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Glorious Melancholia

February 19, 2012

I went down to the farm with hopes that there might be enough snowfall in the course of the morning to allow me to get my sled out into the woods to do a bit more harvesting, but it was not to be. Despite a forecast calling for four to six inches, at its peak the snow was not enough to stick and during the drive it was never more then a spitting on the windshield. But I had an alternative plan, and that was to try out my new slick to flatten a beautiful piece of red cedar I’ve been saving for a bench. A slick is a large chisel. In this case a chisel with a 3 ½ inches wide blade and a two foot long handle. I got it from the Fine Tool Journal’s on line auction. It arrived a couple of weeks ago and needed a bit of sharpening, but that was fairly easy and I was eager to try it out. There is a very special joy that comes of acquiring a new tool and learning that it really works well. Conversely, it is a deep disappointment to buy a tool that doesn’t work as well as expected. But let’s not dwell on the negative. After some effort, I succeeded in clamping the large piece of cedar down to the bench and I was able to use this new tool to level the top and bottom and get both sides smooth enough that I should be able to finish the job with spokeshaves and scrapers. At that point I imagine I should have a pretty interesting piece.
While I was working a youngish father and son strolled by in the fitful snow and stopped to chat a bit. I explained some of what I was doing and gave them some suggestions as to where to walk in the woods. They seemed curious and friendly and explained they were newly relocated from San Francisco. I refrained from making a Mark Twain-ish joke about how the weather must make them homesick for summer back home, but I’ve never been to San Francisco, summer or winter, so I didn’t feel I had a right.
There never did fall enough snow that day to take my sled out, so visitors were a welcome relief. After I finished preliminaries on the cedar, I took out some wedges and a small sledgehammer and split some blocks of white oak. The sections were any where from 16 to 24 inches in diameter and the slabs I ended up with were about 5 inches thick. I am hoping to make some stocky little stools out of them by drilling holes in the bottoms and fashioning legs out of the oak billets I split out of the remaining stock.
I then took a walk down to the old sawmill. At this point the sawmill is a long pile of rubble. The only thing standing is the massive planer that has been rusting away for years, but now is completely exposed to the elements. The snow at this point was falling steadily though still not sticking. And as I carefully made my way amid the ancient machinery, broken planks, nails, and rotten floorboards, I stopped when I got to the thirty inch circular saw blade still rust frozen in place for, at least, thirty years. Staring at the old blade, balanced on the bare floor joists, and transported by the snow’s vertiginous effects, I felt myself amidst the hubbub of the sawmill in its heyday. Once upon a time it was awhirl with activity. Trees were brought by truck, loaded onto the skidway, and rolled one at a time by men with cant hooks and held firm against the knee by the mechanical hammer dogs. The great World War Two surplus truck engine roared away as it powered, by a system of massive belts, the saw blade, the carriage, and when needed the huge planer. The foreman pulled the tensioner lever engaging the belts and the tree trunks shuttled back and forth on the carriage as the blade tore through the wood with each pass. With each return the log was pulled a set distance closer to the blade, and another pass produced another plank. The trees were never seasoned so the planks were thick, heavy, and wet. Images fly by. Men shouting. Engine roaring. Blade whirling. Wood chips flying. Snow falling. Sound receding. Machinery rusting. Memories fading. Again I am standing amid the dreary, remains of a collapsed and decaying sawmill. A brief and glorious melancholy flickers past, but it’s not a bad day. I got to use a new old tool, met some nice folks, saw some old friends, got started on some interesting pieces, and got a brief glimpse of days gone by. All in all, that’s why I keep coming back.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Austin permalink
    March 11, 2012 3:43 pm

    I know how great it is to see old machinery and cars etc. sitting peacefully where they lay, but is there any chance of that planer being for sale?

    • March 11, 2012 4:32 pm

      We have tentatively offered it to an old family friend. However, he has a time limit to pick it up. Are you in the neighborhood?

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