I’m not a reliable source for giving advice on chainsaws. There is, however, one thing I can say with certainty: They cut much better if the chain is sharp. That’s common knowledge and probably not useful, unless you have the same bad habit I do. Sometimes I ignore what I know.
Although I grew up on a farm, I rarely used a chainsaw until I was grown. Julius Bembry, who worked with my father for decades, took care of the occasional limbs or small trees that needed attention. He could handle a saw with such expertise it looked deceptively easy and rather enticing. Daddy, however, gave me a couple of reasons why he thought it best I leave the saw alone.
His main concern was the danger. He said even people who know what they are doing can get badly hurt. Flesh is no match for a spinning chain and trees don’t always fall where we aim. Even a limb can swat a man into Glory Land or send him in the opposite direction.
The other reason Daddy preferred Julius have control of the chainsaw was the maintenance issue. Chainsaws can be downright ornery. Chuck Ellis, who taught a men’s Sunday School class in Vienna, shared a story years ago that’s stuck with me. Alone in the woods, Chuck was unable to crank his saw. After some frustrating pulls on the cord, he muttered a few harsh words at his nemesis. That’s when Chuck discovered he had company.
“Mr. Chuck,” said the grinning young child of a neighbor, “We’re not supposed to talk like that are we?” Chuck reminded the men in our class that we never know who’s watching, listening, and learning. We’re all teachers, whether we want to be or not.
Julius was a skilled mechanic and machinist, while I was on the other end of the spectrum. If not for my classmate, Jimmy Summerville, I’d still be in Mr. Ottis Beard’s shop class at Unadilla High School trying to put my lawnmower engine back together. Daddy knew if I broke something Julius would be the one that would have to fix it. He thought that was asking too much and I agreed.
Thanks to Julius the saw was kept in good shape, but he would still check it over closely prior to each use. And before he pulled the crank rope, he’d feel the chain with his index finger. If the chain needed sharpening, he’d patiently put a fine edge on each tooth with a small round file.
About twenty years ago I was in our front yard sawing a felled pecan tree into pieces. I still had a long way to go when my friend, Ronnie Youngblood, pulled over to speak and see if I needed any help. I told him my saw was about to wear me out, that I might have to get Jane to take a turn. It only took him a second to diagnose the problem.
“Your chain needs sharpening,” he said as he headed to his truck to get a file. He probably spent twenty minutes getting every tooth factory sharp, plus making sure I knew how to do it right the next time. “Try it now,” he said with a knowing smile.
It was like slicing butter with a Ginsu knife. As the chain ripped through green pecan wood, satisfaction replaced futility. Sawing with a dull chain was foolish and I knew that. If Ronnie hadn’t stopped, however, I’d have kept pushing that saw instead of guiding it.
Hebrews 4:12 says the word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. It’s easy for me to look around and spot situations where God needs to cut deeply with both edges. For myself, however, I’m more receptive to His using a small paring knife for a light trimming where I suggest. Our attitude matters about such things as God prefers to work where He’s been invited.
God’s word doesn’t need any sharpening, but He grants us free will which allows us to dull its effectiveness in our lives. A paring knife is less daunting than a razor-sharp sword, but the sword offers discernment that leads to eternal rewards. The best choice is clear but seldom easy.
I’ve been using a chain saw lately with some regularity. More than once I’ve found myself bearing down harder than I should because the chain needed sharpening. That’s a foolish choice because I know a saw works best when the chain is sharp. But sometimes I ignore what I know.