Witte Drag Saw Restoration

A project 60 years in the making

witte drag saw 2

Don Shivley’s Witte drag saw was missing a magneto when he bought it so he devised a new ignition by using a set of points that were laying around from an older automobile and the automobile’s coil and battery.

Content Tools

Editor’s note: The following article is Don Shively’s account of restoring a Witte drag saw written by Leroy Peters. 

My story begins about 60 years ago when I watched my neighbor sawing logs for firewood with a Witte drag saw.

Of course, at that time, all we had was a two man hand operated crosscut saw, and sawing wood with a gas engine looked quite appealing to a young man such as myself.

About 20 years ago, I was visiting that neighbor and they asked me if I would like to have that antique gas engine and drag saw. Of course, I couldn’t answer yes soon enough!

A project begins
The drag saw sat in my barn for 20 years, during which time I restored a sawmill to saw logs into lumber. After that project was finished, my wife, like all practical wives, suggested that this little Witte saw would be much easier to work on and not be as much work as that massive lumber sawmill. So, like a good husband, I took her advice and began the Witte drag saw restoration.

When I originally took it home, the wood handles were missing or rotted beyond repair. There was no magneto on the engine, the gas tank was missing and the engine was in a total state of disrepair. The piston, however, was not locked up, so I was very fortunate.

The first thing I did was clean out all the corrosion that was in the water tank. It was quite full of various unknown, corroded material (gunk). Then I restored the wood handles to make the engine easier to handle.

Ignition needed
The next thing was to come up with some kind of ignition system since the magneto was totally missing. There was no way of knowing what kind of magneto it needed, so I devised a set of points that were laying around from an older automobile. I also used the automobile’s coil and battery for the ignition. To time it, I found a tip in an instruction manual that instructed to separate the top triangular portion of the water tank from the main tank and lay a straight edge across the top corners of the water tank to a mark on the flywheel. This is where the engine is supposed to fire.

Other repairs
I took the head off the engine, ground the valves and put two new valve springs in it that were very badly needed. I had to find springs that were as similar as possible. Then I put it all back together.

I had to build a new wooden connecting rod for the reciprocating part of the mechanism that drives the saw blade as well as sharpen the saw blade we had managed to find. The mechanism to hold the log while it is being sawed – the winch with the hook that is embedded in the log to hold the saw to the log – was also rebuilt.

Missing items
The saw did not have a tree falling attachment by the time I got it, but originally it did have one. Some of the hardware to mount it was still on the handles so I painted it and mounted the hardware back on the arms. Of course, we will never use the tree falling attachment since we don’t have the remainder of the parts.

With saws of this design, and the Ottawa saw of similar design, the tree falling attachments are very few and far between. There were not many of the attachments sold because who would want to take a chance on getting their expensive prize saw crushed by a falling tree that fell the wrong direction?

The gas tank was also missing, and by looking at a picture of a saw I’d seen at another show, I made a gas tank just like it. The instruction manual says the engine can run on gasoline, kerosene, distillate or any cheap fuel. The manual also refers to “solar fuel,” though I have no idea what they are referring to. The manual reads, “The fuels in other countries are known as petrol, paraffin, gas-oil or any of a dozen names.”

In order to burn some of those cheap fuels, there is a  little door on top of the carburetor where you fill the carburetor with gasoline and watch through the little door until the level of gasoline starts running out. Then you turn the valves from the fuel tank so you allow the fuel from the main tank to flow to burn the gasoline, distillate, kerosene or whatever you want to burn.

Modified transport wheels
One of the other things I worked on very early in this restoration project were the transport wheels so they would turn at right angles to the main frame. Normally, they are fixed parallel to the frame. When you turn the wheels at a right angle the saw is much easier to move down the log as you complete one cut and move to another. This neighbor who had been using this saw 60 years ago had one instance where the saw pinched and threw the saw over the top of the wheels and on its back. It was certainly a very scary situation! Luckily, no one was hurt. One can easily imagine what that looked like.

Finishing touches
The brass tag is still on the engine and spells “Witte” with the manufacturing city of Kansas City, Mo.

There was no crank furnished with this engine to crank the engine to start it. The instruction manual says you can use the “kick-back method” where you grab the top of the flywheels while standing at the end of the engine and pull the flywheels toward you until the piston is all the way out. Then, pull the top of the flywheels toward you quickly, forcing the piston back into the cylinder until the ignition snaps and the engine fires. After the first pull or two it should start right up.

I also added a safety shield over the crankshaft where the connecting rod connects to the crank so that it would be less dangerous.

Contact Don Shively at (419) 942-1010 and Leroy Peters at (419) 678-2590;  patlee@bright.net .