Tuesday, July 29, 2014

'Owed' to an Old Chain Saw: We're both wore out

When I bought the thing, I was 41 years old, still young enough to saw down entire forests, cut it into fireplace lengths, split it and stack it. Or so I thought, anyway. I'd had a couple of used chainsaws -- an old Poulan I bought from a hardware store in Zebulon after its first owner had brought it back, and then a fouled up McGregor that someone had thrown out on the street in frustration, as I was soon to learn why: It ran poorly, cut badly and served mostly to foul the air and tick off the operator.

So one day I walked into Wilson's Outdoor Equipment in Raleigh and listened to someone who knew what he was doing when it came to chain saws.  Walked out an hour later with the Stihl 028 Wood Boss with a 20 inch bar and a bag full of chains.   It sounded like an old British Small Arms motorcycle I had had when we lived in Washington, but ran faster and cut quicker than anything I ever saw -- when I had a sharp chain on it, anyway.

I cut trees all over Wake County with that saw, took down some monsters in our yard and pitched in on those occasions when Raleigh got a freak ice storm or wet snowfall that brought down trees in our neighborhood. Hardwoods, softwoods, junk wood, good stuff -- it ran through wood like a hot knife through warm butter.

It was particularly good at laying down about 10 tons of old locust and two-foot oaks and 10-inch maples that occupy much of the old 66-acre farm that we have been trying to keep tidy for the past 25 years or so.  We burn a lot of firewood, and once we built a house up in the Blue Ridge, the Wood Boss was what kept us warm twice a year -- all summer when I was cutting and splitting and stacking that wood, and all winter when the winds howled outside as we burned wood in the soapstone stove.

There was a rising price. As I got older, I noticed that when I was cutting with the thing, my arms and upper chest would ache for days.  Didn't feel that back in the late 1980s, but after the turn of the 21st century I realized a couple of hours with the Wood Boss would flat wear me out.  I'd still be feeling it on Tuesday after a long Saturday afternoon getting up firewood.

Reckon I went through 50 or more chains on that thing.  Found a man who sharpened them up cheap, and mourned when he died too early of cancer.  Took the saw to the shop twice a year to have it tuned and tweaked and cleaned, and once had the thing rebuilt for more than the cost of my  first car, an old '56 Chevy Bel Air with the small block V8.  Both ran like tops when they were running on new plugs. Both coughed and sputtered and bucked and shuddered when the plugs were fouled.

The last three years or so, the Wood Boss has spent more time in the shop than in the kerf of a big tree.  It was slow to start, started throwing chains, gobbled up bar oil and sometimes just quit when it got too hot to work.  I took it in last week and showed it to the fellow who has kept it going for the last few of its 28-year life, and he shook his head.  "Can't hardly get parts for these things anymore," he said with a regretful look on his face. "I'll call you when I get a look inside."

That call came yesterday. He might be able to fix it up for a short time, but chances are its best cutting days were long ago.  Might be best, he thought, to just consider it worn out and put it out to pasture.  Made sense to me.  That old saw with its long bar and full tank could weigh something like 14 pounds.  But the new line of high- efficiency saws would go considerably lighter -- not to mention how light I'd be in the wallet once I bought one of those things.  They're real proud of 'em, the Stihl folks are.

I haven't shelled out for one yet, but that day is coming. I've gotten up seven or eight cords for the coming winter and marked standing dead trees that will come down this winter when the weather allows -- and when my knees and hands and elbows recover from splitting a huge oak across the road this past month.  Like that old saw, I've had my fill for a little while.   Rode hard and put up wet, as my Dad used to say.   When my arms and knees quit hurting, I'll go shopping for a new one.  Doesn't look like that will be any time soon. 


  1. Jack
    What a great ODE! (Might be time to consider pre-cut aged logs available at Sams?)
    Woodman (the NEW Wood Boss)

  2. Seven or eight cords? That's a lot of cutting and splitting. Be careful out there.

  3. Twenty-seven years later, I'm still using the 20" Stihl I bought at Wilson's during my short time in Raleigh. We've both gotten older and heavier, the billets shorter, and the splits more numerous. Neither I nor she can get as much done as we used to.

    I join you in mourning the loss of your old friend.