Donnell Mill Restoration Project

Volunteer crews work year-round at the Maine Forest and Logging Museum, renovating aging buildings and restoring artifacts. The list of projects is long, but the Donnell Clapboard Mill project is finally at the top of the ‘big projects’ list.

Bill Donnell and Clapboard Mill
Bill Donnell liked his pipe and working with ‘John”!

We need your support to get this unique sawmill up and running! Bill Donnell operated his clapboard mill in Sedgewick, Maine for many years. He was a familiar sight at the Blue Hill Fair for many years, talking about clapboards and having a pipe. His pipe was a part of him! When he passed away, his sister donated the mill to the museum, where it has been under a tarp for about 10 years. It is ready to have a building around it!

Clapboards were made by hand prior to 1800 with a process called riving. The 4’ long clapboards could last for centuries due to the way the grain of the wood lay. The age of mechanization came with two competing ideas. Some early saws were developed that made flat-grain, or resawn, boards into the tapered clapboards, but the grain was wavy. Modern clapboards are still made that way, but they have a much shorter life span than riven clapboards.

Giant dowel destined to be clapboards.
Starting with a log at least 16” in diameter, the ‘rosser’, a giant lathe, created a giant dowel. Once pie-shaped wedges were cut and dried, then surface planed, you had a clapboard made to last 200+ years.

The other type of development was a quarter-sawn, or rift, clapboard. The mills making those turned the log into a giant dowel, which was then cut into pie shaped wedges. The grain ends up straight, like the riven clapboards, and Bill Donnell’s mill is the only known saw to cut 8’ clapboards. They were made to last!

We have volunteers ready to work on the mill building and getting all the equipment set up, including ‘John’, the 1939 John Deere make-and-break engine that powers the mill. They built to last–the clapboards had the top surface and edges dressed by an 1889 Lane clapboard planer.

This is a big project for the museum that require funds. Please contribute to getting this marvelous machinery up and running. Contact the office for sponsorship, spread the word to those who love old machinery and help get another working piece added to the 1900s millyard at the museum.

The Maine Forest and Logging Museum is a living history museum. If we have it, we hope to have it running! Help fund the volunteer projects to do just that. We have labor, but we need materials. Contact the office at or call the Museum at 207-974-6278. Please go to our Donation page if you can help.