Celebrating 30 Years – 1992 to 1996

This is the third post of our series celebrating 30 years of portable sawmill innovation. This time our CEO Kerris looks back at the period 1992 to 1996. You can read more about the Peterson story here.

Australian hardwoods continued to require more durable motive power. 1992 Saw the introduction of the four-stroke engine, which was mounted on the production frame in a fixed position. The production frame was also changed to allow an ‘open operator side’.

Carl met the Lucas family at a show in 1992. They shook hands on a Peterson distributorship arrangement in Australia whereby Peterson would sell the Lucas Grabber in New Zealand and Lucas would sell the Peterson Sawmills in Australia. Lucas became an overnight success at the show circuit and their sales of Peterson mills in Australia soared.



In 1993 the Hi/Lo track frame was patented, where one or two tracks could be fixed overhead. This made it possible for logs to be rolled under a track into the milling frame without damaging tracks. Sawdust could also be ejected under the higher track, preventing buildup on the runner. After requests from the Australian market the first 10” mill was produced.

Meanwhile Petersons were also busy selling numerous container loads of mills into Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The Peterson mills were found to be a lot more portable than the Zeacan or Mighty Mite of the time, and the use of stainless and aluminium materials made our robust machines a lot more reliable in the harsh Pacific environment.

Petrol was becoming more and more expensive, and many farmers preferred diesel. The hydraulic-powered saw continued to be popular, which could either run off the PTO of a tractor, or a stand-alone hydraulic powerpack as shown here. A new market into Chile loved the diesel powerpack option.

hydraulic sawmill
Norwood Portable Sawmills

Unbeknown to Petersons, Lucas had begun building their own swingblade portable mill in direct competition with Peterson. This mill used a combination of earlier portable sawmill design elements from Peterson and Lewisaw.

Partly due to portability needs, and partly due to the cheaper Lucas mill now on the market, Dad went back to his earlier ‘tube frame’ design and experimented with first a cable, and then a chain track-raising system. The resulting Islander model offered a highly-portable design that didn’t need flat terrain. In 1994 it took off in Papua New Guinea (PNG).


In 1995 Chris Browne started working full time for the company. He made improvements to existing mills and designed the ‘Little Greenie’, to meet the needs of a lower-priced competitive machine beside the Lucas. The design made it easy to lower and raise from one position and consisted of split end-frames, where the chains were contained on the end-frame only. This made the unit much easier to pack and reassemble. The Greenie had the same cutting head as the other mills, but the frame was powdercoated mild steel rather than costly stainless steel. The New Zealand market snapped them up.

Meanwhile the fencing industry in New Zealand was in full swing, along with kiwifruit exports. Both markets required substantial supplies of 2”x2” battens, and sawing one at a time was very tedious work. Carl was keen to see if he could re-design a double-bladed mill to get away from the pivot requirement. He set about building the Quantum Leap mill, sporting two vertically mounted blades and a single blade mounted horizontally.

Only one plane was sawn in each direction (the other blade moved out of the way). This design allowed the operator to cut two battens at once and existing motor power was utilized, as only one direction was sawing at a time. The Quantum Leap was demonstrated at the Mystery Creek Fieldays amid a fair amount of interest and hopes for sales.

However the design had a lot of moving parts and the price wasn’t justified by the performance. Very shortly afterwards, the boys reverted back to the swingblade system with a split collar. The next Batten Mill allowed two blades mounted on the pivot unit, which in fact could now cut four small boards at once. Several Batten Mills were sold, until the market demand for battens died down.C

lucas sawmills

In 1996 Chris re-engineered the 6” mill swing guard to eliminate the pivoting guard system. Not only was it cumbersome for operators, it was also time-consuming to build. The new ‘half-moon’ pivot device allowed just the blade and gearbox unit to pivot, and a fixed guard was mounted over the vertical blade. This also allowed for the water supply to be mounted much closer to the blade, positioned directly on the guard.

Chris upgraded the 8” mill to split-ends and fixed-guard pivoting systems. A boat winch replaced the old steering wheel for lowering and raising via chains, plus a rotating cross-shaft. The bed was attached to the separate end-frames via specially molded aluminum half-sheathes. These mills were now called ‘Winch’ Production Frames.

This was also the year that Lucas took Peterson to court, for copying their patent. Dad of course didn’t believe their patent was worth the paper it was written on, and didn’t put much effort into a defense. So began ten years of court battles between Carl and the Lucas brothers. Unbeknown to us all at the time this was the beginning of the end for Carl’s business, unfortunately.


Read more about 30 years of portable sawmill innovation:

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