Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hooray for Hurricanes and Chainsaws!

I'm still pretty new to Texas, the Gulf Coast and hurricanes, but I gotta say that I thoroughly enjoyed the last hurricane season. I'm not trying to make light of the devastation experienced by many, but for me the highlights go something like this:
  1. Got a one week holiday since the office was closed and I had no power or phone.
  2. Got to cook outdoors in dutch ovens. It was like camping! Since we had a lot of time to cook, we ate better than some weeks when we did have power.
  3. Got to roam around the neighborhood helping random people cut up trees, clean yards, etc. The sense of community was awesome and I met a lot of nice people.
  4. Cooked and ate a lot of meat since there was no power for the freezer. So did everyone else. It was like a huge BBQ block party at times.
  5. Chevron gave us a good generator and some other gear that we got to keep.
  6. Insurance gave us a nice chunk of change to rebuild the fence and make some minor drywall repairs due to water leaks. I did the work myself for a fraction of the cost and used the rest of the money to buy tools and TVs!
  7. Insurance also bought us a new roof ($15,000!) which the house was going to need soon anyway.
  8. It was a good excuse to buy a chainsaw and a trailer so I'd be prepared to help out with service projects and cleanup for next hurricane season.
Point #8 brings us to the real subject of today: Chainsaws. Chainsaws are right up there with guns, barbeque and demolition derby when it comes to truly manly redneck pursuits. I find them intoxicating, really. And after attending a few church-organized cleanup parties to cut up the enormous oak and pine trees that seem to mysteriously blow over after 60+ years of commendable service, I realized that some cheapie little tree-trimming Homelite saw just would not do. I needed a real saw. Dare I say, a manly man's saw?

Let me pause here to mention that I inherited a lot of traits from my father including an analytical mind, the ability to work with my hands, the desire to fix my own stuff whenever I can, and a propensity to sweat profusely at the slightest exertion. But he'll probably to be the first to suggest that I didn't particularly inherit his keen sense of spendthrift or tendency to purchase tools that are just good enough for the occasional home handyman task. Don't get me wrong here. I think that moderation certainly has it's place, but mostly for things like exercise, jury duty, dancing in public, changing poopy diapers, and consuming soy-based food products other than soy sauce. So when I decided to buy a chainsaw, I knew it wasn't going to be small, and it probably wasn't going to be cheap. But it would be well made, reliable, and of course very manly.

Those who know me well know that I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to researching products I'm considering purchasing, especially if they cost more than $50. I spent hours online searching websites and forums and finally decided to buy a Dolmar chainsaw ( If anyone reading this knows something about chainsaws you might think "wonder why he didn't get a Husqvarna or a Stihl?" If you want details, send me your email and I'll tell you all about it, but suffice to say I was impressed with the power, weight, reliability and rave reviews from professional users. Plus I always get a little extra thrill out of finding a great product that is perhaps not well known. In the pictures you'll see below, you'll notice that the saw says "Makita" on it and is unmistakably Makita blue and grey, not Dolmar red and black. That's because Makita bought out Dolmar some time ago and at the Dolmar factory in Germany they paint some blue and some red, but rest assured they're all Dolmar. I bought mine from a Home Depot rental center in Houston. It was the 64cc version with a 20" bar and came with one chain, eight bottles of mix oil and a gallon of bar oil all for $459 if memory serves me. Not content with a mere 64cc and 4.8 horsepower, I ordered a bigger piston and cylinder online for a few hundred more, installed them myself, and brought the saw up to 79cc and 6.3 horsepower. I was able to do this because Dolmar uses the same bottom end for several different sizes of saws that differ only by piston and cylinder. I also added a 24" bar, though I'm pretty sure it could handle up to a 36" bar in a pinch depending on the wood type and if I adjusted the bar oiler to the maximum setting.

Enough with the technical details. The bottom line is I love this saw. It's essentially a small dirt bike engine bolted to a saw chain, and it HOWLS! Give me a sharp chain and in no time I'll lay waste to your mighty forest and leave you with a pile of bucked up logs. As powerful as the saw is, I'm delighted to report that it starts like a dream, it's dead smooth and I can run it for hours continuously without any vibration numbness or fatigue. Truly a joy to use and highly recommended to anyone looking for a professional quality saw. The only real downsides to this saw are the face muscle cramps you'll get from long periods of goofy ear-to-ear grinning, and being pestered by the other manly rednecks who want to know what kind of saw that is and where you got it. If you luck out you may even be able to pick up a slightly used one from a Home Depot rental center when they sell off their rental equipment a few times a year. I've heard of people picking them up for under $200 in good condition.

Anyway, here are some pics from a wood cutting project this weekend:

Here's the biggest of the three oak trees we cut up. This and the other two were blown down during hurricane Ike and had been lying here for months. Finally someone in the Elder's quorum presidency just knocked on the guy's door and asked if he needed help cutting them up. Of course he accepted, so the Mormons swarmed the place on a Saturday and got to work.

The two smaller trees.

The wood pile is growing...

(in caveman voice): Logs HEAVY! Wheelbarrow GOOD!

The mighty Poulan "Wild Thing" had a few troubles that day, but it couldn't keep Brother Eggett from smiling!

Yours truly tackling the base of the biggest tree. That's the 24" bar.

Finishing the back side of the cut. Aaaaaah, the smell of wood chips, two-stroke exhaust and testosterone.

Safety first kids. Here's the close-up shot to show you that I'm wearing wrap-around polycarbonate glasses and custom earplugs. Also I recommend grinning with your mouth shut while sawing. I think I spit out about a half pound of sawdust throughout the event.

The final wood pile. We're coming back for a bonfire when he lights it. I'm pretty sure it'll be melt-your-face hot from a distance of 30 feet.

Here she is. I've dubbed her the Blue Banshee.

This was the fattest chunk of the biggest oak tree. It got that way because of some serious burl growth that you can see in the picture as crazy swirly wood grain and gnarly bumps. I wanted to cut it into slabs and eventually use the wood for some cool woodworking project, but I only got a few slices into it before I discovered that it was rotten in the core and cockroaches of all sizes had made a nest in there and started swarming out of the log. I'm glad none of the other manly men were around to see me freak out like a little girl as I swatted at cockroaches crawling up my neck. I took what wood was usable and pitched the rest. I still managed to harvest a few hundred pounds of nice oak burl wood. I'll stash them in the garage and let them dry out as best they can in the humid Houston weather and figure out what to do with them later.

Until next time, chainsaw careful folks...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Parks and the 9/80 Work Schedule...

What's a 9/80 work scedule?  Well, it means I work 9 hours every Monday -Thursday, 8 hours  on Friday and every other Friday off.  That's why I was able to join the fam on "park day" and get a few pics and videos of the kids.   Check it out: