Peterson Mills in the Military


In the hot baking sun a group of men stand huddled, staring intently at a circular blade as it makes its way through an old pine log. As the blade finishes the horizontal cut and clears the log, Sergeant Tom ‘Tippy’ Kerekere swings the blade to vertical with a gentle nudge of the pivot handle, and then slowly pulls back on the lever. As he walks back to where he started, the blade slices down the side of the board, finishing off the cut to create a perfectly dimensioned board. The group gathers around the board and Tom explains the criss-crossing blade pattern that signifies the blade on the Peterson Portable Sawmill is perfectly aligned.

Soldier using the WPF at Linton Army Camp, New Zealand

It is one of many training sessions that Tom has undertaken as part of his posting to the Training / Operations cell, 2 Engineer Regiment of the New Zealand Army. Tom is responsible for the training of the Defence Force personnel who are going overseas on operations, concentrating mainly on army engineering. Part of this role involves the training and retraining of soldiers on portable sawmills before they deploy overseas.

Timber that comes off their Peterson sawmill is used for buildings, decking, wearing strips and road bearers for bridges, temporary structures for protective bunkers or Sangers etc. Whatever the army requires they are able to simply cut it up on the mill, but mostly they use it for survivability tasks.

Tom has over 12 years of experience with sawmilling and tree felling, working on a range of different machines. Over 10 years ago it was a Lucas sawmill that the army first purchased. Tom and his unit were not impressed though – “It was large and cumbersome and we had a lot of problems with that mill,” which Tom put down to the mill still being in its early stages of development.

In 1995, though the Army upgraded from the Lucas mill to a 10” 20hp Honda Winch Production Frame Peterson sawmill, with 4m+4m Hi/Lo tracks. The Hi/Lo set up allows the army to set up next to a stockpile of logs and simply roll the logs into position under the Hi track. “It took time to operate initially, but with study of the instructions and time on the mill, it soon didn’t take long,” says Tom.

The 10” blade allows the mill to cut boards up to 20.5” wide through a process called double cutting, where both sides of the blade are used. This can be done simply and quickly on the Peterson sawmill, whereas on other mills the centre unit must be literally turned around. This saves much time and effort for those soldiers out in the burning sun.

Tom has used the Peterson mill to cut over 4000 linear meters. “I’m considered the person to talk to when mill operators are having problems,” Tom says proudly.

Soldier using the WPF mill in East Timor, 2000

The NZ Army now runs a weeklong course on mill operations for the Engineers as part of rank progressions, conducted at Linton camp. To compliment the mill, soldiers are also sent to Rotorua to complete the tree-felling course.

They have not had to make any modifications or improvements to the mill, but have constructed a permanent shelter over the mill to protect the engine from the elements.

“I’m quite impressed with the level of service Peterson Portable Sawmills has given us. Every time we needed something like videos or information, they have always delivered promptly.” The New Zealand Army are so pleased in the performance of their mill that they have gone on to buy three more Peterson Portable Sawmills.

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