Lesson three from Dave was the most challenging (read ‘frightening’) to date. It is not that he insisted, but rather I figured that while I have someone here who knows what they are doing, I might as well make the most of it and get some safety lessons and usage tips. I’ve been rather like a stone age person working with my chainsaw-like tool; I’ve gone by feel and instinct, and been lucky so far. Until last Friday, I had never used a real chainsaw.
I looked for my steel-toed boots but could not find them. I was not sure if Dave would want me using the saw without the boots. When I asked him if he was worried about my toes he stopped suddenly in front of me as if my question had momentarily frozen time. As he turned to face me, his eyes flashed and his eyebrows clamped down hard above them. His jaw took a defiant angle as he looked me up and down and said: “I’m worried about all your parts.”
The first exercise was to ‘buck up’ a fallen tree. Actually, the first real exercise was to learn how to start the darn saw! “Some guys put the saw on the ground, step on it and pull-start it,” Dave said derisively, before telling me that it was a risky way of starting the machine in these conditions. The chain could inadvertently hit something on the ground upon start-up, flip up into you and “ruin your whole day”. The safe way to start the saw is to hold it in one hand and pull-start it with the other. Sounds easier than it is!
He demonstrated it to me a couple of times and then handed me the saw. When you are not a big, burly male with powerful upper body strength, it is not an easy task. After the first six or seven tries, I began to think I’d never be able to do it. I gave him a pleading look that had no effect on him at all, but elicited a delicate hand gesture that said ‘carry on.’ Finally, pull number eight (or nine, or ten) brought the saw to life. It was a rush–not to mention relief–to hear the saw growl. The trick is to push the saw away from you with your left hand, while pulling the start cord up with your right, all in one fluid motion. When it screamed to life I was thrilled (“The First Cut is the Loudest”), because I had doubts about my ability to even start the darn thing. I beamed over at Dave who was smiling like a proud father while giving me two thumbs up, before bellowing over the saw, “Great, now turn it off!”
I turned the saw off and took my ear cover off to hear what his next advice would be. He offered three words along with his delicate hand gesture: “Do it again.” Three times he made me start and stop the saw before turning me loose on the newly fallen–by him–tree. Before getting to actually fall a real tree, he wanted me to get a feel for the saw. Once I made my first couple of cuts into the big alder, I had moments of fear and near panic–“My god, this could kill me…what was I thinking, wanting to learn to use a chainsaw…this is a job for a man, not me” and so on– for four more cuts.
After I bucked off the first 4-5 feet of the tree, Dave signaled me to turn off the saw again, and gave me some pointers. Pointer number one was: don’t have the saw going full tilt! Not knowing any better, I had taken to the tree with a vengeance, squeezing hard down on the throttle and working at the log like a hungry man with a steak knife at a Texas barbecue; but that is totally unnecessary–not to mention more dangerous–and once you get the hang of it and a feel for the accelerator, you can make the cuts quite gingerly, coming to a near stop with the chainsaw as you get to the end of the cut. I made a few more cuts and suddenly he stepped forward. “Lunchtime!” he smiled, taking hold of the saw and gesturing ‘after you’ towards our ‘lunch room’–a grove of trees with table and chairs set up in the shade.
After lunch, he lead me through the bucking up of the rest of the tree. I made firewood out of most of it, including the bigger limbs. By the end of the job I was exhausted! Not only that, I realized that I’d not had another thought about how scary it was working with the chainsaw. Instead, I had only concentrated on the task at hand and actually found myself enjoying it. However, holding the saw, bending over, making sure I didn’t trip and kill myself–a very real consideration when bucking up branches that get tangled around your feet and legs while you work–really took it out of me. My forearms were nearly as tired as my back. I now have a whole new appreciation for what he’s been doing. When he wields the chainsaw, he makes it look like a butter-knife. When I said this to him he laughed, “No, it’s hard work for me too. I’m carrying that saw just like you are, and it is work.”
Two days later he talked me through my first tree falling job; it was exhilarating.