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Core saw sideline turns into flourishing enterprise

March 1, 2008
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Exploration with 0 Comments

You never know where linecutting will take you. For Vance McAfee, it led to a 32-year career as an area supervisor for Inco Exploration. Now, in retirement, he’s busier than ever manufacturing core saws for the international exploration market.

Born and raised in Sudbury, McAfee is the quintessential handyman. Give him a job to do and it’s done. Give him a problem and it’s solved. As an area supervisor for Inco, he was responsible for building camps, hiring crews and overseeing logistics for exploration projects across North America.

Sometime in the mid-80s, when higher-ups decided to cut the core at the Casa Berardi gold camp in Quebec and no one could find a saw to do it, McAfee volunteered to build one. Over the following few years, he built five more. When he retired in 1991, he kept on building them.  Word spread and orders trickled in. Then all hell broke loose.

In the aftermath of the Bre-X scandal, new security regulations required mining and exploration companies to cut core samples sent off for assaying. That way, the core could always be re-assayed if there were any suspicions about the results.

Demand for core saws went through the roof and, the next year, McAfee made 55 of them.

With exploration activity at an all-time high in 2007, he cranked out 76.

“I have more than 300 out there now,” he said, taking a rare break over a coffee. “This year was the biggest year ever. It’s a bit much – seven days a week.”

So much for retirement.

Around the world

Vancon core saws are on the job at diamond drill sites across Canada and around the

“I have them in China, Russia, Germany, Finland. You name it, they’re there,” said McAfee.

The first one he built for Inco in 1986 was “big and cumbersome, had more parts and was powered by a gasoline-driven motor.”

It got the job done, but McAfee saw room for improvement. The next one had an electric motor and a few other modifications. Having spent so many years in the bush, McAfee knew exactly what was needed.

For starters, it had to be portable and light, so it could be transported to remote base camps by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft. The Vancon core saw, fabricated out of aluminum, weighs in at 180 pounds and sells for $5,500. A competing unit manufactured in Australia weighs 1,100 pounds and “runs around $25,000,” said McAfee.

Safety is another important consideration. The Vancon saw comes with a hood that completely encloses the cutting area and blade, keeping the operator out of harm’s way. A compact pump and hose feeds water to the 14-inch diamond wheel blade for cooling and a shop vac connected to the hood exhausts the cuttings.

The only moving part aside from the blade is an adjustable, rubber mounted core tray that the operator slides forward.

The saw is 18 inches wide, 40 inches long and stands 48 inches high to the top of the hood. McAfee ships the unit in a reusable crate so it can be quickly disassembled, packed up and moved to the next drill site.

He has two models: a 5 hp unit and a 3 hp unit, “but I don’t recommend the 5 hp. The 3 hp is more than adequate.” The increased power just tempts the operator to speed up and that wears out the blade prematurely, he said.

In a concession to marketing, he has had some brochures printed and makes the rounds at the annual PDAC extravaganza in Toronto every year.

“When you retire, you need something to do,” said McAfee. “You can’t just sit at home and vegetate.”

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