Friday, May 29, 2009

Cutting Myself Off at the Knees [Part 1]

Chainsaws rock. I place them in the same category as lawn mowers, grills, bonfires, and trebuchets. They are intoxicating for men, as are all things that are loud, destructive, or generally have a high probability of causing death if not used properly. This infatuation with the dangerous has led to some rather idiotic inventions over the years, as men attempt to maintain the adrenaline rush, including the Chainsaw On a Pole, as pictured here. Genius. I've never actually used one, so I may be speaking out of turn here, but swinging a chainsaw around on the end of a 12 foot long pole, while attempting to cut limbs hanging directly over your head sounds like a data point for the theory of natural selection. At the very least, I would expect there to be multiple submissions to the Darwin Awards that involve one of these tools.

Stupidity aside, chainsaws have additional benefit as a tool for building social status. There is nothing like the sound of a chainsaw in suburbia to make your neighbors do a double-take. For those poor males within earshot that aren't lucky enough to own one, or perhaps are too timid, you instantly establish a certain level of dominance by dropping a 30 foot tree in your front yard and subsequently slicing it into 18-inch sections. Wear boots and some Carhartt and you'll have them asking you for your expert advice on everything from marriage to plumbing for years to come. Here in the country, however, I've learned quickly that everyone has a chainsaw, and it's more the size of the chainsaw that earns points. One neighbor described my 20-inch Husqvarna as "cute". If you're new in the chainsaw market, cute is not what you should strive for.

Every self-respecting dad, at some point, needs to pass on the love of the saw to his children. This is not an easy thing to do. There aren't really any intermediate steps to using a chainsaw. If you're using it, you had better be pretty sure that you know what you're doing. My dad taught me by making me watch him. And watch him. And watch him. For years. He would cut, and my brothers and I would carry what he cut. At the time, as I stumbled through the woods carrying oak and cherry and whatever other dense, heavy wood that my dad could find, I was convinced that he kept the saw to himself as a way to avoid the misery of carrying wood. I'm still not entirely convinced that this wasn't at least part of his motivation, but as a dad I can now understand the apprehension of letting your kid grab hold and operate a 5 horsepower spinning machine full of razor sharp teeth.

So, I decided to take my Dad's approach - forced observation. One Sunday afternoon early this spring, I decided that I would take down a tree that had partially fallen when hurricane Ike went through last fall. It was hanging precariously over a path that the kids used frequently, and I figured that I could eliminate that threat at the same time that I impressed the boys with how effective and efficient a well-trained logger can be.

If you're thinking that this sounds like a setup, you would be right. I had the boys line up about twenty yards from the scene of attack. Nolan and Evan, the older two, were standing patiently, with their hands over their ears. Braden, my three-year-old, was clearly confused with the whole process, as he had both hands covering his mouth. I considered giving a speech of some kind. Safety, responsibility, awareness, blah, blah, blah, but I decided against it as I was pretty sure that my window of opportunity was narrow. Evan was already kicking rocks at Braden.

To refocus everyone, I decided to fire up the saw. Check the chain, check the bar oil, switch, choke, pull. Pull. Pull. The kids are still looking at me expectantly. Pull. Pull-pull-pull-pull-pull. Nothing.

Me: "Braden, do NOT eat that. Nolan put the rock down. Evan get your finger out of your nose. Pay attention, boys, this is important."

Pull. Pull. Pull-pull-PULL.

Nolan: "Dad, do you want me to get your axe?"

Me: "No Nolan. Saws are much more efficient than axes. That's why people invented them. Sometimes they're just a little hard to start. In a minute here we'll be slicing through this tree like butter!"

Pull. Pull-pull-pull-pull-pull-pull-pull-pull.

Braden: "It's probably wound up enough now Daddy."

Me: "No, this isn't like your cousin's toy chainsaw, B. This is a real saw. It has a gas engine in it that is very powerful."

Braden: "Cousin's saw spins."

Me (through clenched teeth): "So does this one, buddy, only much faster. I just have to get it started."

Pull. Pull. Pull.

Evan: "In some countries, like France, where they don't have gas they just pull the chain saws back and forth on the trees. That works too. Can we help you do that Daddy?"

Nolan: "Evan, that's not true. They have gas in France, just like we do here, right Daddy? Daddy's saw is probably just out of gas."

Me (in my head): "Do you kids really think that I would carry this saw all the way down this very steep hill in the snow and the cold without checking to see if there's gas in the tank? Do you really think that I would be standing here bent over and pulling until my arm feels like it's going to fall off, sweating like a pig, without first checking to see if there's gas in the tank? Do you really think that I would do something like that? Do you see these water proof boots? Do you see this Carhartt jacket?"

Of course, I didn't say that. I've seen all of the movies, and I've seen all of the sitcoms just like you have. I knew that I hadn't checked the tank, and I knew there wasn't any gas in it. I desperately wanted the spark plug to be bad, or the piston to be frozen, or the fuel filter to be full of gummy bears.

Me: "You boys can play in the stream while I get some gas. I'll be back in a few minutes."

As I drug myself back up the hill, I started to tell myself that this was a very good lesson for the boys on why it's important to plan. It was also a decent primer on the basics of small engine mechanics. But I decided not to delude myself. At least things couldn't get any worse. Perhaps I could still salvage our first chainsaw lesson...


Jason said...

My wife won't let me get a chainsaw. She's afraid of my miter saw for crying out loud. I want a table saw but seeing how my father has removed 2 fingers on his I don't see that as a possibility anytime soon. She prefers that we take stuff to his house and have him help...where's the sense in that?!?.... :(

The Dadical said...

My wife tolerates my tools. Of course I tolerate her cooking..

PJ Mullen said...

While not as cool as chainsaws, I did my reciprocating saw. When I demoed the interior of my house down to the studs that was my friend.

dadshouse said...

Hahaha. Very funny. Smart kids, too. Smart asses in the making. You are doing well!

And you're right, the sound of a chainsaw is a testosterone inducing thing.

spaceman said...

Hi there,

Very keen to bring your site into my website which is a parenting site for dads - would this be ok?

Hit 40 said...

My dad had his chainsaw kickback on him right through his chin. He lost several teeth and was in the hospital about 2 weeks. Just missed what little bit of a brain that he has!!!

I won't let my husband buy one either :-( I am just a big chicken.

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