Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Job Tree And The New Chainsaw

A lull in a suddenly filled schedule now allows me to tell the story of how Crazy Joe's tree fellers ended up forcing me to buy another chainsaw.

The story of the Job Tree1 felling has already been related here but what I didn't relate was how I dealt with the two-foot diameter, 12-18 inch thick wheels of tree trunk left on my lawn due to them being too heavy and unwieldy for anyone to nick.

Most of the moveable wood was removed by scavengers2 but the weekend following the felling of the Job tree found me looking at the lawn with a jaundiced eye. The Fall weather has been very warm and damp and the grass has not quite slumped into winter hibernation mode, and I could see that if I let things stand much longer the lawn would once again feature a huge bald spot next spring. Action was called for.

Having dealt with the vexing "passport photo" business, I went out that Saturday afternoon with the aim of sizing up candidates for a replacement for the two 14 inch Sears chainsaws I have that are no longer up to the job of cutting warm butter.

"Two saws? Isn't that a little much even for someone as tool-fixated as you?" I hear you ask. The answer to that impertinent question is, of course, a resounding "no!", but the 14 inch chainsaw collection actually happened despite me rather than because of me. I'll explain:

About 12 years ago I needed to get rid of a bunch of bushtrees along our property line so I could replace the chainlink fence that ran round the perimeter with a cedar fence. In the process I would take the "L" shaped front garden, useful only as a dumping ground for the neighbourhood kids' beer bottles and other junk, and incorporate most of it into the back garden for the two-year old Stevieling to play in without the chance of catching one of Crazy Joe's house guests urinating through the fence or perpetrating some other neighbourly thing.

At the same time we decided to relocate the fence line on the other side of the front of the property, tear up the old drive and put in a nice new one that would go to the property line, turning an all-but useless two car drive into a five or six3 car one. The footprint of the new drive took in land that included a number of small sumac bushtrees that would have to go. As a point of interest, it was during the removal of these sumac treelings that I developed a hatred for the species that endures unabated to this day. Indeed, my feelings have only strengthened over the years, and I relegate sumac trees to the same place I put smallpox and fascism - the nail-it-shut-wrap-in-chains-and-throw-into-a-deep-sea-trench box. Pulling out these trees in a manner such that they wouldn’t grow back and heave the newly laid driveway in a season was the challenge, and required that a hole about two feet deep be excavated around the taproot and the taproot be severed4. I used hydraulic excavation for most of it, and that was how I found that the water table on my part of Long Island is about four feet above local ground datum due to the whole place being an ancient Indian burial ground and infested with mischievous water spirits or some similar physics-defying reason. It was all very trying.

A 14 inch Sears chainsaw was purchased for the getting rid of growing things part of these projects.

The driveway project was completed on schedule, but the saw's automatic chain oiler malfunctioned towards the end of it rendering the saw useless. It was taken to Sears' Hauppauge5 service facility for repair, and the people there proceeded to keep it for three months, claiming that they needed to import a part from Korea when I called them each week to ask after my saw. I eventually tired of the excuses, called Sears and pointed out that I had bought the saw for a project that was now imminent, and was instructed to return to the Sears at which I bought the saw at which time I would be given a replacement. The Hauppauge Saw would go back to this store and be sold as a "reconditioned" unit.

Sounded like a plan.

Either that or an excuse for nonsense at the store. I did some pre-emptive finding out of stuff. No there wouldn't be a problem with the fact that the store would have undergone a shift change. I should just go directly to the tool area and tell them why I was there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

That evening I visited with a very abrupt department manager who explained in short, crisp language that he couldn't "just give" me a new saw. Rather than argue the case I turned on my heel and went up to customer support. A few phone calls later and I returned to the now defensive department manager who claimed I had never told him why he should accomodate me6. I limited myself to angrily saying "You didn't give me a chance. You were too busy telling me how much you couldn't help me to listen".

I got the replacement saw.

Some 6 months later I began to be bombarded with early morning calls each Saturday from Hauppauge asking me to come and pick up "my" saw. I explained that it was no longer my saw, and that it should be returned to the store at which I bought it care of Mr Unhelpful.

They refused to believe this preposterous tale.

I refused to journey out to Hauppauge to pick up the saw.

I was working out of state in those days and greatly resented being woken up early on a Saturday after having driven for several hours from the beltway of Washington DC to New York. I also don't have much time for willfully dense nitwits wittering about chainsaws that they are proud to have replaced a modular part of in only about seven months. I refused to drive out to Hauppauge (about a twenty minute trip) and possibly fond myself liable for some sort of trumped-up service charge for the privilege.

One morning the phone rang, and an angry voice yelled "This is Sears at Hauppauge! We're bringing your saw round this morning and dropping it off at your house!"

I said "Fine! Suit yourselves!" and took the family out for a breakfast long enough that the saw losers wouldn't catch me at home. When we returned i had another 14 inch chainsaw in my collection. Mrs Stevie almost choked laughing at Sears service department, who refuse to believe tools don't belong to you even if you tell them so. I recall she was quite mellow all day as a result. Better days.

The newly delivered saw leaked chain-bar oil everywhere when I attempted to fill the tank to test the replaced auto-oiler. Brownie Points for Sears then for almost fixing the saw after a mere seven months.

The other saw was seen into an early grave by Bil the Younger and the Mrs Steviedad, who asked to borrow it to clear some trees from the affluent Bil the Elder's palatial back yard. Something about adding a runway for his Learjet or some such nonsense.

Felling trees is not at all as straightforward as you might think, and doing it in any one of the umtytump wrong ways can end up at best with the saw stuck in the tree trunk and at worst with the saw stuck in the tree feller as he or she is pinned under the tree itself. The would-be crew would need all the help they could get and I wasn't going to be in the work area on a bet.

I got up at six in the morning and hand sharpened the chain. I tensioned the chain7. I topped off the oil and gas tanks. I fired up the saw and killed it with the choke to prime the carburetor so the Mrs Steviedad didn't dislocate his shoulder starting it. I made up a kit including the ratty old8 leather work gloves I used when wielding the saw, The Yellow Hardhat Of Brain Salvage During Deadfalls9 and the instruction book, carefully chopped up and put into plastic page protectors all bound in a loose-leaf binder for reference in the field.

I stuck a post-it on page 18. That's the page on which the correct method of cutting down a tree is shown. It was a long shot, but I remain optimistic that once in a while I can break through a lifetime of habit and get people to read the safety instructions for tools they've never used for jobs they've never done before. Not this time though.

Weeks later I asked The Mrs StevieDad for my saw back, to be told "We didn't use it in the end. It didn't work."

I was puzzled by this statement, but all I got as far as a clarification was "It didn't work. It wouldn't work."

No matter. I needed to trim some bushes back and could fix whatever thing had gone wrong and forced them to rent from Home Despot instead. I returned home with the saw and removed it from its home-made chain scabbard. Which was when I saw that the chain bar was missing all its paint. "Didn't work" was clearly not the whole story then. This saw had seen some pretty heavy-handed use before it "didn't work", that was clear. Never mind, there's little you can do to a chainsaw to break it (other than have the oiler go south, of course). I fired it up and prepared to cut bushes. The saw died. I pulled it a couple of times but it wasn't starting, and it dawned on me that it must be out of gas. Clearly it had been working for a tank of gas before it "didn't work" too.

I tried to unscrew the gas cap. I gave up after a few tries and went to get the wrench used to strip it down. The gas cap has a fitting on it so you can use the wrench as a tommy bar in this situation, but you should never need to because, as it says clearly in the instruction book, you only tighten the cap finger tight. So, I could revise the period in which the saw worked while in the hands of Stan and Ollie by at least one more tank of gas. The one I had filled and the one that The Hulk had apparently put in. Naturally, since the oil is used at the same rate as the gas, I checked the oil tank. Just as naturally, the oil cap had also been tightened by means of one of those air wrenches that tire places use to tighten the wheelnuts on your car so tight that you can't change a flat without access to a workshop.

Once I had filled the tanks with the requisite fluids the saw started and I began cutting, only to find the saw now cut in a curved path. I dismantled the saw and observed that the chain bar was worn paper thin on one side. It had obviously been run with no oil in it for a period. I went out and bought a new chain bar, but that didn't fix the problem. I switched the chain for the one on the Hauppauge saw, but that didn't fix the problem. Shortly after that the oiler broke, so I gave up.

Now no-one actually present during the Great Holbrook Tree Felling is talking, but here is what I think happened: I think the saw was working just fine but that no-one read the "how to drop a tree" instructions and they eventually got the saw stuck in a tree. Then they compounded the error by attempting to work the saw out of the notch by brute force (also contra-indicated in the instructions). Then they hired a saw from Home Despot so they could saw down the tree and rescue my saw. During this process the weight of the tree would have been pressing on the chain and chainbar of my saw, wreaking all sorts of "never do" type damage to it.

With a busted oiler and the damn thing cutting in a circle anyway, there was no way I was going to try cutting up the wheels o' wood in the front garden. Besides, there was The Rule10 to consider. No, what was needed was a new chainsaw. A much bigger one too.

I raced around Home Despot, Blowes and a couple of other tooly places, but it ended up that the only large saw I could afford was the Poulan 20 inch saw, and that only 'cos Sears was having a sale. Late Saturday night, while Mrs Stevie was sleeping of a day's worth of Espresso Muy Fortes, I snuck out to Sears of Northport11 and bought the saw.

Sunday, the women decamped for organised religion and I broke out the Mr Chainsaw for its inaugural sawing.

It was just great.

I was initially disappointed to discover that the new saw had no primer button, and that the starting process instead involved choking the engine and pulling the cord five or six times. "There go Messrs Shoulder and Elbow" I thought, but the whole business proved relatively painless. I soon had the saw running, and stepped up to the wood pile for my first cut. Revving the engine, I applied the saw to a modest piece of tree trunk, no more than 18 inches across, and the saw bit in with gratifying oomph.

In no time I had cut through the fallen limb and was standing ankle deep in the finest shavings I've ever seen from a chainsaw. It wasn't so much sawdust as small shavings that looked like a plane made them. The saw continued to produce these for the first hour or so, until the razor-like keenness of the blade was lost. The lawn was completely covered with shavings by then in a circle about ten feet in diameter, to a depth of a couple of inches. I've never seen a power saw cut like this before, and the large wheels of wood fell before my superior chainsaw might in no time12.

Naturally, after the first cut I was so overcome by the sheer sawiness of the saw that I let out a manly howl of glee and the neighbours, watching to see if I cut off a foot or electrocuted myself, ran outside to witness some imagined debacle only to see me dominating the arboreal scene in no small way. What a sight I made as I locked the saw into my working stance, 20 inch steel blade of wood destruction jutting aggressively from my crotch, shavings flying to the four winds, my triumphant screams of triumph filling their ears! How they must have seethed with repressed jealousy as they observed me cowing the seemingly invincible slices of tree into submission! Ha! In your faces, losers! Take that, tree! Die on me after two grand in root injections would you? Firewood ye shall be! HAHAHAHAHA!

I was almost sad when it was over and I had to quit to go and watch the Stevieling play basketball. I stacked the wood in front of the house and called to one of the neighbours across the street to tell them the wood was free to anyone who wanted it. By the time I had showered and changed for the game, it was all gone.

A shame to burn it really. Some of it would have made nice turning blanks for a lathe.

  1. California has Joshua trees, I have, or had, a well-smitten Job tree
  2. With my blessing
  3. At a pinch, if I do the parking
  4. The taproots of sumac trees go down about 18-24 inches then turn an abrupt 90 degrees and run horizontally before branching and undergoing more geometrical treachery. Leave the root and the tree will pop back up good as new in two to three months
  5. Pronounced "HOP-og"
  6. A lie. I began our short, unsatisfying relationship with a blow-by-blow replay of that morning's conversatiuon with his manager. He, being a model Sears employee, shut down his brain until the words "give me a replacement" were uttered. There is no point arguing at this stage, since the other person is indulging in the time-honoured New York sport of not-being-the-loser. I wasn't in the mood to play that night
  7. a laborious process involving loosening bolts, tightening screws and wiggling the chain without losing any small bits or slashing yourself to ribbons on the chain
  8. but extremely tough
  9. I now have a snazzy and probably dangerous cowboy Stetson hardhat too
  10. No Tool, No Job
  11. Of all the Sears in my area, this is the one you want if you are spending money. The staff there actually care whether or not you buy something and are very helpful
  12. Defined as about three hours

No comments: