We human beings enjoy making things rectilinear, which is why you're reading this on a glass rectangle while sitting at a wooden rectangle in a rectangle-shaped room that you entered by passing through a rectangle. So as soon as we could figure out how to turn trees into neat wooden rectangles, we did, by eventually coming up with the circular saw blade and the sawmill.
But before the circular saw blade became the preferred method for turning logs into boards, we tried some pretty kooky things, like this:
That ten-bladed monstrosity is a steam-powered vertical frame saw, and some American yahoo invented it in 1801. Depending on how the blades were spaced, it could provide boards of different thicknesses.
By 1809 the invention had spread to England, and by 1821, the Netherlands. In Dutch the machine was called a "raamzaag," literally, "window saw," as the manual one-bladed version it was based on looked like a window frame bisected by a saw. Several years ago the Dutch Steam Engine Museum actually restored one and got it working. The video they shot of it isn't terribly thrilling, but does give you an idea of what an ordeal it was to operate the thing:
In contrast, when circular-saw-based sawmills arrived, they must have seemed a breeze to operate and maintain. Unsurprisingly the vertical frame saw design fell by the wayside, which is why you've probably never seen or heard of one.
However, a Czech engineering company called Neva reckons they can use modern-day technology to revitalize the design:
In addition to the greater mechanical efficiency that comes with using CNC-created parts, they use a fairly simple mechanical trick for their Orbit Thin-Cutting Frame Saw: The blades have an eccentric movement, rather than merely going straight up and down, as the entire saw frame moves to and fro along the main axis of the log. In other words the blade cuts, then backs up, allowing the chips to evacuate, and reducing the blade-wearing friction and heat build-up that occurs when the blade stays in the wood throughout the cut. (There's nothing wrong with your computer's audio, the following video has no audio).
Here's a better look at the Orbit, this one narrated:
Like what you see? If you want to save a few bucks, you'll occasionally see used models for sale on eBay. This one went for a mere US $47,900.