the saw

closeup of a chainsawIt was taking forever.

The ice storm brought down branches. We piled some in the backyard to turn into fire wood for the next ice storm.

The power company decided that they didn’t want branches falling on the power lines again. They cut down branches and trees. They piled them in the back yard.

After six months, it was finally time to clean up the pile of branches, clean up the woodpile. Andrew started working on the pile, moving the old wood closer to the house.  I got out the chainsaw.

It started fine. It cut poorly. The blade was dull.

I have no idea when it had last been sharpened. Three of us have used the saw for different projects. We have a couple files, but none of us have used them.

I splurged on a new blade (I’ll get the old ones sharpened later). I put it on. I started the saw. It cut great. But it stalled. I kept trying.

It was still taking forever.

“Don’t push so hard.” Andrew mouthed the words over the roar of the saw as it started again.

I turned off the saw. He said, “You only changed the blade. It’s still the same saw. It cuts better, but it doesn’t have more power. Stop pushing so hard.”

Andrew has never run a chain saw. Never. How could he know what he was talking about?

  • Not like my great-grandfather who homesteaded land in northern Wisconsin, turning jackpine into 2 by 4 studs.
  • Not like my grandfather, who would wake us up at 7:30am when we were on vacation on some of that same land. He woke us up because he had been up since 5 and the morning was half gone and he knew we wanted to cut down that oak tree while we were on vacation.
  • Not like my dad who spent more time building men than cutting trees, but still understood the value of letting the tool do the work at its own speed.

How could Andrew know anything about not trying harder than the tool, this 22 year old who five days ago asked a girl to spend the rest of her life with him, cats on the porch, her brother watching from the doorway, the neighbor loudly backing his car out of the driveway? Except the girl laughs because though it wasn’t the huge romantic event, it was a request perfectly suited to the two of them.

Steven Covey talks about sharpening the saw, about spending time to make sure that your tools are in good shape. I thought about that as I was trying to cut with a dull blade today. I thought about that as I had to figure out how to mix gas for the saw. I thought about that as I had to find the tool to take the saw apart to replace the blade. I thought about how much time I don’t spend on keeping blades sharp.

But then Andrew put it in perspective. Keep the blade sharp. But use it at the speed it was designed for. Relax. Let the tool do the work. Because maybe, if you slow down and let the work happen at the right speed, you can hear generations speaking in the voice of your son. As you spend time with him. Sharpening your saw.


9 responses to “the saw

  1. There’s something else you can do wrong with a chain saw if you get in a hurry. Put the blade on backwards. Then it doesn’t cut at all. I know. I did it.

    Thanks for the post, John. I’m working on saw sharpening myself.

  2. I was so concerned about that today, Jim.

  3. What a wise boy. What a wise man, I mean. ‘Don’t push so hard’. See what happens when you don’t…

    I love the way the wisdom of the generations flows through this piece. The way we can keep on learning from each other.

    By the way, from an old romantic this side of the Atlantic… the proposal sounds just perfect. Just perfect.

  4. It’s a difficult balance between pushing to improve my skillset & relaxing in who God made me to be.

    I’m still trying to figure out that.

  5. northpointcc

    There is a skill in sharpening the blade as well. Both sides need to be filed equally – if not the saw will cut at an angle. As we sharpen our skills, there needs to be a sense of balance as well.

  6. My dad is a forester. Just reading this post my mind filled with the sounds and smells of my dad cutting down trees.

    Yet, as I read this I’m not sure I’ve ever used a chainsaw. I’ve been around them my whole life and yet….

    There is something wrong with that and I need to fix it. Thanks for he morning kick in the brain.

  7. thank you Joanna. And you are right. These 20 somethings are men. And have wisdom.

    Paul – I understand that waiting and wondering well.

    Tom, on vacation, and reading and writing about balance? Thank you friend.

  8. This is beautiful.

  9. I saw this shot on Flickr days and days ago- and couldn’t tell immediately from the thumbnail what the subject was. I knew it would be here, and I’m glad I made time tonight.

    I’ve missed it here.