The “Bill O’Donnell Sawmill”

The sawmill operates on our event days. It is powered by a Steam Traction engine which provides the power to operate the sawmill. You can see it in action in the video below!

The circular cutting saws are belt driven, powered by the steam engine with logs levered onto a dolley that the Sawyer uses to guide the timber through the cutting sawblade, with the resultant sawdust carried away by a linkage pulley.  It’s quite an experience to watch skilled Sawyers handling and positioning very large pieces of timber wood through the sawmill to the final cutting process. 

Our Bill O'Donnell Saw Mill is a unique opportunity for visitors to see a demonstration of how timber was traditionally milled in the Te Waimatemate bush area.

In the mid 1800’s there were many portable mills along Mill Road (hence the name) leading to Kelceys Bush.  Steam powered sawmills were a big step up from the earlier open pit saws that were very basic and demanded massive physical muscle strength by two Sawyers each pulling and pushing either end of a long saw, with one Bushman standing in the pit and the other up top.

Steam or diesel powered sawmills allowed for faster and more productive milling to meet the huge demand for timber to build bridges, housing and grain sheds. 


On February 21st 2013, Bushtown’s O’Donnell Sawmill was officially opened by the Governor-General Lt. Gen. Rt Hon. Sir Jerry Mateparae and Lady Janine.  It was a wonderful day attended by many of you in the community.  A very memorable occasion celebrated with a Totara Tree (#114) being planted by the Governor General and Lady Janine.

The official opening of the Bill O'Donnell Sawmill - From Left to Right: Gail Laurie, Allan Laurie (Chairman),
Sir Jerry Mateparae, Bill O'Donnell, Lady Janine, Mayor John Coles, Mayoress Sandra Coles,
Tewara King Te Rūnanga O Ngāi Tahu


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