Thursday, January 10, 2008

I’ve Got the Power…?

I’ve used power tools before, but mostly with “live advice” nearby (invited or not). The situation of being alone (as in “miles from anyone”) with a two-page manual that was mostly legal backside-covering and a brand new -- sharp -- circular saw was a bit intimidating. That, and the fact that this saw was so heavy that I was bracing my knees against a chair in order to lift it, made me wonder if there isn’t a market niche for “tools for women and small home owners”. If they can make computers fit in your pocket, they can come up with a lightweight circular saw that can be lifted by someone whose hands can’t palm a gallon of milk! But I digress.

The manual first required that I insert the saw blade. The manual was very precise about which washer went on which side of the blade, facing which direction. However, it kept talking about the “enclosed wrench” -- and I shook out the box, checked the manual for tape or a plastic bag, looked on all sides of the styrofoam padding in case it had gotten embedded, even pried apart some of the corrugated cardboard… no wrench. Out in the country, it is not such a simple thing to drive back to the store and say, “there is a part missing”… and in any case, I really wanted those shelves immediately! Fuming, I found some of my jewelry tools and managed to use a needle-nose pliers to unscrew the bolts, insert the blade (which, because you have to hold back the scimitar-shaped, spring-hinged metal safety cover, is a little like trying to stuff a 25-lb turkey with a dessert fork, or get a 4 year old hyperactive kid to sit down in a dentist‘s chair) and then re-tighten the bolts.

Then I proceeded to the page on how to actually turn it on and use it. That, too, has been redesigned with your safety and convenience in mind -- and if you believe that, I have a legal contract for you to sign. Now you can’t just squeeze the button on the handle -- you must really want to turn the saw on, as evidenced by the fact that you are willing to squeeze one button with one hand, and another button on the other side of the machine with your other hand -- all while lifting and steering a 35-pound, angrily buzzing metal saw! That is much safer… much -- and if you believe that…! In fact, as long as they’re putting safety warnings on boxes, I think they should be required to print on the outside of the box, easily readable -- before you buy it! -- that you will need to lift 35 pounds with your arms akimbo while gently pressing and holding two half-hidden buttons that cause the machine to vibrate like an insane washing machine, and then steer it across solid wood! That’s truth in advertising.

Anyway, as I looked at the operating diagram on page 8, I saw the first mention of where they’d hidden the damned wrench! It is literally tucked into the saw just below the “protrusion adjustment” (no, this wasn’t a sex manual), in the same way that staples are tucked into a stapler -- in other words, impossible to extract. Some smug male engineer had discovered a use for the two linear inches of the saw chassis that weren’t covered with screws, levers or sharp edges. Doubtless he believed -- like all engineers -- that the customers would immediately look on the only non-functional surface of the machine, knowing that it would be used for something. Either that or some manager came in one day, pointed to this blank space and said, “We’re paying two cents per inch to manufacture these -- find something to do here!”

After a few nail-bending moments, I managed to winkle out the flat, wrench-shaped scrap of metal and double-check that the saw was anchored securely. Then I dragged the saw over to the 12” shelving board, safely laid over a couple of unpacked boxes about knee-high. Of course the cord couldn’t reach to the wall, so I spent another few moment unearthing, then untangling, a 20ft. extension cord to about a 6ft length (the rest was dredlocked in a permanent snarl). I gripped the saw, tried to line it up with the pencil mark barely visible under the plate-armor carapace of the saw, felt around for the safety button -- couldn’t find it. Another few minutes with the manual, trying to match their arrow with parts of the machine that seemed to push in. Finally, tentatively, I found both buttons and squeezed. The saw leapt to life, ate a ragged line across the board, and an inch from the end, I realized the board was gonna collapse on my foot in another second. I lifted the saw so that it chomped the final inch and kept going, barely missing the paper file. The boards flew upward rather than down, but that was all to the good. One solid cut made and all my fingers and toes still attached. It was a bit of an anticlimax, really, when I discovered I’d cut the board three inches too short.

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