January 14, 2012
I can’t get over winter days when I watch the sun rise, Mount Pahto shimmers to the west as if showing off a new coat bought at the last snowfall sale, full moon blessing mountain above its northern shoulder, and winter blue sky unfolding. Such days awaken cold and frozen, but as the day yawns and picks itself up, the thermometer moves above freezing and the day is perfect to get done a few of those chores best left to ungloved hands.
Last spring I didn’t quite get the haystack bulkhead done before we started loading hay against it. Over the holidays, we sold the last bit of the haystack in the uncompleted area. So, for the first time in six months I could finally get back to it!
The nice aspect to this chore is the haystack is a long way from electricity. Well, not so nice when the bulk of the work was going on, but great for this season. For such distance means a handsaw. Sure, I could get the generator out or I could go buy one of those fancy cordless circular saws, but sometimes it is just nice to grab a saw by the handle and enjoy the feel of steel against wood.
Perhaps what I like best about sawing wood on a sunny blue-sky day is remembrance and reflection. I can’t help but think that daddy and his daddy before him each picked up a handsaw, much like the one I am using—hand saws haven’t changed much in a lot of generations, and sawed wood. Daddy was a carpenter in addition to everything else. He crafted the wood toolbox that now sits in the shed out back. This toolbox didn’t sit in the shop, but traveled from one jobsite to the next. What amazed me, growing up, was the toolbox had a tray that slid out from the back holding five handsaws, each for a specific job. As I got some age on me, what then amazed me was the realization some of those saws had been sharpened so many times their blade width got smaller as it moved away from the handle toward the tip.
Any longer, the art of sharpening a handsaw is a lost art. I remember driving to town with daddy to drop off dull saws or pick up sharpened saws. The building was across the road from the train depot and restaurant—there wasn’t a whole lot more to town than that. You had to walk up a set of wooden stairs to a loading platform and then go into the saw shop through a wooden door that slid off to the right. Daddy was a quiet man, best I remember, but I remember having a lot of time looking around the saw shop while he and the man who sharpened saws talked. We would walk out of the shop with sharpened handsaws and saw blades for the old 77 Skill saw. Today there aren’t many folks who sharpen blades of any kind. Few people use handsaws and most circular blades are carbide tipped; when the owner is done with a blade they toss it away and head to town to buy another—our throwaway societal structure doesn’t do much to support the saw blade sharpening industry.
I don’t often take daddy’s handsaws out and use them. I choose to use my own and leave his alone, I guess because they are more of a tool to pull youthful memories to the present rather than to saw wood. And that seems to work well for me, because when I take my own handsaws down off the wall and head out to saw wood where there isn’t electricity, I feel a little more tied to those men who went before me, and a little more tied to the relationship they had with the land, the mountain, the wind, and family.