The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Black and Decker Worm Gear Saw

Tuesday, April 15, 1975
Not mine, but similar

Sonny says if I want to be a genuine carpenter, I need a worm gear saw.  And he's found one.  Together we drive in Sonny's old truck to an industrial area of San Jose where he finds a guy working out of a garage. 

Sonny, always friendly, says, "Hi.  I'm Sonny."

The guy avoids our eyes.  "Pleasedameetcha," he mumbles, wiping greasy fingers on a rag, then briefly shaking hands.  He has a black mustache and hair that needs a brush.

He's got two worm gear saws for sale at this moment, each a rebuild.  "That's what I do," he says.  "Fix 'em and sell 'em."

"Where do you get them?" I ask.

He frowns, looks away.

Oops.  Some things you aren't supposed to ask.  I don't want to buy a stolen saw, but these tools are freshly rebuilt with bright new copper windings on the motors.  If you want to steal construction equipment, you don't grab the broken stuff.

My instant character judgment is that this mumbly dude is good at his work, shy with people, has a shady past but has found his niche.  He can handle salvaging tools but not much else.

It's a choice between a clean-looking silver Skilsaw for $80 or a roughed-up old Black and Decker for $70.  New, they sell for $129.

Sonny asks, "Which is better?" 

Mustache guy picks up the Black and Decker.  "Looks like piss because it's older.  And yeah, it's heavier.  Nobody wants it, but they built 'em better back then.  I put new windings.  Forget the paint job.  Paint don't cut.  I make more money on the Skil, but honest to God, this is stronger."

"I'll take it," I say.  Rebuilding that Black and Decker, I sense, was a work of love.

He wants the check made out to "Cash."  He never told us his name.

I'll use - and abuse - that saw for the next 21 years.  I'll build decks, rooms, entire houses in good weather and bad, cutting good lumber and bad, working that saw just as hard as I work my own body.  In other words, I'll work the crap out of it. 

Near the end, the top handle came loose and would lift off when you were in the middle of guiding a cut.  Then the blade went out of alignment putting extra load on the motor.  The blade guard jammed and broke off, turning the tool into a lethal weapon.  And at last - on March 20, 1996 - when I'm ripping timbers, the motor starts bubbling, and the saw dies in a cloud of black smoke. 

Some tools you're fond of.  Some you just push hard.  That old Black and Decker was a solid worker, and I maintained it - or near the end, failed to maintain it - without sentiment.  I don't have a photo.  I never thought of it as a memory I'd want to preserve.

Instead of throwing it out, my son Jesse wanted it.  In college he was studying to be an engineer (and a philosopher).  In the summer, he was a counselor at a summer camp.  He took the dead saw to Plantation Farm Camp where in a stroke of genius he'd invented a popular activity in which he and his campers would take apart old broken tools.  They'd handle the parts.  Pull springs.  Turn gears.  Touch the grease and sawdust and dirt.  Spread little pieces over a concrete floor.  With a sense of wonder and play they became familiar with human industrial ingenuity. 

As a final act, the campers took turns with a sledge hammer.  Gleefully, they smashed everything to bits.  Jesse knew just what kids wanted.

In that final dismantling and smashing, as in Mr. Mumbly's long-ago rebuild, the old Black and Decker received more respect than I'd given it in 21 years.

Some day my overworked motor will start bubbling, too.  I'm already out of alignment.  Some people would claim that my top handle comes off with more and more frequency.  Maybe I'll go out in a cloud of black smoke.  Then please, I ask you, dismantle me. 

See how I'm put together.  Handle my parts.  Touch the grease and sawdust and dirt that I'm sure are inside me somewhere. 

Appreciate the biological ingenuity.  Show some respect. 

Then, if you want, take turns with the sledge hammer.  I've got one you could use.

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