Sunday, April 21, 2013

And now for something completely different

In my last blog post, i said how i was going to move away from death and at some point chatter on about things not so inevitable.

Well, this past week left me gaping. I'm sure it did many others as well. I'm so happy to say that all my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in and around Beantown are safe. Whole. Alive. I am very, very grateful for that.

Meantime, before That Crazy Week, not very much more, maybe a week or so, i was reading the local paper and saw a class being offered. I had seen it offered once before, made a mental note about it, and didn't follow through. It was a chainsaw class. At the time, Himself had a chainsaw that scared the stuffin's out of me. I just didn't trust that tool (the chainsaw not Himself ;-), and he cursed a blue streak as the thing kept breaking chains. Yes, he got it from somebody else for free, but sometimes, you get what you pay for. Just before Christmas, he saw a chain saw he thought would suit our needs very well, so bought it and told me it ought to be a Christmas gift for him. So, i made a bow to put on it, and it has been in the barn. He said he'd show me how to use it, and while he seems to have every intention of showing me, it just didn't happen.

When i saw the chainsaw class once again, aimed specifically for women, i decided this time i'd take it. I had a brand new chainsaw sitting in the barn i was too afraid to use because i haven't a clue. But it was a differnt fear— fear of the unknown to the unintiated—as opposed to fear of somethig so dangerous to use that even an expert would want to run away from it.

In order to take the class, i needed to get PPE—Personal Protection Equipment. That consists of eye protection, ear protection, head protection, chaps, and steel-toed boots. Gloves were also on the list. All of this made sense to me, although i didn't think i'd need head protection as i didn't envision myself felling any trees, rather i'd cut the huge branches already fallen to the ground. Himself mentioned that they have a three-in-one set up where you can get a hardhat and have the ear muffs and screen or clear visor already attached. I have ear muffs that i use when mowing the lawn, and safety glasses, but i could see that the ear muffs would be hard to use with a hardhat, so i splurged for the three-in-one. I also got a pair of chaps that i hoped would fit all right. None of the Kevlar® work gloves fit me because, yes, they're made for men. They don't make them for boys, and they don't seem to understand that there are women who may need to use them. So, i got a pair of leather insulated gloves, which will be very hot in summer. Because they were the only ones that fit, other than gardening gloves, and they wouldn't offer much in the way of protection.

Then the shoes. I have hiking boots, but they aren't steel-toed. The helpful email, which came with general directions for both class days (it's a two-day class, meeting on successive Sundays) mentioned two stores that carry steel-toed boots for women. One was 45 minutes away and the other an hour away. I went to a department store near me, about 10 minutes away, just to see if they had any. They did, but none in my size. they had two models: one that looked more like a sneaker/trainer, and the other that was more like a workboot. The sneaker one came in a smaller size, but the smallest one they had didn't fit me all that well; i needed 1/2 size smaller. The kind man in the shoe department volunteered to call a sister store about 35 minutes away. Yes, they had the size i needed, and they would hold those for me.

I made my way down there, about 5 minutes from the hardware store where i had gotten the PPE (the email had said they offered a discount for those taking the class, and they did, 15%), and tried on the shoes. The boots fit wonderfully well, and the saleswoman helping me there was very interested about the class.

Today was the first class which ran from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. One female and one male instructor tag teamed and took us through the basics. Another man was there, from the hardware store, Albert, who could answer specific questions about the brand of chainsaw they carried (Stihl), and he had swag bags for each participant. One man worked with the instructors a lot and where there just to help where needed. One man signed up for the class, as he had never learned how to use a chainsaw. All the rest of were women, age range early 20's to late 50's/early 60's. Most of us had never started a chainsaw before. Some, like me, had brought the ones they were planning on using at home or had used or tried to use at home. The instructors had several chainsaws there for us to practice with, too, or if we wanted to try a different one from the one we brought, or for those who didn't have one. The hardware guy had brought along several models, one of them being an easy start one.

Each of us got the chance to start a chainsaw. Some of us found it too difficult to hold the chainsaw between our legs and with one hand (two points of contact needed for starting one), so we tried starting it on the ground. Mine, being absolutely brand new and never fired up, had to be switched on, primed six times, open the choke fully, pull five times, then half choke and start. Only after the fifth pull it didn't nearly turn over, and i pulled closer to a dozen times. It finally started, and i promptly stalled it out. Couldn't get the damn thing restarted. Tish, the female instructor, asked if i wanted to take a little breather and try again later. I nodded, letting someone else try her turn. Albert walked over, and Tish took the easy start model from him. She asked if i were still tired. I admitted i was just a little, and she asked me to try starting the easy start. Started right up with almost no effort. She had a few other women in my group try it. They, too, were able to start it quite easily. We all marvelled.

Still, i wanted to start the one i had brought and keep the damn thing running. Point of honour, i suppose. Tish helped me to get it fired up again, and when she tried it, she also found that it cut out. She figured out that if she pressed the throttle up all the way, it cut out. Safety feature maybe? I thought it was crazy, and she did, too. Another woman in our group had the same kind of model i did, and she had the same thing happen.

The man who worked with the instructors was helping her. Tish explained what she found with mine, and he wondered if it were not so much a safety device, as to be some sort of automatic thing used to break in the new chainsaw. That also sounded plausible, and the only way we'd know for sure was to use it or try to, and see what would happen.

After we all had chances to start up chainsaws, learn to press the throttle, release the chain brake (the SAFE way), rev it up, and then turn it off, we went into the woods. Pete, the male instructor, was going to fell a pine, Tish was going to limb (delimb), then they were going to buck it, and allow us all chance to use our chainsaws "to make cookies" or cut up or down to take little slices off the log.

Next week's class will cover felling in more detail, as Pete said, this was first blush, but boy, did he make it look easy. I know it was his years of experience making it look that way, and in short order he and Tish had bucked two good sized logs so we could take turns making our cookies.

I was going to go first, but had to start my chainsaw. I knew we were a little pressed for time, so said if i was having trouble getting mine started, someone else could see if she could start hers and go ahead of me. Everyone thought this a good idea, and sure enough, it was taking me a few pulls. Someone else got hers started on the second pull, and almost immediately after, mine kicked over. She was taller and bent at the waist to cut. That looked uncomfortable to me. She did a good job, cutting down a few times and up once.

Pete motioned for me to go next. I was one of the shortest ones there, and got into a deep squat, pressed the throttle the whole way and slowly cut. Like buttah. Granted, it was a brand new chain, and we were cutting pine, which is a soft wood, but i was amazed. I cut a few more, making one of my cookies quite thin. I hadn't squared it up, as Pete pointed out, and i said, "Yep, just like cheese." Everyone laughed and nodded, but it's true: i always cut cheese on an angle. I tried squaring it up, and it was better but still a bit angled.

After our inital tries, he then wanted us to give it a second go, cutting the thinnest cookies we could. This time i went first, my chainsaw started right up. I got too thin and again, because i can't seem to cut square, cut off half. I tried again, and was more successful with my second cut. It was more squared up, too.

The lone male student was in our group, and he cut the thinnest. It was wafer thin. We all applauded him.

One of the older women in the class, who attended with her two daughters, stood next to me as we were trying for our thin cookies. She said that Pete had said i had a really good stance and strong legs. She asked me where i had learned it, and i told her from ice hockey and yoga. She nodded and said, "Wicked strong legs." I laughed and nodded.

The class wrapped up with a quick tutorial covering how to file the chain, and the different tools available for that. By that point, i felt exhaustion invading my brain. It was a lot to take in.

I hope to practice a bit between now and next class. How to hold the chainsaw. How to engage and release the chain brake. I may even cut a piece or two off the fallen large branch from a dead tree on our property. I drove home one happy camper.


  1. A very good friend of mine sawed through his rubber boot recently, and nearly cut his foot off. He only just managed to drive the 200 metres to our house, where he collapsed. I phoned the emergency services at once, and after some initial work, they took him by helicopter to Bordeaux, where he was sown back together. He very nearly died (if he hadn't been able to reach his car, he would have died). It took him about a year to walk again properly, and now he's fine. We are now known in the village as 'the people who saved X's life'; which of course we didn't.

    I am very respectful of my own chainsaw... but I expect your instructors would be horrified by my amateurism.

  2. Cro, that's another reason why i decided taking the class was best. I don't need to learn anyone's bad habits and am naturally cack-handed. A dangerous combination.

    They have Kevlar® boots with steel toes and shanks that offer a lot of protection, but they only make them in men's sizes. Men with very small feet and many women simply won't find them in a size that fits. That's been a sore point with me time and again. It was for Tish, too.

  3. Good for you. I ticked through all the things my brother-in-law outfitted my grandson in before they cut that first tree, from your list. He had everything. I'm relieved.

    1. Good on your BIL, Joanne! I may have thought the chaps a bit of overkill, but a few years ago, a good sailing friend cut into his new Carhart's with a chainsaw. He's been using a chainsaw for years and is always very careful. Fortunately, he jerked the machine away and only got the fabric, not his skin.

      Gloves aren't required per OSHA, but they often make it more comfortable and protect your hands if there are lots of branches.

  4. I can't even handle a machete without cutting my fingers off!