News Feature

Bradley
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 12, 2019
Maine logging museum to resurrect former Donnell saw mill

Donnell saw mill

The late Bill Donnell stands inside his turn-of-the-(19th) century mill in 2007.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Faith DeAmbrose

When Bill Donnell operated his saw mill in Sedgwick he was arguably one of the few (and maybe the only) woodworkers in the United States to produce 8-foot quarter-sawn clapboards. Powered by a 1939 John Deer engine— affectionately called “John”—Donnell often joked that the mill, consisting exclusively of turn-of-the-(19th) century equipment, was a working museum.

Upon his death in 2009, Donnell’s family donated the contents of the mill to the Maine Forest & Logging museum in Bradley where it has been under cover for the last decade.

That is about to change.

“The goal is to get it running again, said Sherry Davis, executive director of the museum, and the first step is to build an enclosure to house it all.

The museum is largely run by volunteers, said Davis, and other projects have pushed the creation of the Donnell Clapboard Mill back further than initially intended. But, with a renewed focus, and a new fundraising effort in place, the mill is inching closer to completion.

The rafters and beams are in place, said Davis, and the roof trusses have been ordered. Students from the University of Maine will soon return to the museum to help with the construction, she added. With a goal of getting the building built before the snow flies, the winter will be spent assembling and fine tuning the equipment.

Once up and running the museum will use the mill to demonstrate the art of creating quarter-sawn clapboards.

Quarter-sawn clapboards begin with a log at least 16 inches in diameter. The log is run through a lathe that turns it into a giant dowel. From there, a blade, running parallel to the log, slices out thin triangle-shaped wedges which are then planed by a clapboard planer, which in the Donnell Mill is circa 1889. Clapboards made this way are much more durable because they are cut across the vertical grain of the wood and are expected to last hundreds of years without warping.

What set the Donnell Mill apart from others was the length of the clapboards he produced. While there are other mills currently turning out quarter-sawn clapboards, most are 6-foot.

A 1990 article in Popular Mechanics magazine written by housing restoration expert Bob Vila mentions the Donnell Mill specifically, noting it “has the only 8-ft. mill I know of.”

To learn more about the project or to make a donation visit maineforestandloggingmuseum.org or call Davis at 974-6278.