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What is a Whipsaw?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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A whipsaw is a type of crosscut saw which is designed to be utilized by two people. Crosscut saws have special teeth which are engineered to make horizontal cuts, such as the cut required to fell a tree safely. For certain applications, crosscut saws are safer, especially when they are used by experienced operators. Some hardware stores stock whipsaws, and they can also be obtained from timber supply companies.

You have probably seen a picture of a whipsaw; it's the classic long, thin blade with two handles which was used historically by lumberjacks. Once lumberjacks selected a tree to cut down, they would prepare the tree and the surrounding area and then get to work with the whipsaw, with the men standing on either side of the tree and moving the saw in a back and forth motion.

Using a whipsaw successfully does require some skill, and coordination with your partner. A well-trained and experienced team can establish a smooth rhythm which accomplishes felling tasks quickly and safely. It also requires a fair amount of strength, as a whipsaw typically has teeth which are sharpened on both sides, meaning that the tree is cut on both the push and pull strokes, so lumberjacks must put a fair amount of force into the use of the saw.

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As one might imagine, a whipsaw can be extremely dangerous. Both users need to keep a firm grip on the saw, as relaxation by one lumberjack could cause the saw to bounce off course, potentially resulting in a serious injury. If a lumberjack pulls on a saw which is not supported from the other side, it is possible to pull the whipsaw out of the tree, and it may whip around, dealing damage along the way.

Whipsaws are still used to harvest timber in some regions of the world, and they are also utilized to cut and trim lumber. Some examples of massive whipsaws used historically can be seen at logging museums, and they are sometimes demonstrated at logging contests for people who want to see them in action.

The term “whipsaw” is also used in the financial world, to describe violent movements in the market, in a reference to the sometimes frenetic back and forth movement of a whipsaw team. For investors, whipsawing in the market can be quite stressful, as fortunes can change very quickly. Experienced investors are familiar with the phenomenon and they may choose to ride it out or pick the right moment to dump whipsawing stocks, but inexperienced individuals can lose a substantial amount of money through these violent fluctuations.

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