Our Story

A Cut-and-dried Legacy

The seed for the Sven-Saw was planted in 1960 on a portage between Knife Lake and Carp Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the Minnesota-Canadian border. 

Frank Shaw photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat

“There has to be a better way”

“At a portage, my brother and I met two men on their way out,” says Richard Swenson, the inventor of the Sven-Saw and founder of Swen Products, Inc. “One had a bandaged foot. He had cut his foot badly with an ax and was on his way back to the Ely hospital. I thought to myself, “There has to be a better way.” 

By 1961, Richard had made one — the compact folding saw with a blade protected by its handle. He patented the design and founded Swen Products in 1968. The company continues to be family-owned and operated to this day, and the parts are proudly manufactured and packaged in Minnesota.

The World’s Fair

When the World’s Fair came to the United States in 1962, my wife and I took a trip and a couple of saws to Seattle to see if anyone would be interested. Looking through the yellow pages of the phone book for outdoors stores, I found Recreational Equipment, Incorporated (REI). It was a one-man-show at the time, on the second floor of a dilapidated building in downtown Seattle. The little store had a climbing wall and climbing ropes.

I introduced myself to the tall man behind the counter, who said he was Jim Whittaker. He looked at the saw and said, “That’s kind of clever. Send me six.”   By the time I arrived home, Whitaker already had ordered 12 more.

The next year, Jim Whittaker became the first from the USA to climb Mount Everest, and REI took off from there. They have been a trusted Sven-Saw source for generations of campers.

A Ton of Aluminum

My first purchase was a ton (yes, 2000 pounds) of aluminum for $5000 to make the first 500 saws. 

A company called Nedmac Precision Machining was my choice for producing the handles. These machinists were the very best machinists at Honeywell, and I’d worked with them there. They figured out how to shape the handle correctly, and they had the business for about 50 years. When Nedmac changed its focus, they helped direct me to Norfab. Norfab has done a good job making handles for us ever since.

The parts are all shipped to Opportunity Partners in Minnetonka. In this sheltered workshop, people package the parts and ship to our suppliers and large retailers. 

Over the years we have had the good fortune of selling saws through L.L. Bean, ACE Hardware, the Scouts (Boy Scouts of America), and countless independent, locally-owned outdoors, garden, and hardware stores.

Meet Little Sven

While Richard was working at Honeywell, he had a roommate who worked for Stewart-Taylor printing in Duluth. A woman working there understood his vision for a little Sven.  She created Little Sven, and he has been with us all these years!

As long as people keep wanting the Sven-Saw,
we plan to keep producing them!