History and evolution of wood cutting machinery

30 | 05 | 2022

A small excursus on the evolution of cutting machinery, to understand where we started and to imagine where we are going.

A journey through time…

To go back to the origins of the first material cutting machines in Italy we have to take a leap into the past, going back through the centuries to Roman times. Relying on historical sources, we know that the earliest testimonies date back to this period: a fact that should not surprise us, considering that the development of trade and military expansionism that made Rome great were also possible thanks to the technology at its disposal.

One of the very few accounts of water power being used for cutting and sawing stone mechanically dates back to this period: that of the poet Ausonius in the Moselle (370 AD).

Venetian-style sawmills

After the period of technological oblivion in the Middle Ages, it would be necessary to wait until the 15th century in Italy to witness the development and diffusion of wood sawing machines, which would see good use especially in the alpine valleys of the Venetian Republic – where they would be so widespread as to take the name ‘Venetian sawmills’!

Let us imagine these machines made entirely of wood (with the obvious exception of the saw) and consisting of a two-storey building located near a water course: on the lower floor the mechanisms, and on the upper floor the actual saw and a log carriage.

The ‘Venetian saw’ was also widespread in Europe, where in addition to water power, wind power or in some cases animal power was used. However, with the exception of the Veneto area, in Italy timber cutting was almost entirely performed with hand tools due to the absence of the necessary conditions for the development of this type of proto-industrial machinery.

The industrial revolution

The invention of the steam engine at the end of the eighteenth century in England completely revolutionised the scenario, making a source of mechanical energy available even where the natural energy sources that powered machines until then were absent.

It was the beginning of a new era: trade flourished, new sectors in the manufacturing industry developed rapidly, and the switch to coal as the main source of energy was a crucial step towards rethinking new machinery with greater efficiency and higher quality. And it is in this context that the timber sawing sector experiences a moment of grace with the vast technological improvement of mechanical frame saws and the emergence of new machinery such as the circular saw and the band saw.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the first table saws were also introduced in London, with a transmission that instead of running on gears was carried out by means of a belt from the flywheel, on which pulleys were also mounted for steam operation.

In 1922 the radial mitre saw was introduced to the market, consisting of a circular saw driven by an electric motor, mounted on a sliding horizontal arm that the operator pulls on during the cutting operation. It will be a widely used tool over the years, which in the post-war period will be joined, and in some cases replaced, by the first safer and more efficient rising blade cut-off saws.

The last decades

At the beginning of the 1980s, some companies combined their rising blade saws with electronic systems for automatic positioning of wood. Among these companies, in the Veneto region, almost picking up the legacy of the ‘Venetian sawmills’, was Salvador, one of the first in the world to realise the potential of this solution: in 1982 at the Xylexpo trade fair, the biennial world exhibition of wood technology, the company presented an innovative machine with a numerically controlled pusher, and over the years this technology was gradually applied to other models of cutting-off machines, including through-feed machines. This is an extremely important choice, as in addition to speeding up cutting, it also guarantees process optimisation, significantly reducing wood waste.

In these 40 years of development, Salvador machines have evolved to be increasingly high-performance, safe and interconnected, projecting towards a future where they will be increasingly integrated into company networks, receiving and transmitting information to each other autonomously.

We have come to the end of this overview of the evolution of wood cutting machinery. If you still have the images of these fascinating old machines in your eyes… you can try to compare them with those of our products!


Emanuele Zamperini, Evoluzione delle tecniche di taglio e segagione dei legnami da opera tra inizio Ottocento e metà novecento, in Storia dell’Ingegneria. Atti del 4 Convegno Nazionale, tomo II, aprile 2012.

Manfred Powis Bale, Woodworking Machinery, 1894. wikipedia.org/wiki/Radial_arm_saw.