A New Skill?

Oops: wrote this, then never posted it. I’m sure it’s worth the extra wait!

skilsaw 0220
Lynn asked last night after we got home if I’ve been chronicling my bookcase in photojournalistic fashion. The answer is no, I haven’t even taken one photo. So here’s an internet image of my latest tool “skill.”

“Skilsaw” is a brand, around since 1924, I just learned, when the company created the first portable saw, complete with “worm drive gearing,” whatever that might be. But last night I learned why it’s called a “skill saw” — it’s because you need skill to use it.

I was at my woodworking class, and you should have seen how excited my teacher was that I was going to use a new tool. I did not really share his excitement, thinking, “It’s just a circular saw,” but then when I realized I was going to have to freehand a cut to an expensive board to literally cap off six weeks of work, it got a lot more nerve-wracking.

When I started my bookcase, I wasn’t altogether sure how tall it was going to end up, and given my propensity for mismeasurement, I wanted to leave myself some room for error. This turns out to been not a bad plan at all, since my shelves each crept a little higher than where D.J., my teacher, had marked them.

The interior spacing was more important to me than adhering to our pencil-print, and I knew I had room to spare. But last night I made it to my top shelf,  so it was time to cut this board to the final height.

All my other cuts had been made with the chop and table saws, fixed entities with “fences” to guide straight cuts. But this one was going to be done freehand. D.J. did offer to help me put the entire unit up on the table so I could make this final cut with the chop saw, and in hindsight perhaps I should have taken him up on that. But this is a learning process, right?

D.J. found some scrap lumber for me to make some practice cuts on, and then I realized I had practice lumber right in front of me, in the form of the remainder of my board that I was going to cut off anyway.

The Skilsaw came with a lot of rules: make sure you keep your legs out of the way. (I’ve heard femoral arteries can bleed a lot.) Keep the cord behind you so you don’t slice through it. Try watching the blade, not the guide.

Then came the corrections: Don’t stand so far away from the saw. Start the saw before you start your cut. Don’t start the saw until you get closer to the cut. Make sure the guide is sitting on your board.

I made a few practice cuts. D.J. was more complimentary than he probably should have been, since nothing came out exactly straight like it was supposed to. I was reaching the point of no return on my bookcase board. He offered again to put the entire unit up by the chopsaw. He offered to make the cut himself. He offered to find more wood for me to make more practice cuts.

I picked up all my scrap pieces, took a drink of water and decided it was then or never, and sliced along my line. More or less. More on both ends, less in the middle, for a subtle but distinct bow.

I think it would have required industrial grit, but I could perhaps have sanded this down to level, but I was also wary of taking my shelf down too far. The other teacher, Branden, and I had early in the evening decided that a seven-inch shelf looked too short, and I was worried that sanding would get me closer to seven and farther from eight.

D.J. solved the problem for me by noting that my cross shelf was slightly bowed, and if we flipped it over, it fit neatly into the little cradle of my Skilsaw cut. It almost looked planned.

So my last shelf got put into place, but that’s about all I got accomplished at my class. I could tell you I learned a new skill, but it’s clear my prowess with a circular saw has quite a ways to go.

Then D.J. was ready for me to put a couple of supports toward the back, to give me a place to screw the shelves into the wall, and here I balked again, because I can’t decide what to do about the baseboard.

For D.J., a guy with 13 years of experience in construction, it’s no big deal: just remove the baseboard. Take a pry bar and pull it off the wall. Or take some sort of saw and cut away the section where the shelves are going to go. For some reason, these options are making me squeamish.

I decided, in the wee hours this morning, that some large part of this is because it’s a new house, and I don’t want to do anything to ruin it, especially when it’s clear I’m not going to be able to call Dusty — who is now half a week overdue on his promise to get me a backsplash — to fix a mistake I might make.

I also am trying to decide what I want to do about cords coming out of an outlet the bookcase will surround. I had thought last night that I could just move them to an outlet on another wall, but it turns out there is no outlet on that wall. For someplace that was supposed to have a billion outlets, our house doesn’t. I will likely need to have room behind the case to run cords.

[And in the continuing “we can find no problem, so your electrical work is all clearly fine” saga, we have logged two instances of flickering lights in the kitchen and yet another power outage. This all seems fine to me.]

So now I have a bookcase, not quite all dressed up and still with somewhere to go, but no clear vision of how exactly to land it there. I have sanding — lots of sanding — to do, and some judicious use of wood putty for all the scuffs and tears made while pulling errant nails. And stain, except that D.J wants me to figure out and place the back pieces first.

Awhile ago I was impatient to have this done so that I could get on with unpacking and organizing my life, and now I’m dragging my heels. I doubt that any decision I make is completely irrevocable, but I don’t want to have to look at some gaping hole I’ve put in my new wall, and it’s making me hesitate, which is the unkindest kind of cut. The sort of cut I have absolutely no skill for at all.

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