12 December 2022

Old chainsaws bring back Tony’s boyhood memories of his brother

| John Thistleton
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Man in workshop

Crookwell panel beater Tony Evans with a sample of the hundreds of chainsaws he has collected. Photo: John Thistleton.

Tony Evans’ chainsaw obsession has seen him sit into the night in front of his computer reading international forums for like-minded collectors. He will watch television to all hours, consumed by YouTube clips about vintage saws.

When the Australian dollar was strong and freight prices were reasonable, he imported antique chainsaws from Germany, Latvia, England, France, Italy, Hungary and the US.

“I have one from Russia, it’s called a Druzhba, it’s a real interesting, ugly-looking thing,” Tony said. “They are not rare, but uncommon in Australia.”

A sign outside his panel beating business on Crookwell’s outskirts says: “Wanted old chainsaws dead or alive.” Even though the sign attracts some cheap, broken-down models, there’s always the chance it will snag a rare vintage saw.

His property down the road from the business has a giant Stihl chainsaw raised as high as a flag on a pole. His wife, Desley, thinks he is mad. He admits he should stop collecting.

“Still, when someone rings me at work today about a chainsaw, the work goes out the door and I’m just off. It’s a bit of a priority now,” Tony said.

His large workshop at home in Crookwell best reflects his obsession. More than 200 saws, including some he has restored, sit along rows of shelving and hang from the ceiling. These are the models he has deemed worth looking at, while many older ones are not displayed.

The oldest is a two-man 1937 Dolmar, a model derived from the earliest two-man chainsaws invented in Germany in the 1920s. He has a 1940s Stihl two-manner, and two American two-manners.

“The two-man chainsaws are really collectable and hard to find now,” he said. “I probably have 14 of them.”

The two-man models were gradually phased out after McCulloch and Homelite began making one-man chainsaws.

The collecting bug struck unexpectedly about 15 years ago at a swap meet when he spotted an old blue Solo Rex chainsaw for sale. It reminded him of his older brother John, who used to take him wood carting when he was a boy.

“I was only 10 or 12, I was of no help to him, I think I just carted the lunch around and that,” Tony said. “We used to go out to places where my father, Jack, worked on a property near Rugby.”

sign about chainsaws

This sign outside Evans Body Works in Crookwell underlines Tony Evans’ obsession with collecting. Photo: John Thistleton.

John died many years before that swap meet, but the sight of a Solo Rex brought him readily to Tony’s mind.

“So I bought it, took it home and just looked at it and thought, ‘Yeah. Interesting. I might collect a few of these.’ That’s honestly how it kicked off,” Tony said.

He collects antique saws from the pre-chain brake days. The safety brake feature was introduced in the early 1970s.

“I’m just a collector, but if someone had something I wanted and I had one they wanted, I would swap or whatever,” he said. “Some people buy and sell all the time. I’m not doing that, I’m just a collector at this stage.”

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One winter about five years ago, he started making outdoor furniture, mostly large bench seats out of slabs of ironbark, river red gum and English elm timber. He began working free-hand with a chainsaw, but then assembled a jig with another saw, which enabled him to mill the timber straighter. From there he built about 20 bench seats and displayed them outside his panelbeating business, where they were offered for sale. People from throughout Crookwell snapped the lot up in a matter of days.

“I had a good run there for a few years, I made a heap of them and then I’d have a sale,” he said. “That propped up my chainsaw buying pretty well. The money I would get I would go away and buy chainsaws.”

Man with chainsaw

Crafting a hand-carved wooden chainsaw and axe and restoring this old buggy have given Tony Evans much satisfaction along with his chainsaw collection. Photo: John Thistleton.

Now he is looking further afield to the Southern Highlands and Canberra, where he hopes a fresh market will be found for his woodcraft. A mate has cleared some land of apple box, which is unsuitable for firewood but ideal for furniture. Tony likes making coffee tables out of timber burls.

He rescued from a paddock the remnants of a bullock buggy and replaced all the rotten timber with ironbark and called the restored vehicle The Iron Lady.

“I’m a panel beater by trade and I got more satisfaction out of restoring that bullock wagon than I did from fixing some cars. I really enjoyed it,” Tony said.

The smell of sawdust and efficient throb of a saw reinforce his compulsion to collect the older machines.

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