The massive circular blade spits sawdust into the morning air as Doug Harned guides a white oak log through the mill at precisely the right speed for a smooth cut.
"I'm doing a few boats today," Harned said, his voice nearly lost amid the chug of the mill's 1950's era diesel engine.
Harned, 64, reigns over his Commack sawdust kingdom in unassuming fashion, always reluctant to mention that he is the keeper of a tradition that has otherwise disappeared from Long Island.
The mill, built in the 1840's and run by Harned's family since the Great Depression, is the only circular-sawmill still in operation on Long Island.
The rare slice of history was made timeless through an unusual preservation deal in 2001. On Long Island, open-space preservation is often a high stakes race, with government scrambling to beat deep-pocketed developers to an ever-dwindling supply of pristine land.
But in the case of Harned Brothers Sawmill, a developer, a municipality, and a landowner reached a settlement in which all sides won.
"I think that this arrangement is pretty rare, if not unique, on Long Island," Smithtown Environmental Protection Director Russell Barnett said of the three-way victory.
Harned, who has worked the mill since boyhood, was feeling the economic squeeze when a longtime customer, John Baker, came to him with an offer he couldn't refuse.
Baker, a developer with PJ Venture LLC, bought the eight-acre sawmill property from Harned, and then donated it to the town. In return, Baker's company transferred the sawmill's development rights to a large commercial center it was building in southern Commack, thereby enabling more structures to be constructed there.
The key to the deal was that Harned received a lifetime estate for the mill. When his log-sawing days are through, it will be operated by the town's Conservation Board.
"If Mr. Harned had not wanted a life estate, the sale price would have been higher, and the economics would not have worked," Barnett said.
For Harned, who has no children, the arrangement ensured the survival of a family tradition begun by his uncle, Amos, and his father, Charlie.
"I thought about it for a while, and talked it over with my family - and it seemed to me like it was the way to go," said the taciturn Harned, now an Oakdale resident.
"I wanted to stay here, and that took some of the economic pressure i had off me."
The sawmill property, with its 1840's farmhouse, is all that remains of a much larger farm that had been in Harned's family since around 1900.
Facing lean times during the Depression, Amos Harned bought the millfrom a prominent Commack family and moved it to his land.
It churned out decent earnings during World War II, when the Harneds cut timbers for a Greenpoint shipyard that made wooden minesweepers for the Navy. In time, the sawmill became the heart of the family business.
Doug Harned doesn't revel in his status as the last circular-saw operator on Long Island. He is just happy cutting timbers for contractors, boat builders and for use as tractor-trailer beds.
"I don't have much ego," he said. "I just enjoy it."
-Article by John Lauinger, NY Daily News Sunday March 30, 2008