Friday, March 8, 2013

The Handles

“The handles had indeed been beautifully crafted. It had taken several days to select just the right pieces with just the right grain and just the right beginning shape. Once selected they had been put back into the drying kiln to drive out what tiny amount of moisture might have remained from their first time in the kiln. This time they were the sole residents of the kiln. This time they were to be treated with almost royal deference. After all, they were to be the handles of the grandest saw blade in France. The brothers thought that the blade might even be the grandest blade in the world.

Once dried to the newly applied uplifted specification the pieces were subjected to the shaping process. Luc was the brother who usually performed this task. He had the patience and finesse of a sculptor. And such patience was required for the task. For it involved removing myriad tiny sliver like layers of the wood, taken off a paper thin curl at a time by the application of a draw knife. The draw knife was one of a family of draw knives that all had the same function: the precise removal of tiny increments of wood from blanks in the process of shaping those blanks into something of utility and things of beauty. These were times when beauty and utility were still seen as kindred and the creation of useful things, needs be, entailed the process of making them also beautiful.

So it was with the handles.

The brothers, in the pursuit of utility wrapped in beauty had assembled a large collection of draw knives – the family of draw knives – with the only difference between them being their size. They ranged from tiny – perhaps three inches – to very large – two feet or so. The knife being used for the handles was one of the smaller ones.

As the shape of the two handles began to emerge from within the blanks, under constant intense scrutiny from Luc they were periodically rubbed smooth with an abrasive stone. As the process continued the shavings became fewer and farther between and the abrasive shaping became the dominant activity. And then oil of the olive was carefully, in tiny quantities added to the process as a follow on rub to each abrasion.

Ultimately two perfectly matched shining, beautiful and silky smooth handles emerged from the process.

At this point Luc turned them over to Gerard.

Gerard was the carpenter and the blacksmith of the brother team.

While Luc had been working the wood Gerard had duplicated the size, shape and thickness of the ends of the blade. Those were the ends that the handles would need to be attached to.

Once the handles were given over to hi, Gerard commence with his part in the attachment process.

First he heated the piece of metal until it was white hot. He had the right handle firmly mounted in an adjustable wooden vise that he had built for just such processes. With the handle firmly held in place, he slowly applied the white hot metal to the handle directly onto a lateral line that he had scribed in the wood for use as a sort of guide or template.

Smoke and an aromatically woody scent laced with just a trace of olive oil engulfed the work area. There also was the beginning of an indentation in the handle that, when complete would allow the blade to be inserted and attached. Gerard held the metal piece in place until the smoke diminished to the point of indication that the piece was no longer hat enough to continue to burn into the handle.

Gerard studied the progress carefully and cleaned out charred wood and some that, while not charred, had been reduced in strength sufficiently to allow its removal. He performed this task with a thing that looked like a tiny hoe.

Then he heated the metal piece again and repeated the process. Ultimately he could see by the depth to which the metal piece fit into the handle after one of the white hot insertions that the groove was of the proper depth. He knew this because he had scribed the metal piece with a horizontal line at just the right place to indicate the completion of the creation of the groove for seating the terminus of the blade.

He repeated the whole process on the other handle until it also had a groove of the necessary depth for the saw to be inserted and attached.

The day had fled while the work had proceeded. It was already beginning to be dark and lamps would need to be lit very soon. Lamplight was not conducive to the sort of work that the handles were going to require so they were set aside to be finished after full light of the following day.

A haunch of goat with beets, parsnips and carrots had been braising since midday in the iron pot suspended over the fire in the huge open fireplace in the common room of the brothers’ dwelling. As the handles had approached completion and the light had begun to wane the savory scent of the meat and vegetables had added to the brothers’ sense of urgency for bringing the work day to completion.

“It is ready for the drill. I will make the holes in the morning and then fashion and attach the rivets, and then it will be ready for use.”

“How long do you think it will take to complete the felling of the tree?” asked Luc.

“I have been thinking about that” responded Gerard.

“It will take us a half day to get the wagon prepared and loaded and a day to get the wagon to the tree. Unless we want to be on the roads at night that means that we need to wait the half day after readying the wagon before departing. As it is, I believe that it will take at least two days to fell the giant and cut it into suitable lengths and get it loaded. I would imagine that that is optimistic, so I think we should plan for four days at the site of the tree before we are ready to return. Again, to avoid being on the highways after dark we would need to plan to depart for our return at dawn of the fifth day. So that means that we need to take food wine and water to carry us for six days counting the out and back of the trip.”

“A large undertaking”

“But grand.”

“Grand is good.”

While Gerard prepared the meal for serving Luc went into the market of Place Maubert and procured bread. The bread was the ideal transport mechanism for the savory broth of the goat and vegetables to be brought from the plates to the mouths of the brothers. And red wine was the perfect beverage to chase all the meal’s components.

As the pot emptied and the pitcher of wine was refilled for the third time and the bread was in the process of absorbing the very last of the broth from the pot the two men looked at each other.

“Perhaps we have undertaken more than we can accomplish?” said Luc.


“But it’s too late now. We own the blade and it has its handles and we have a wagon and we have a horse.”

“And we owe the wizard.”

“Yes, we owe the wizard.”

“I guess we’d better got to bed.”

Luc drained his wine gourd and looked at his brother.

“But it will be a glorious day when we bring the logs back for milling.”

“Yes, glorious.”

And they retired.”

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