Life in the Slow Lane: Tool Time (again)

As you, my patient readers, may recall I recently stretched my "I can build it" muscles and added flooring to my stairway. In that process I conquered my fear of a table saw. For more than forty years I'd been haunted by the two missing fingers on my first father-in-law's hand. He had removed them while using a table saw. I need all ten of my fingers to do my job and I know very well that I am a certifiable Klutz. That, and nothing else, is what has kept me from venturing too deeply into the massive workshop that fills my front barn.

That's not to say I haven't built things. Three years ago my sister Peggy and I built an electric chicken plucker. It's been a godsend because it can clean two chickens or one turkey in about a minute. But in all honesty, what I did on that project was cut wood and screw together the plucker's wooden frame. That's pretty simple. Since then, I've tried my hand at assembling fences (you might recall the baling twine and handy panel story from last year) and erecting makeshift coops. This era brought me into a powerful and deeply satisfying relationship with my Milwaukee sawsall. Man, I love that thing!

Although I dispensed with most of the ex's carpentry equipment, I kept the tools I needed or thought I might someday be bold enough to use. As the ex had a serious tool addiction, there was a lot to choose from. In the end it came down to the miter saw (because I know how to use it), a circular saw (because guys seem to use it all the time), the Dewalt sawsall (even though that thing nearly tears off my arm when I'm using it), and all the cordless drills and screwdrivers.

I was glad I thought that far ahead, because last week I decided I needed to build a Suscovich 30-bird chicken tractor. For those not in the know, a chicken tractor is a bottomless chicken coop that is moved across a field one chicken-tractor-length every day. This allows the confined meat birds to eat lots of healthy grass and enjoy sunshine while leaving behind their manure.

Now I do already have supposedly "mobile" chicken coops, but both of them weigh in well over my ability to pull them--one of them is almost a tiny house--and neither are bottomless. That means I have to swamp out that tiny house every Sunday. Let me say, if this version of woman-friendly chicken tractor works, I think I'll be building a second coop for the girls and dispensing with the non-mobile mobile coops.

Back to the tools and this new project. I borrowed the Suscovich book from my friends Keven and Marshall of Sunnyside Farm in Camp Verde and read it carefully. It's perfect for me. This man builds with zip ties and tarps! Not only does he include a shopping list, but he lists all the tools needed. It turned out that I had everything but a power stapler, something I've wanted for a long time, and a set of chisels.

Thinking this project might be a great one for a "girls" weekend, I recruited my friends Gail and Laurie, promising to pay them with wine on the porch and---surprise!---lamb chops for dinner. Suckers.

By the time they arrived on Saturday, I'd gone shopping, which caused me to confront and destroy my fear of ratcheting straps. The whole premise of those things confuses me. Which strap goes which way through that thingee? I arrived home without incident, then used the book's guide to measure out and cut all the pieces of wood...that I'd bought home. Although I was certain I'd gotten everything on the list, I'd either forgotten or left behind one 1 x 8.

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My nemesis, the circular saw.

I also suffered a moment of panic when I couldn't find the circular saw. I was sure I'd saved it for myself. There was great relief when I discovered I hidden it behind a workbench. I took it out and read the directions, twice. Then I stared at it for a long while. Really. I type for a living. I must keep all my fingers and that thing looked dangerous.

Then my helpers showed up and I learned that Gail is not afflicted with the same fears as I am. And I've known her since 1993! Even though she'd never before used one, she snatched up the circular saw, aligned it with the marks I'd made on a board for a lap joint, and started up the saw.

Two seconds later, she let the trigger relax and the saw whirred to a halt. What followed was about an hour of conferring on how to hold both the safety button and the trigger at the same time. We all took a turn, and we all immediately decried the set up. No matter how we shifted hands, shifted position, pressed it this way or that, none of us really had the hand strength to operate the saw either comfortably or for long. So we traded off. After that there was another conference on how to set the fence so the blade goes exactly 3/4 of an inch into the wood.

It took a while, but each of us finally came up with our own workaround. By 4 PM all the lap joints--including one in board "F" that make no sense to me, had been cut and either chiseled or sawsall-ed out.

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The frame

Seriously. Why chisel if you have a sawsall? I converted Gail, who announced she wanted a sawsall for herself.

At that point we called it a day, and went to celebrate. Yes, we'd made a few mistakes, and yes, nothing was perfect. But no board had to be replaced, nothing broke, and all of us still had ten fingers. That was well worth celebrating.

Laurie stayed late on Sunday morning to help me put the frame together. That leaves me to bend the pipe for the roof and power staple the hardware cloth and chicken wire in place. And I'll be doing it knowing I could manage the whole project by myself. But why, when we had so much fun? I'll bet I can tempt them back again with pork and wine this time.

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HelenJT 6 months, 3 weeks ago

I love this column. Denise Domning has a way of showing her human side that inspires me to overcome my own tool based fears and to try new things and to laugh along with her and at my self also.

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