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The Joy of Power Tools

Sunday, June 26, 2005

"Press the trigger switch, and your circular saw will start"
User Manual

'Well,' says Dave, thoughtfully chewing his lip, 'if you're going to be cutting up roofing timber all day, then I'd go for the Bosch, but if you're just going to use it once or twice a year to cut up bits of pine, then you might as well go for the PB1200CS.'

He eyes me, waiting for me to admit that I wouldn't be cutting up acres of timber daily with my circular saw. What he is, in fact, saying is 'Are you sure you need a circular saw at all?'

It's a good question, and quite frankly, no, I don't. I'm building a spice rack from soft pine for the kitchen, not renovating a 17th century farmhouse.

But I've always wanted a circular saw, and this was my big excuse. Even the wife seemed keen, mistakenly believing that a circular saw was essential to the act of building a spice rack (even though just a few weeks before I built a seven foot bookshelf with a hand saw).

Back in HomeBase I stare at Dave's bloody and bandaged thumb. I wonder if he sustained the injury at work, or at home trying out a discounted circular saw.

'Well,' I say, 'I won't exactly be using it every day, so I suppose I'll take the PB1200CS.'

The name alone, full of letters and numbers, is exciting.

'But is it any good?' Asks the wife.

Dave sucks air in between his teeth. 'Well, it's a new line, you see, so we only know if they're good if they get returned.'

'And have many been returned?' She asks.

'No, and we've had them for eight months, so I reckon they're okay.' He tells us.

Good enough for me. But before we leave, we pick up a Bosch PEX220A 'Random Orbit Sander', reduced by £60 or something so outrageous that it would have been lunacy not to buy it. Oh, and a workbench. I blamed my dodgy angles on the bookshelf on the fact that I was sawing on two rickety old chairs.

Ker-ching! £60 please. Not bad for a hoard of powerful and dangerous machinery.

I've never used a circular saw before, though I've used an angle grinder, and I figure that the operation will be similar. It's big, and heavy. It feels marvellously macho and ready to cause grievous injury at the slightest mistake, so, unlike me, I read the manual before plugging it in and merrily chopping off any fingers.

It's full of useful advice:

- Do not force the tool.

- Look after the tool.

- Protect the cable.

- Maintain with care.

Makes it sound like a pet. The bit of advice that caught my eye though was:

- Do not use tool when tired.

Ah. So I decide to start sawing on Sunday instead - the traditional day for making outrageous amounts of DIY noise.

So I read the rest of the manual. It's full of new words and I go to bed with riving knives, mitre cutting locks, tct blades and parallel fences churning round my mind.

The joy of power tools must be hard to understand, if you're not excited by them. Buying one is like Christmas day, using it makes your day vibrant and real. Sound sad, but it's true. When you can't hear and your arms throb into the evening, you know you've had a worthwhile afternoon.

Anyway, it is fun, and it is clever, let's just leave it at that.

I convert the spare room into a workshop - tarp, dust sheets, move the extra bedding and towels to another room (you know how picky wives can be), and set up the bench, which occupies a mildly frustrating half hour (self assembly, some blisters required).

Luckily though I now own a 'pistol driver' (a purchase made for the shelves a few weeks ago), which is just bloody marvellous.

It's a 'Pro4.8V' and I recommend everyone to go out an buy one now. Not only does it look like a gun, so you can do cowboy / gangster mime with it, it also pushes screws into things with a satisfying noise.

So, bench is up and a long plank of pine is secured in it, with a line drawn down the middle. The PB1200CS circular saw doesn't come with a laser sight (like the more expensive Black and Decker model), so I'm going to be doing it by eye.

Christ, the saw is heavy. I plug it in and gingerly press the trigger.

'Gggggggggggggggggggrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaawwwwww!' It screams.

It's deafeningly loud and I'm grinning as I plough forward across the plank. Masses of sawdust and wood-chips fly across the room. I supress 'woo-hoos' though.

Half way across I'm stuck. My bits of wood used to clamp the plank in place are catching on the base plate. There's a burning smell now. Ah, probably not good that, I think.

My solution is to angle the saw slightly to get around the obstacle, and plough onwards. I notice a slight wobble, gouge, and burn in the area that I just passed...

Stop again, another obstacle. More burning smells. Cursing I work my way backwards along the whole plank to get the saw out of the end, and then take my finger off the trigger, before realising that I could have just lifted it out of the wood instead. Doh.

As the saw slowly dies, with a high screaming noise, I realise that I can't hear much any more. There was part of the manual that recommended ear protectors, but I figured they were just for the all-day-sawing-roofing-timber types. Apparantly not.

Well, I've started, I reason, so turn the bench around and go for it from the other end. All goes well and my plank is now divided in two. It's a bit black and wobbly in places, but it's actually quite a nice cut. I measure the two and they're improbably accurate too.

The rest of the spice rack went without a hitch apart from a sketchy moment when I managed to assemble some of the shelves in such a way that they couldn't be removed from the workbench by mortal means. Some smart unscrewing was done whilst hoping that the wife didn't come in and see...

And, lo, and behold, the finished product:

(picture later)
As you can plainly see, something not possible without a circular saw.