Restoration of a Vaughan Drag Saw


Chris Jerue's 1917 4 HP Vaugan New Style drag saw.

Chris Jerue

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I received a 1917 4 HP Vaughan New Style drag saw from a neighbor for free because it had been sitting outdoors for almost 60 years being trampled by cows in the mud. The piston was stuck, the wood frame was almost completely rotted away, and the chain drive and other drag saw parts were almost completely rusted through. It looked to be un-salvageable because of its bad shape. Our neighbor was going to scrap it, but because he found out that I collect these things he decided to let me have it.

The recovery

Getting the drag saw out of the field was a little more difficult than I had thought it would be.

First off, since it was partially buried by other junk he had dumped onto it, I had to uncover the drag saw. This was during the winter, too, so it was sunk and frozen into the ground.

We were going to try and load it into our truck by hand, but we couldn’t get it loose from the ground, so my neighbor got his tractor and some chains. After we got the chains hooked to the drag saw and started to pick it up, the frame really started to fall apart.

But after a couple hours of working on this, we got it into the back of our truck and loaded up all the pieces that had fallen apart during our loading attempts.

The investigation

The next day after we got it home, I tore into it.

I opened the back inspection cover and took out the spark plug. The spark plug looked to be brand new or in very good shape. Inside the crankcase, there was a thin layer of oil on everything, and not one bit of rust.

When the old farmer who ran this drag saw decided to park it, he had done a very good job. All the openings were plugged, and there was a lot of grease and oil on the inside.

After seeing all of this, I thought this might be an easier restoration than I originally thought it would be.

The work begins

Since I thought the motor would be salvageable, I took it off its rotted frame to start work on it. First, I propped it up so I could put some penetrating fluid into the cylinder on top of the piston. After putting some Kano Kroil Oil into it, we left to soak.

The next day, we went out to the shop to check on it, and the oil was on the shop floor! After I cleaned up the mess, I tried to turn the engine over but still got no movement. We added some more penetrating oil, with towels on the floor underneath this time, but the next day all of the oil had soaked through again.

Since it seemed pointless to keep putting more oil into it that would just end up on the floor, we decided to go to work on it and get it turning. On Vaughan drag saws, the spark plug goes straight into the cylinder, so there is a straight shot to the top of the piston. We decided to use a wooden dowel to hammer on so as not to harm the top of the piston.

While my dad hammered on the dowel to try and move the piston, I was putting pressure on the flywheel. As he hammered, and I turned the flywheel, it slowly moved. After about an hour of doing this, we got it free, and it was able to turn freely and easily.

With the piston unstuck, I took the cylinder (jug) off the crankcase and flywheel, and removed the piston. Since it had some light surface rust on it, I cleaned the piston off and took the rings out. I cleaned and sanded the rings so that they looked nice again and would seat into the cylinder. We also honed the cylinder and I made gaskets for it. After all that was done, it was reassembled, oiled and greased, and turning nice and free.

This Vaughan used a battery and coil set up instead of a magneto. The original timer for this one was in pretty bad shape with all the insulation rotted away. Because of that, the spark would ground out and would not work. I had two other timers from other Vaughans I had parted out, so I used the three timers to make one that would work. We used some spare rubber hosing and a couple plastic washers to repair the insulation. Now the timer was as good as new.

Frame work

The original frame on this drag saw was almost completely rotted; it wasn’t even good enough to use as a pattern. Since the drag saw gears and drivers were ruined also, we decided to build a homemade frame.

We opted to make it more like a stationary engine, so we left it as the engine only, no drag saw gears or drives. We built a wood frame out of 2x6 boards, and then had 4x4s inside of those for the saw to mount on. This was necessary because the saw has to sit at an angle as if it were cutting wood, or be mounted on a log for the water to circulate and for the fuel to get to it. Then we built a stand for the gas and water tanks because they are gravity fed to the engine.

When we started to mount the engine onto the frame, we found a problem. The saw’s inspection cover on crankshaft side was round and not flat. We had to cut a notch into the wood so that it would sit flat onto the wood. After getting it mounted onto our homemade frame, we had to make some modifications so the hoses could get to the motor from the tank, and then wire it for the battery and buzz coil.

It finally runs

The next day at the shop, we put some fuel into the gas tank, filled the water tank with water, and oiled and greased every part that needed it so we could run the drag saw. Within the first couple of turns, it started popping a few times before it died. After getting the fuel mixture set right, we turned it a couple more times, and sure enough, it started up and kept running!

This was not a full restoration because I did not repaint it or put it back to what it looked like originally. I kept it in its outdoor clothes with all its rust pitting and the moss growing on it. We even ran it with the original rusty pitted sparkplug that was in it when we found it.

If anyone out there needs any help, parts, or info, feel free to contact me.

Contact Chris Jerue, P.O. Box 307, Cheney, WA 99004;