Sunday, June 08, 2008

Whacking: Off

Well, it's been a busy two weeks here at the Steviemanse.

It started with the grass deciding to start growing again, necessitating mower-oriented activity, sprinkler deployage and a session of one-on-one, sudden-death smackdown with Mr Weedwacker.

I drained the fuel tank of Troll The Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness and used the gas (almost five years old, salvaged from the original Steviemobile) to coax the lawnmower into life. The gas manufacturers1 would have you believe that after six months in a can, gas turns into sulphuric acid and will kill an internal combustion engine in seconds flat. Only a cynic would believe this was a tale concocted to promote sales. Colour me cynical. The mower runs fine and does not explode, spew corrosive vapour from its exhaust or even puff black smoke. It even cuts grass.

I broke out the sprinklers and found that three of the four rainbirds2 were busted. Two of them showed the signature damage that indicated a mower drive-by, but the other had simply lost the little pin that holds all the moving parts together. A quick session with my Leatherman Tool and I had pried the pin from one of the busted units and effected a repair.

Then it was a simple matter of turning on the water and fiddling with the jet so it would water the lawn and not the road and the job was done. This time i remembered to remove my cell phone from my pants pocket so that it wouldn't be damaged when the sprinklers contrived to shoot ice-cold water up the leg of my shorts3. Of course, I had neglected to do that last year, with the result that the phone will no longer charge its battery, so that was an exercise in futility, really. Still, it's the principle of the thing.

Once that job was done it was time to break out my old nemesis, Mr Weedwacker. Over the years we have done battle with the weeds and each other (mostly each other now I come to think about it) and this blog is littered with tales of wounds sustained and humiliation delivered in public by that Anti-handyman demon-infested thing, but even so, there is really no better way to rip out unwanted on-property greenery while at the same time being hit in the face with supersonic gravel. That day, another problem with the wretched tool was to manifest itself.

Oh we went through all the old standards. The pulling on the string while varying the configuration of the choke and throttle in the vain hope the engine will fire for more than 5/8ths of a second at a time. The realisation upon finally getting the damned thing running that the gas tank was almost empty so the engine would have to be switched off again while refueling ops took place4. The opening of the gas tank to discover the little gas-cap retaining chain had broken again and was somewhere inside the gas tank where my fingers couldn't get it without draining the remaining gas. The refueling followed by the realisation that the gas cap was not where I left it ten seconds before. The ten-minute hunt for the gas cap to the accompaniment of my very best swear words. The location of the cap and the suspiciously easy restarting of the engine. The prompt exhausting of the string on the spool, necessitating another three feet be cut and laboriously wound onto the spool. The hunt for one of the two reels of trimmer cord I have somewhere around here, I know because I saw them only two months ago while I was looking for the yard broom which turned out to be in the shed but where is the gbleepd-dbleepd wheedwacker cord gbleepd-dbleepm it? The finding and cutting of said cord.

It was and is all very trying.

The new variation was the discovery after all this rigmarole that the bump-knob for the spool was worn completely away.

For those not in-the-know, a weedwhacker of the older type has a spool of nylon cord5 of a given thickness (Sears colour-code their brand according to heftiness. I use green which indicates a manly yet not testosterone-fueled level of weed whackerism) that is driven by a motor of some kind (mine is gas-powered, but I also have a smaller electric one). The cord is flung out of each side of the spool by centrifugal force6, forming a surprisingly effective cutter. The problem is that the string wears away, especially when it impacts concrete, such as during edging operations, but the wily weedwacker designers have thought of this and provided for the contingency by including a cunning escapement mechanism into the spool such that bumping it on the ground while the spool is spinning causes the inner reel part of the spool to unwind a length of cord. It's dead clever.

The problem was that I am a little over-aggressive in the use of the weedwacker for those operations which damage the cord, and so have had to bump this one a few gazillion times. The bump is taken by the knob used to hold the real in the shroud and although it is made of special hard-wearing plastic it eventually does need replacing. The problem was, my weedwacker was a McCulloch and, unbeknownst to me that day7 the firm had ceased trading at the end of the 1990s. A lengthy search of the web failed to turn up any parts for my model weedwacker.

Tiresomer and tiresomer.

I tooled around every Home Despot, Blowes and Arse Hardware in the area but couldn't find a reel with the same fitting or a knob that would do as a substitute for the old one. The nearest I could find was a Ryobi reel, which had the wrong sized bolt to hold it onto the shaft but did have the same hexagonal drive mechanism. I was pretty demoralised by all this. The weedwacker isn't otherwise in need of replacement (the anti-handyman demons infesting mine are par for the course and any new weed whacker will probably come factory-installed with a set of its own). It seemed a shame to use up a tool-acquisition opportunity so unnecessarily.

A sharp pain lanced across my forehead. Fireworks erupted in each of my eyeballs. The scent of burning chocolate flooded my nose. For a brief instant I could taste colour, see sound and hear funny-bone pins-and-needles. I knew these signs: an idea was forming.

I would use Mr Brain and some tools to fabricate a new reel from whatever I could find in the stores that almost worked.

I grabbed a Ryobi reel and a spare Ryobi know in case my first cut was less-than-stellar and returned home. The Ryobi reel had the wrong sized bolt. It was too fat, so I would use the one from the old knob. The Ryobi knob's bolt was hexagonal headed, the original was square-headed. No problem, a quick session with Mr Dremel tool fitted with a cylindrical cutting burr and I was able to sculpt a square hole from the hexagonal one. I tested the arrangement.

The end of the weed wacker got red hot.

The reel was rubbing against the outer shaft of the weed wacker, but a session with Mr Hacksaw fixed that. It almost worked, but not quite, and the total bugger is that I don't know why.

I think the problem has to do with the length of the bolt in the new knob. The mechanism needs the bolt to "bottom out" in the screw-fitting in the shaft end while the knob "floats". As it is, to do this the knob has to be screwed in so far the escapement mechanism is compromised. The way the escapement works is that when you bump down the reel advances half of the distance it wants to go, then hits a stop. When you release the bump, the reel is allowed to turn to the end of its cycle. I think the fitting I made needs to have a deeper hole for the bolt or a longer bolt because when the knob is screwed all the way down the escapement is "bumped" in and cannot advance. Whatever.

All those dead brain cells for nothing.

I might as well have drunk rum all day8.

  1. I'm not sure if it is correct to refer to such people as "crackers", though that's what they do
  2. The sort of sprinkler that has a swing arm that hammers against the jet to make it walk around in a circle, first one way then the other
  3. Always a favourite with the neighbours, who greet each falsetto shriek with raucous laughs of sympathy
  4. It is a physical impossibility to refuel it without switching off the engine since even at tickover the centrifugal clutch is partially engaged, causing the spool to spin quite rapidly. Attempting to fuel up by, say, wedging the fuel tank in, say, the chainlink fence running down the driveway will only result in the tool acting like some sort of Dali-designed unicycle and having it go for your shins while throwing two-stroke gasoline all over the wife's impatiens, killing them outright and fueling a season of domestic unbliss the likes of which you haven't seen outside of certain American situation comedies
  5. Newer weedwhackers often have fixed lengths of much tougher (so they say) plastic strip that clip into a different style of head. Sometimes they have a one-piece assembly with short plastic scimitars hinged on a driven hub. I want nothing to do with such new-fangled flummery
  6. Yesyesyes I know I know, there is no such thing, it is really centripetal force blahblahblah. When scientists start calling their spinning machine of colloid separation a centripete you can call me out on this one
  7. But knownst now
  8. Something I used to do almost constantly but banned since 1991 by Mrs Stevie

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