In early periods, the trunks of trees were split with wedges into as many and as thin pieces as possible, and if it were necessary to have them still thinner, they were hewn on both sides to the proper size. This simple and wasteful manner of making hoards has been still continued in some places to the present time. Pe ter the Great of Russia endeavoured to put a stop to it, by forbidding hewn deals to be transported on the river Neva. The saw, however, though so convenient and beneficial, has not been able to banish entirely the practice of splitting timber used in building, or in making furniture and utensils, for we do not speak here of fire-wood ; and indeed it must be allowed, that this method is attended with peculiar advantages, which that of sawing can ne ver possess. The wood-splitters perform their work more expeditiously than saw yers, and split timber is much stronger than that which has been sawn : for the fissure follows the grain of the wood, and leaves it whole ; whereas the saw, which proceeds in the line chalked out for it, di vides the fibres, and by these means les sens its cohesion and solidity. Split tim ber, indeed, turns out often crooked and warped; but in many purposes to which it is applied, this is not prejudicial ; and these faults may sometimes be amended. As the fibres, however, retain their na tural length and direction, thin boards, particularly, can be bent much better. This is a great advantage in making pipe staves, or sieve-frames, which require still more art, and in forming various imple ments of the like kind.
The most beneficial and ingenious im provement of this instrument was, with out doubt, the invention of saw-mills, which are driven either by water or by the wind. Mills of the first kind were erected so nearly as the fourth century in Germany, on the small river Roeur or Ruer : for though Ansonius speaks pro perly of water-mills for cutting stone, and not timber, it cannot be doubted that these were invented later than mills for manufacturing deals, or that both kinds were erected at the same time. The art, however, of cutting marble with a saw is very old. Pliny conjectures that it was invented at Carla; at least he knew no building incrusted with marble of greater antiquity than the palace of king Mauso lus, at Halicarnassus. This edifice is ce lebrated by Vitruvius for the beauty of its marble ; and Pliny gives an account of the different kinds of sand used for cutting it; for it is the sand properly, says he, and not the saw, which produces that effect. The latter presses down the former, and rubs it against the marble and the coars er the sand is, the longer will be the time required to polish the marble which has been cut by it. Stones of the soap rock kind, which are indeed softer than marble, and which would require less flame than wood, were sawn at that peri od : but it appears that the far harder glassy kinds of stone were sawn then also ; for we are told of the discovery of a building, which was incrusted with cut agate, cornelian, lapis lazuli, and ame thysts. We have, however, found no ac count in any of the Greek or Roman wri ters of a mill for sawing wood; and as the writers of modern times speak of saw mills as new and uncommon, it would seem that the oldest construction of them has been forgotten, or that some impor tant improvement has made them appear entirely new.
Becher, in his history of inventions, says that saw-mills were invented in the 17th century. In this he erred, for when the infant Henry sent settlers to the island of Madeira, which was discovered in 1420, and caused European fruits of every kind to be carried thither, he or dered saw-mills to be erected also, for the purpose of sawing into deals the va rious species of excellent timber with which the island abounded, and which were afterwards transported to Portugal.
About the year 1427, the city of Breslau had a saw-mill, which produced a yearly rent of three marks ; and in 1490, the magistrates of Erfurt purchased a forest, in which they caused a saw-mill to be erected, and they rented another mill in the neighbourhood besides.
Norway, which is covered with forests, had the first saw-mill about the year 1530. This mode of manufacturing tim. ber was called the new art ; and because the exportation of deals was by these means increased, that circumstance gave occasion to the deal-tithe, introduced by Christian III. in the year 1545. Soon af ter the celebrated Henry Carman caused the first mill of this kind to be built in Holstein. In 1552 there was a saw-mill at Joachimstal, which, as we are told, be longed to Jacob Geusen, mathematician. In the year 1555, the bishop of Ely, am bassador from Mary queen of England to the court of Rome, having seen a saw. mill in the neighbourhood of Lyons, the writer of his travels thought it worthy of a particular description. In the sixteenth century, however, there were mills with different saw-blades, by which a plank could be cut into several deals at the same time. The first saw-mill was erected in Holland at Saardam, in the year 1596; and the invention of it is ascribed to Cornelius Corneliasen. Perhaps he was the first person who built a sawmill at that place, which is a village of great trade, and has still a great many saw mills, though the number of them is be coming daily less; for within the last half century a hundred have been given up. The first mill of this kind in Sweden was erected in the year 1653. At present, that kingdom possesses the largest perhaps ever constructed in Europe, where a wa ter-wheel, twelve feet broad, drives at the same time seventy-two saws.
In England, saw-mills had at first the same fate that printing had in Turkey, the ribbon-loom in the dominions of the church, and the crane at Strasburgh. When attempts were made to introduce them, they were violently opposed, be cause it was apprehended that the saw yers would be deprived by them of their means of getting a subsistence. For this reason, it was found necessary to aban don a sawmill erected by a Dutchman near London, in 1663 ; and in the year 1700, when one Houghton laid before the nation the advantages of such a mill, he expressed his apprehension that it might excite the rage of the populace. What lie dreaded was actually the case in 1767 or 1768, when an opulent timber-mer chant, by the desire and approbation of the Society of Arts, caused a saw-mill, driven by wind, to be erected at Lime I louse, under the direction of James Stan field, who had learned, in Holland and Norway, the art of constructing and ma naging machines of that kind. A mob as sembled, and pulled the mill to pieces; but the damage was made good by the nation, and some of the rioters were pu nished. A new mill was afterwards erect ed, which was suffered to work without molestation, and which gave occasion to the erection of others. It appears, how ever, that this was not the only mill of the kind then in Britain ; for one driven also by wind had been built at Leith, in Scotland, some years before.