Monday, 24 March 2014

Homo Habilis: Old Saws


As a warranted genuine old fogey I continue to be a late adaptor and very often a never adaptor. I shave with a straight (cut throat) razor and from time indite my lucubrations on a typewriter for the sheer pounding ping of it. The touch of cold steel on the throat focuses the mind wonderfully and typescript invites the crossing out and intercalation that Isaac Babels character finds missing in the manuscript of the young writer:

'You know, I must place this story, ' he went on.' They'll take it in anywhere. They print such rubbish nowadays. The main thing is to have some pull. I've had a promise. Sukhutin will fix everything.....'
'Misha,' I said, 'You should go through it again – nothing's crossed out...'
(from Inspiration)

Ordinary manuscript produced with a fountain pen, what else, does not have the same psychological distance and the speed that catches the flying thought. The instant correction of the word processor is a recipe for complacency. We have gotten general absolution without the grim experience of personal confession.

The use of older technology also involves skill due to the necessity for personal maintenance. We can no longer send out our razors to be honed if indeed the average user ever did. There are such services today and they are expensive but try and get a simple handsaw sharpened and you may have to send them to a expert who charges what you could buy ten hardened tooth throwaways for in the local box store. I have a few of them and the diabolism of them is that they are so sharp and dull so slowly they surprise you some fine day by refusing to cut to a line. 'Back to China with you to make another one' you utter as you put it into the green bin. As well as three disposables, I have a number of old fashioned steel ones of varying lengths and tooth styles. There's a couple of newish Disstons and some old ones. What a difference there is between them, big lumpish handles and thick stiff sawplate compared to whippy taper ground plate with handles that are just right visually and comfortable. They also have two lifetimes of sharpening below the handle whereas the other has a miserable half inch. Break a few teeth with a nail and you will never see them again. The beauty of hand filing saws is that over several rounds teeth that had quite vanished will come into being again. There's some metaphor there trying to get out but my maieutic skills are unequal to it. Saws like this are about £70 to buy new so over the weekend I spent many hours reconditioning them. I was also trying to develop my sawdoctoring skills which were rudimentary. After doing a few including a very extensive re-toothing on a sweet 20” Disston cabinet saw I have a better idea of how to go about it. It's the sort of a job that induces a focused reverie. Intellectuals that do not do any manual work miss a lot. The derogation of manual work in the caste system of India is a serious cultural lack. I remember when I was there in 2002 , Outlook magazine on Independence day had 55 great things about India. One of them was the invention of a low tech hand pump which had spread all over the developing world. The inventor was a mechanic from Hyderabad. Just that, they didn't know his name. They still don't:

The requirements for the pump included the need for a design simple enough to be manufactured in unsophisticated workshops, easy to maintain, and costing no more than US$200 (in 1970s dollars) The Mark II was based on the Sholapur pump, the most durable pump at that time and designed by a self-taught Indian mechanic. In just 20 years, 1 million of the pumps had been manufactured and installed in the developing world. An Indian magazine listed India Mark II hand pump as one of the defining inventions of the country.
(from:India Mark II,Wikipedia)

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