Safe Toys Only, PleaseBy Tina Traster
June 17, 2010
My friend’s husband Paul came over to cut down trees in the woods behind our house. He arrived with a gas-powered chainsaw, an electric chainsaw, soundproofing earmuffs and protective eyeglasses. My husband, misty-eyed, watched him unload his Jeep. Then they shared a manly handshake.
“I want to get rid of that one, those two over there, and that big one over there is dead, so let’s take it down, too,” I said to Paul.
“C’mon, Rick,” Paul said, slapping him on the back. “Give me a hand.”
As the men scrambled down the hill into the woods, I was secretly glad it was someone else’s husband who would be doing the dangerous work. But I wondered whether Ricky had been harboring resentment: I had refused to let him get a chainsaw or any other power tool that can chew a hand like a hungry bear.
When Ricky moved into my Upper West Side apartment 10 years ago, he had old-school hand tools: augers, planes, gimlets, awls, spokeshaves — nothing that needed gas or electricity. We kept them in the trunk of our car because there was no place inside to store them safely — and because no torture museum was in the market for artifacts. I used to say that one day a sheriff was going to stop us and ask, “Sir, can you open the trunk?” and we’d be detained for hours.
“Why don’t you get rid of these old tools?” I’d ask.
“Because one day I’m going to build something using hand tools,” he’d promise.
When we moved to Rockland County, Ricky got a shed to store his hand tools, but he insisted we needed an all-in-one Black and Decker battery-operated drill driver for our 150-year-old house.
“You can’t call the super every time something breaks,” he said.
Over the years, my husband has come to the rescue more times than I can remember, tightening towel rods, fixing cabinets. He crafted shutters, built planting boxes and framed a patio.
Until I married Ricky, the men I knew, my father included, hired other men to cut, drill and fix stuff. I had at first assumed my husband, who grew up in urban Canarsie like me, descended from similar stock. But his late father was a power-tool dealer who brought every newfangled gadget to their weekend Catskill house. Ricky’s boyhood toys were drills, saws, tractors and Sawzalls. He learned to fell a tree when he was 12.
It’s comforting to live with a man who knows his way around a toolbox. It’s even sexy, so long as he’s not in danger of getting mangled or disfigured.
Three years ago, Ricky wondered if I would consider buying him a stationary table saw for his birthday.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“A flat table with a blade underneath it,” he explained. “You turn a crank and the blade rises from the table.”
The only thing rising at that moment was my lunch.
“Why do you need that?”
“I’m thinking about building a greenhouse.”
The following weekend when we went to look at the contraption, I turned white.
“I guess you’re not too comfortable with this?” he asked. We didn’t buy one.
Weeks later, we were with our friend Peter. I noticed horrific scarring on his hand.
“I severed my hand using a table saw,” he said.
I shot Ricky a look. Even he looked a bit queasy when Peter explained how the paramedics brought his thumb on ice to the ER so it could be reattached.
Father’s Day is around the corner. I asked him what he wanted. He said a slick.
“It’s a chisel with a blade you use for post and beam construction,” he explained. “I’m going to build a timber-frame studio the old-fashioned way, using hand tools.”
I can live with that.
ahh, ain’t it wonderful. While I will never be caught dead with my Husqvarna 360 with 24″ Oregon bar and chain, (pun intended) I do understand just exactly where you’re coming from.
Chainsaws are an example of that class of tools called the “stupidity magnifiers.”
But that’s not fair to chainsaws. A chainsaw is operated at the flashpoint of a large number of very intense stresses, loads, and forces that are all yearning for freedom. It’s not that the chainsaw itself is dangerous, per se, it’s that the chainsaw is in a very hostile environment. And paradoxically, the more powerful and able to cause mayhem it is, the safer it is.
A table saw, however, is a gentleman’s sport. If there were an Olympics for saws, the table saw would be Curling.
So to hurt yourself on a table saw, requires an elite level of stupid.
But I COMPLETELY understand your point. When I used to work in printing, I would not be found within 10 feet of the big hydraulic paper trimmers. that blade just looked like it was angry. At me.
Rings can be dangerous too, Tina.
My dad wouldn’t wear a ring because so many of his engineer friends had gotten their rings caught on something and their fingers torn off.
You can’t prevent everything.
Oh boy. Even verbal images of power tools leave me weak and nervous. Glad your husband didn’t lose his digits!
My DAD! He was the engineer.
My husband lost his wedding ring the first time he scrubbed for surgery. He left it out for anyone to swipe! (Jerk!)
You’ve got the poor guy rubbing sticks together to keep your things nice! That ain’t right, girl.
But I understand.
My husband is not allowed to have a motorcycle. Those things are death traps.
I can’t stop him from having power tools because he needs them for work (I even use them from time to time. Mostly the drill, which is basically harmless), and indeed, he eventually ran an electric handsaw across his fingers, requiring many, many gruesome stitches. But it healed up and he’s just fine.
So, you know. They may magnify stupidity, but they also cure it pretty fast. He’s much more careful now.
I don’t know what it is with men (myself, especially) and the apparatus-lust which permeates our hearts. I look at a mitre saw and I feel a rush of exhilaration as I think about the custom furniture, the kitchen redesign, the hand-made closet system I’d build.
We do salivate over machines with teeth, things we can use to cut through, drill through, or melt with.
There’s something visceral in their handling, like firing a gun, that makes us feel powerful. That we can build, that we can fashion useful things from raw materials, makes us feel productive, necessary, brilliant.
Until we cut our thumbs off.
I can’t remember offhand the name of the piece or the author, but It was one of those “ten things every man should be able to do” articles, and one of the items was “design and build a house.”
I fully believe that concept.
If someone dropped you in the wilderness, you really should be able to manage staying alive for a week or so.
And apropos to your comment…one of the other essential skills was being able to dress a wound.
I fully agree that every man should be able to build a house, but that’s not usually why we buy tools. We buy them because we think we’re going to build a house. Plus, it’s just cool to cut through stuff, especially trees.
Oh, man, that hits just too close to home. I’ve been “building a house” for 7 years now. There isn’t a damn single stick of wood on it yet.
LOL! I know the feeling.I didn’t refinish my kitchen until a week before I moved out.
What I’m about to say is going to sound harsh. It is going to unfortunately brand me as a chauvinistic redneck who still believes in class warfare. But so be it.
“…He arrived with a gas-powered chainsaw, an electric chainsaw,…”
When I read this, I am reminded of how I embark on maintenance/repair/building projects with my 7 year old son. (who is now 12) One brings one’s own tools, but one must also bring along a set of tools for the boy, who will be shadowing me and mimicking my every move, from the way I drive a nail, to how I measure and mark, down to the way I hike my pants up and how I shove my work gloves into my tool belt when I need to switch into fine digital manipulation.
Not that Rick is in that league…no, I don’t mean to say that at all. I’ll bet he did some good work with that electric chain saw.
There are generally two ways to learn a lesson- the easy way or the hard way. Glad your husband opted for the former!
An 18V Lithium-Ion Makita reciprocating saw with an Milwaukee pruning blade is a mighty fine tool to take up into trees where you don’t too much want to go even with a small chainsaw.
I remember one tree-felling day where I started with my ax, homage to the rainforest people who taught me to use it, dropped a maple with it, and then went on to the chainsaw to drop the rest. I tell you, the ax was more satisfying by far, and I’ll always use one unless it’s stupid not to use a power saw.
One friend of mine cut off his thumb on a table saw. It couldn’t be reattached, so they took a big toe and used that. It’s a little weird looking and he walks strangely, but it’s functional. He calls it his “thoe.”
Finally, a useful lesson. A couple of women I knew came to help me with some clearing. One was a coffee farmer, and the other was a landscaper. When they showed with their Shindaiwa string trimmers and it was time to work they put on serious armor — helmet, mesh face mask, chest protectors, big gloves. I had to ask why — I was thinking Hey, these are pros so they understand their tools and don’t need much protection. They said, This is our business and we cannot afford to get hurt. We use these things most every day and we know what they can do to us. We don’t take chances.
Hey do you remember that public safety commerical in which a man climbed a ladder with a television antenna and right before the antenna touch the telephone lines above, the whole thing fades to gray before they showed him being loaded onto the ambulance gurney? I still chuckle when I think of that man telling his wife he can fix the t.v. by himself. Though I shouldn’t since I am indept with tools myself.
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