SAW ENGINEER
July through December 1998 - Issue No. 153
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Britt Lumber - Three Generations Using an Armstrong Leveler

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Ralph Hafar Sr. began filing saws in 1940 at a Klamath Falls sawmill on the Oregon/California border. There were many mills back then in the mountains of south central Oregon and northwestern California converting old growth pine, fir and redwood into lumber. Ralph’s skills were in demand and he filed several of the mills in this region during the next 50 years.

Ralph Sr. was joined in the filing room in 1956 by his son when Ralph Jr. was only in the fourth grade. Due to hearing impairment Ralph Jr. wasn’t allowed in the local school, so he went to work with his dad and began fitting saws. Ralph Jr.’s career was interrupted when an operation restored his hearing and he was sent back to school. After finishing school and a tour of Vietnam in the Army, Ralph Jr. rejoined his dad filing saws in 1971 on the Hoopa Indian reservation.

The two Hafars worked together for seventeen years for Southwest Forest, later known as Stone Forest, at Happy Camp beginning in 1976. Ralph Sr. was the head filer for 12 of those years. After a heart operation and some recuperation, he came back to work, but under doctor’s orders, at a capacity with less job stress. Ralph Jr. took the reins of head filer and the roles were reversed with Sr. working for Jr.

At first the situation was awkward and neither Sr. or Jr. knew how this would work. Ralph Jr. said "it worked out great. The only thing that really changed was now I had to deal with mill management and the everyday stress." (Who was the winner here?)

During this time at Happy Camp, Ralph Hafar III was introduced into the filing room. As a senior in high school, Ralph III was on a work study program, attending high school in the morning and then working at the mill in the afternoon.

Today Ralph Jr. is the head filer at Britt Lumber in Arcata, California and Ralph Sr. has retired from everyday filing. Ralph Jr.’s second son, Ben, has joined him, continuing the third generation of Hafers in the filing room at Britt.

Ralph says "I’ve been teaching filing techniques to Ben, but I’ve also been learning all along. Ralph Jr. and Ben are teaching me about stuff I never knew before, and I think that’s great. I love my work, and I love working with my son."

 

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Ralph Sr. inspects a band saw after being leveled on the Armstrong Auto Leveler.
A recent addition to the Britt filing room is an Armstrong Automatic Bandsaw Leveler. About a year ago Ralph Jr. injured his arm in a fall on a saw blade. With limited use of his arm, Britt purchased the Leveler to assist him in his job. Ralph has great praise for the Leveler saying, "the Leveler amazes me on how the saws have become more uniform. When leveling with a hammer, small dents are left in the saw and when leveling a large bump this can produce tension pockets. Since we acquired the Leveler, the saws tension easier, and hold the tension in the saws longer. Our saw life has increased since we began using the Armstrong auto Leveler."

Ralph Sr. has been trained to run the Leveler and embraces the new technology. "I remember working with people who thought the first models of these new machines were a waste of time," said the master filer. "Maybe they were scared to learn or maybe today’s levelers are better machines. But you can set up our Leveler to do what you want and then stand back and let it do it."

Ralph III has also continued his filing career, working in a saw shop near the Britt mill while attending college studying Mechanical Engineering.

Britt Lumber is known as "the fencing specialists", sawing only second growth Redwood logs and producing fencing material. The mill consists of a 5’ double cut headrig, 5’ horizontal resaw, 48" slant headrig, a twin band resaw, planer resaw, 8" edger, 4" edger, 2" edger and a circle resaw.

 

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Three generations of Hafars in the filing room include left to right: Ralph III, Ralph Jr., Ralph Sr., and Ben Hafar.

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Ben Hafar shapes a grinding wheel on the Armstrong No. 4 Band Saw Sharpener.
When asked when the fourth generation of sawfiler would be coming around, Ben said "Hey, don’t look at me!"

The Saw Engineer congratulates the three generations of Hafar saw filers, and thanks Britt Lumber for the opportunity to feature their unique saw filing family.

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