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For me, a 'literary' handsaw will suffice

By Sue Wunder / April 8, 2005



The first time I used a chain saw I knew it would not do for me. Oh, it worked well enough, slicing a dead limb into woodstove-sized lengths in a fraction of the time it would have taken me with a handsaw. But when I switched it off and put it down I knew I would never touch it again.

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It was a little bit like a Stephen King novel - powerful, riveting, beautifully crafted - and just too wicked for my lights.

I had paid $60 for it at an auction, enduring the patronizing smiles of the mostly male bidders as I walked away with the little orange implement.

It was too small for most of them anyway, a lightweight version of the big powerful instrument Charlie wields to cut up the bulk of our winter's stove wood.

I just felt I should know how to do the same if I had to, and I could lift and handle this saw without any strain at all.

The whole plan unraveled once I yanked the cord to turn it on. The way it bounced back from the first touch of the limb completely unnerved me. This little thing was alive and kicking.

"Bear down," Charlie mouthed over the racket.

I tried again, applying a more or less steady downward pressure to overcome that first frightening skip.

Before I knew it, the limb was history, but I flipped the switch with more than relief. What I felt was resolve that I wouldn't pull that cord again.

This is not just about gender. Though chain saws are admittedly "guy" tools in my mind, I know women who handle them just fine, and men who don't. This is more about knowing myself.

I bequeathed the saw to Charlie then and there, who began to use it for overhead work, in lieu of his heavier chain saw. The purchase was not made in vain.

"I don't mind hand-sawing when I have to," I announced.

That's what I'm doing these days while Charlie's out of town on an extended vacation, and I tend the cows and horses at home.

The woodpile dwindled alarmingly during our unusually cold March, and though warmer weather has come, nights remain cool.

I found a few evening's worth of comfort after rooting about the basement and barn workshops for lumber scraps. Then I spent a couple of nights at the log cabin in the sugar camp, its hearth fire blazing with wood from the small stack under that porch.

Now, though, it's high time to drag some fallen limbs from the brush lots and fence lines and begin stocking up the farmhouse woodshed the slow way.

It's a chore, but like many around the farm it has its charms. Anyone conversant with the quiet rhythms of a handsaw knows the answering cadence of the wood - a measured voice versus the overwhelmingly violent, vibrating screech of a chain saw.

The goat watches as I work away, back and forth, back and forth, cutting lengths. She does not watch warily from the far side of her pen as when the power saw roars, but sociably, her stance relaxed, her nose twitching through the woven wire two feet away from me.

Cynthia and I see eye to eye on the issue of chain saws.

I've cut just enough to stoke the woodstove for a night or two, and already I look forward to cozying up to it with my book tonight. But not, despite how much I admire the writing, a Stephen King novel. What I have in mind is a nice sensible mystery, a literary handsaw I can pick up with confidence.

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