Saturday, August 16, 2008

Say hello to my little friend

I haven’t watched the Olympics very much, but I did watch Michael Phelps win one of his seven gold medals the other day. He’s an incredible athlete, like all of those who get to the Olympics, only more so. Michael Phelps is in the very prime of life and at the very peak of possible physical condition. He can probably generate nearly a half horsepower for long enough to swim a hundred meters, and he can probably generate one-third horsepower all day long, like most superbly conditioned athletes.

As hard as it may be to believe, there was a time when I could have stood next to Michael Phelps in a pair of swim trunks without complete embarrassment. I certainly wasn’t in anything like his perfect shape, but I could probably muster one-quarter horsepower for a while. Of course, that was a very long time and many cheese steaks and packs of cigarettes ago. In my present condition - with my 220 pounds somewhat differently distributed around my body than they were back in that brief season – I can maybe sustain a couple-tenths of a horsepower for the minute or so it takes me to power a bow saw through a round of maple about the thickness of my thigh.

I wish I could generate more horsepower when I want to cut thicker rounds of wood, but I can’t, at least not for any sustained period of time. Not that it matters, for I have a moderately powerful little buddy to help me. It’s a two and half horsepower electric chainsaw with a fourteen inch bar. It will power through tree trunks up to about twenty inches in diameter without the slightest hint of strain although it needs a bit of skill once the diameter exceeds the length of its bar.

I bought the electric saw a couple of years ago to replace an old four horsepower gasoline model with a twenty two inch bar when the old saw’s starter clutch finally gave up the ghost after like a million pulls. I considered getting a comparable new gas model, but there had been a few incidents with the old saw over the years, especially as I got older and my hands and arms lost a bit of their strength. So I replaced it with a tool quite a bit less powerful in a rare demonstration of good sense.

My old gas powered saw could cut through bark as thick as a boot top and go on to sever a round of wood as thick as an instep in a heartbeat, even when it wasn’t fully revved up. Fully revved up, it could slice through a tree limb as thick as a thigh in the time Long John Silver could scream “Shiver me timbers.” It could also kick its chain back at someone’s forehead with the strength of four mules when someone wasn’t careful enough handling it.

My electric saw is much less daunting. It will cut through a round of wood as thick as an ankle or an instep very easily, but it takes a bit of time to do it. It’s true that it will go through a limb as thick as a thumb in an eye-blink, but the thing is designed in such a way that one’s right thumb must be on the trigger safety in order to make it run, and I’m much too old and wise now to operate a chain saw without having my left hand, with its thumb, firmly in control of the kickback preventer grip. Additionally the thing hardly ever kicks back very hard at all because of its much shorter bar. All in all, it’s very safe. It’s highly unlikely to do me more damage in a careless second or two than a good emergency room crew can correct in a few hours. And its final safety feature is that it’s literally impossible for me to stray out of sight of the house with it because of the extension cord.

Not that I take it for granted. I handle it with a certain amount of care, and I stop handling it when my hands and arms get tired. Finally, I only use it when Linda is home to drive me someplace in a hurry in the highly unlikely event that I should for some reason need to be driven someplace in a hurry.

So anyway, earlier today I was down the driveway cleaning up some big fallen limbs with a machete and my bow saw when I came upon a nest of those big ants that live where side branches have rotted out. I learned a long time ago that those ants can bite way above their weight class and they can definitely find their way up the handle of a bow saw to a tender wrist when they’re irritated. I was already getting a bit tired from hand sawing anyway so I went and got the chain saw.

Now you have to understand that I’m accustomed to talking to annoying little furry things and obstinate trees and stuff when I’m alone way out in the woods. I’ve even said a choice word to an ant that bit me. So it was no surprise at all that I put on my best Tony Montana voice and gave the ants a bit of warning after I was set with the chainsaw.

“Say hello to my little friend,” I said to the ants as I revved the thing. And then I realized my neighbor was out on her porch near the driveway. Well, hopefully she’s an Al Pacino fan.


Anonymous said...

I very much enjoy reading your personal accounts.

Your discussion of the precautions you take when using the chainsaw were both sensible and yet amusing.

When I was a little girl, I was "helping" my father with the interior finishing of an addition to the upstairs. He would generally give me small tasks that were safe and allowed for a wide margin of error. Most of the time, however, I was a never-ending source of questions and chit chat. Fortunately for me, he was a wellspring of patience.

On one occasion, my father was using a power saw while entertaining my questions when he probably should have told me to be quiet. All of a sudden he lost control of the saw and it sliced the crotch of his trousers.

He immediately took his hand off the switch and the saw powered down. The look on his face stunned me into silence. You could have heard a pin drop.

Fortunately, his pants fit loosely, and it turned out no harm was done.

As a little girl who had neither brothers nor an understanding of male anatomy, I couldn't understand why my father's face had such an ashen look, and asked him why he was still so upset when nothing bad had happened. He looked at me for a moment as if trying to figure out what to say. Finally, he collected himself and said that he was still thinking about what might have happened.

Then in the most serious, yet nicest way possible, he asked that in the future I refrain from speaking when he was using power tools.

Sully said...

anonymous - Neat story. I've had many interesting moments with tools but never any that threatened such a, uh, strategic area.