Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Axes and Vise Grips

Yesterday, I was helping remove a dead battery from a Yamaha Majesty scooter belonging to a friend. Once the battery is dead in a scooter, you can't drive or push-start it, and the Majesty has no kick start either, so I drove to the dead scooter with my set of tools. My Allen key wrenches were not up to the job, and before long I found myself asking if he had an axe and vice grips in his tool shed.

In case some of you are very young, by "Axe", I don't mean a sexy deodorant. It is a sharp bladed tool with a wooden handle.

That takes me back to when I was a teenager. Then I knew very little about working on cars and bikes, but I did notice that my father would often be out repairing the family car with nothing more than an axe and vise grips. Being a kind of wise-ass back then, I managed to concoct a fair number of side splittingly funny comments on this. But here I was, in the year 2010, working with an axe and vise grips like he did.

I never intended to become exactly like my father. When I got my first motorcycle, my initial tool kit consisted of a shiny metric ratchet set, in addition to the specialized tool kit that came with the bike. With time, I added more and more tools, including vise grips. But it took at least twenty years before, I finally decided to buy an axe.

The main reason my father used an axe for almost everything was multi-faceted. Number one, he had a lot of axes. Wherever you were around our house, there was always an axe somewhere near at hand, except in the vicinity of the TV, as that would have been extremely dangerous during the Saturday hockey game. Anyhow, by the fourth law of auto mechanics, the axe got used a lot simply because one was always the object closest at hand. Furthermore, my Dad was a forester, also known as "lumberjack". He didn't like to use the term lumberjack, although he started out as one, but progressed to many other jobs such as mapping, surveying, fighting forest fires, and doing logging inspections. But until he retired he was basically working in the forest, and around lumberjacks, and carrying an axe was not considered weird. Third, and by no means the least important, he was extremely skilled at using an axe. By that, I mean the axe head went where it was intended to go, with the amount of force necessary to get whatever job done, and no horrible accidents ever happened resulting from deflections or flying shrapnel There were stories of lumberjacks shaving with their axes, but I never saw my father do this. For recreation, it can be thrown at targets. But whatever you do, do not use an axe like a Frisbee, because that is dangerous.

The only other profession to use axes as much as foresters, are firefighters. Firefighting a job where you are not sure exactly what you will need to do, but whatever you bring better be damned useful and get the job done quickly. Hence, the axe.

During my teenage years, he built a log cabin during his spare time. Axes are incredibly useful for building log cabins. Actually, not so much for the new kind of prefabricated log cabins, delivered by truck with each log preshaped and numbered for assembly. But yes, for the type of log cabin where you walk into the woods for about an hour carrying an axe, stop in some random spot, and start cutting down trees and building a cabin. When he was finished, the cabin looked quite beautiful. I would be lying to say no other tools were used. However, the axe was used to chop trees, shave off the bark, flatten two sides of the logs, notch the ends, drive nails, split wood for the fire, and many other odd jobs.

Although he didn't have much of a formal education (he said grade four, but many in his family seemed to remember most of that was playing hooky.) Anyway, it didn't matter too much, as the stuff he missed probably would have been mostly religious stuff anyway. Instead, he was keen on learning about the rest of the world outside his isolated fishing community in Quebec. That would explain why he voluntarily joined the Canadian Army as soon as WW2 broke out. He was later transferred to the British Royal Engineers, which I used to think meant he was an engineer, but actually the Royal Engineers was a place that lots of non-engineers ended up, because a lot of it was unappealing work like digging foxholes, latrines, building bridges and clearing mines. And some of that is also done under fire.

I can not remember him ever without an axe, but he didn't always have vise grips. I see from Wikipedia, that, they were invented way back in 1924. But they became very popular during my youth, when my father acquired some. I guess he was finding an ever increasing need to do and undo nuts and bolts, which was difficult with an axe. And vise grips were starting to be put to many new ingenious uses as more and more people bought them.

So that brings me up to present day. The Yamaha Majesty had a couple of Allen screws that were on too tight, and the Allen key had rounded the hole. So I started with vise grips, which just slipped off. Then I got a chisel and hammer to notch the side of the bolt and turn it by hammer blows. It also didn't work, so I simply asked if there was a bigger hammer. That's when the axe made its appearance, and with a few axe taps, the screw surrendered.

Picture: I don't need to show vise grips or locking pliers, but many people do not know what a "real" axe looks like, at least judging by how long it took me to find a decent picture on the Internet.

1 comment:

  1. I'm shocked and appalled!

    Using an axe to build a log cabin is appropriate.

    Using an axe on any kind of machinery is appalling. Vice-grips are bad enough, but an axe?!!

    My sweetie's first bike was previously owned by some maniac whose entire toolkit must have consisted of a pair of vice-grips and a ball-peen hammer.

    It took me days to get the engine case bolts out (with drill bits and bolt extractors).

    I must admit that it never occurred to me to try an axe!