I thought we had every kind of saw known to man. We have manual saws and power saws, wood saws and metal saws. We have a chop saw and a circular saw and four – count ‘em, four – chain saws. We have a Sawzall, a tool with a name that we’ve discovered is not to be taken literally. I didn’t think we had a pole saw, but Kevin pointed out that we have a pole and we have a saw, and we have duct tape, so it comes to the same thing.
So you’ll understand my surprise when, at an estate sale yesterday, Kevin found a saw we didn’t have.
“Honey,” he said, with more excitement than a saw has any right to generate, “I’ve been looking all over for one of these.”
He held out a box containing a rope saw.
A rope saw?
It’s not a saw for cutting rope. It’s a saw for cutting high limbs of trees. It’s basically an eighty-foot rope with a chainsaw blade in the middle and a weight on one end. You throw the weighted end over the limb you want to cut, and position the rope so the blade is on top of the limb. Then you take one end of the rope, and give your wife the other. The two of you pull the chainsaw blade back and forth until the limb comes off.
If ever a tool had Laurel and Hardy written all over it, the rope saw does. For starters, it lacks the gravitas that a serious tool should have. I mean, really. It’s made with string and a beanbag. Besides that, although a rope saw is a great idea in theory, so very many things can go wrong.
Let’s begin with Step One: throwing the bean bag over the tree limb. Keeping in mind that the rope saw is for the tree limbs you can’t reach with your pole saw, think about the job of lobbing the beanbag in just the right spot. The limb is probably thirty feet away, and also probably surrounded by other limbs. To get it over the right limb, without getting tangled in any of the wrong limbs, is daunting.
Our particular limb was only about twenty-five feet off the ground, but if I had had to get the beanbag over it, I can guarantee I’d still be other there, thirty-six hours later. Luckily, Kevin did the throwing, and he got it over on the second try.
(A wifely aside: If you’re like me in that what you value about a husband is his intelligence and humor, his honesty and trustworthiness, his fortitude and resourcefulness, and you don’t give a damn about how big and strong and good-looking he is, your instincts will give the lie to your priorities when you watch the man you chose accomplish a physical feat, like throwing a beanbag over a tree limb, with skill and finesse. At that point, he could have dragged me into his cave by my hair, and it would have been okay.)
There was only one problem with Kevin’s dead-on balls accurate throw. The beanbag kept going, and wrapped itself around the limb one more time.
We tried to flick the rope so the loop wrapped around the limb would slacken, but that didn’t work. Then we tried attaching a weight to the other end of the rope saw and throwing that over, thereby undoing the loop from the other end.
Again, Kevin got it over in just a couple of tries. Unfortunately, there was a twig sticking up between the initial loop and the spot where the other end went over. We thought that, if we pulled it hard enough, it might break the twig. But it also might not, in which case we’d be in even worse shape than we already were.
It was time to break out the ladder and the bamboo.
The ladder got Kevin up about eight feet, and the bamboo, a leftover length from our high-stakes gardening trellis, was about fifteen feet long. He used the end to nudge the beanbag over the limb, and we were in business.
This brings us to the problems of Step Two: positioning the chain over the limb. The main problem is that only one side of the chain is sharp, and there’s some kind of law that guarantees that it’s not the side facing the wood.
We started sawing, and I marveled at how easy it was. The chain absolutely glided over the limb! I don’t know how much time it would have taken me to notice that we weren’t actually sawing anything, but I’m pretty sure it would have been embarrassingly long. Luckily, Kevin pointed out that we weren’t cutting before I had the chance to say anything stupid.
Then came the challenge of getting the chain right-side up. Basically, you just flick it around and hope for the best. It’s not a precision fix. We flicked it around, and it finally came down in the right position. The eagle had landed! We were good to saw.
That’s Step Three: sawing. It’s actually pretty easy. First you pull, then the other guy pulls. You get in a rhythm and the sawdust starts falling. But woe betide you if you pull too far and the chain comes too far to your side, so the rope is in the slot you’ve created. Once you do that – and I assure you that you will do that – you can’t get the chain back in the slot.
Why? It’s physics. The slot is narrow, but the knots that attach the rope to the chain are not. So, if the rope is in the slot and you try and pull it so the chain gets back in the slot, you get jammed on the knot. Every time.
So, you may ask, wouldn’t that same knot have kept the chain where it belonged? How did it get out of the slot in the first place? The answer is that I have no bloody idea. A rope saw only defies the laws of physics when it’s working against you.
We were back to the ladder and the bamboo. Kevin tried to use the end of the bamboo to lift the chain up over the limb so he could drop it in the slot, but the chain kept slipping off. Luckily, bamboo is hollow, so we put a Y-shaped stick in the end and that solved the problem. The chain nestled in the Y of the stick, and Kevin was able to maneuver it.
We were on to Step Four: making sure the limb doesn’t land on anything important. We thought we were in the clear on this one because the limb, which had been casting much too much shade on our garden, was directly over the driveway. All we had to do was move the truck.
Unfortunately, there’s no accounting for falling wood. The limb broke, swung, and landed on the other side of the tree. It was three feet from the newly laid brick hearth of our wood-fired oven, and two feet from my head.
Step Five is the clincher: congratulating yourselves on saving the $150. the guy with the bucket truck would have cost.
The rope saw cost seven bucks. Laurel and Hardy should do so well.