mill with the water wheel. It is here I  first noticed the annoying midges that started to attack if you stood still for any length of time. Fortunately we soon moved to the inside of the saw mill, with some fearsome looking circular saws. Here the logs get  rolled in from outside and sawn into planks.

Michele Emsley 6
The saw mill exterior with the logs on the ramp ready to be sawn. (Michele Emsley)
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The miller controls the amount of water going down these wooden channels in order to run the machinery at the correct speed. (Steve Roberts)
Susan Gordon 2
“Vintage” photo of the water wheel (Susan Gordon)
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A modern take by Michele Emsley

The wheel is cast iron with wooden paddles held together with wooden pegs and can’t be allowed to dry out too much as it would fall apart.

Michele Emsley 5
The main drive belts at the back of he water wheel (Michele Emslie)
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Interior of the saw mill, the ropes control the sluice gate via wooden levers. Everything is belt driven from the main wheel. (Steve Roberts)
Karen Burgoyne 2
The logs are pushed along on the plank running on these wooden rollers (Karen Burgoyne)
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One of the two circular saws used to cut the logs into planks (Hugh Smith)
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Overview of the saw mill interior with the two saws. The smaller one on the left cuts the planks into sticks to be used in the turning mill next door. (Derek Gray)
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Fence posts (Karen Burgoyne)
Kevin Dawson 2
Kevin Dawson spotted this rare panda in the bamboo forest.
Rob Romani 3
Interior of the turning mill (Rob Romani)
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Another view of the interior (Hugh Smith)
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Photo of a photographer (Hugh Smith) taking a photo of a photographer (Derek Gray)! – by (Rob Romani)
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Tools and drive belts (Gregor McAbery)
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Health and safety regulations- 1922
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The turning mill – Gregor McAbery
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The leaning shed of Finzean, the metal roofed building on the left is the kiln for drying the wood (David Davidson)
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This shot of the leaning shed of Finzean would give Lightroom a bit of a headache if you let it auto correct for perspective! (Susan Gordon)
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On the road back to Aberdeen: Sunset in my rear view mirror (Susan Gordon)

A good evening out enjoyed by your editor and those present judging from the comments on Facebook. Many thanks to Guy Haslam for treating us to the full tour of the mills.

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