THE boy who promised to come and help me with small chores, and didn't come, finally came, and we began cleaning up my shop. This Herculean undertaking was even more daunting than usual, since I had neglected it for some time.
After we cleared a place, we dusted off the benchsaw and pushed it against the wall, thus making a start, and I told the boy about the first benchsaw I encountered in my frivolous youth, and how I was too small to make it go. I'm guessing he believes I made this up.
My grandfather Thomas, the old soldier, had little talent with tools, and if he had to nail two boards together he'd get the nail crooked. But he did have, a century ago now, the first power tool in the county and a finesse with it that he was never able to carry over to shingling, fixing a sled bunk, or tightening a loose chair leg.
It was a benchsaw contrived by Slim Ormsby over at Skunk's Misery. Slim was gifted mechanically and produced many an improbable device, and was otherwise said to be "crazy as a coot." This down-Maine simile derives from the custom of a coot to fly 25 miles around a peninsula when he wants to get to the next cove, a hundred yards away overland. Another way to say the same thing is to observe that somebody rows "with only one oar in the water." Slim was, accordingly, an inverted genius.
Slim's - my grandfather's - benchsaw was lost when the farm buildings burned, so you must take my word for it. Slim had the foot-treadle and frame of an early sewing machine for a beginning, and the bearings and arbor from a Pratt & Corliss butter churn.
This was rigged artfully with a grindstone for a flywheel - the basic idea for this contrivance being advanced by my grandfather, who wanted to make beehives. Slim, you can say, followed his specifications.
The circular saw blade was but five inches in diameter, and since it was custom-made at the Langmaid & Murphy Machine Works in Bangor, it was expensive - $1.35. Nobody had any notions then about an electric motor, or even electric power. By pulling on the grindstone, to get it rolling, Grampy could then catch the treadle with his foot and pump everything into motion. The only governor on the device was Grampy's foot. Because of the short arbor and the proximity of the grindstone, there wasn't room to rip
a wide board.
Grampy made his beehive boxes and frames from basswood and pine - soft woods - which yielded somewhat to the persuasion of the saw. Hardwood slowed the grindstone down, proving that Newton knew what he was talking about. With the grindstone revved up and Grampy's foot at high speed, a basswood honey box could be ripped off before the grindstone quit.
At one time, my grandfather had an even hundred colonies of honey bees, with all the hives of his own making. Pine and basswood trees grew on his farm, so the only basic expense was the ax work. Hauling logs to mill took only a snowfall and time, and the Holford Mill was charging $3 a thousand. Grampy figured he could save almost $2 a hive by making his own.
The outside box of the hive, and the covers and bottom-boards, had to be cut to size with a handsaw - Slim's machine did have its limits. But the interior frames and the little one-pound basswood boxes for comb honey could be turned out on Slim's saw. Grampy kept it in the shed-attic and spent his rainy days there.
Several times I watched him work the saw, and while Grampy looked more like a monkey-on-a-stick than a craftsman, he did turn out brood frames in short order. And his work was good. Beehives and their parts must be interchangeable, and such is the nature of working with red-hot bees that a frame poorly made can cause regret. Under a hot August sun, there is small profit in arguing with a broodframe that is a 16th of an inch too snug. Grampy, as the apiarist, knew that he, as the joiner, must be precise.
Grampy always spoke highly of Slim Ormsby, pointing out that he not only made a good power saw, but that it would also sharpen a hand scythe if you didn't pump too fast. There is no such tool on the market today, and my boy who comes (sometimes) didn't know what a scythe is.