Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Half-Assed and How Not to Do It

If I was ever qualified to write a book on a subject, it would be doing a job with only half the knowledge and a limited box of tools. That or finding novel ways of almost killing yourself.

Because of our way of life, I know that I'm going to have to do things I'm not completely prepared for, which are inherently dangerous. Farming has just come top of the league table as the most dangerous profession in England (we don't have Alaskan crab fishing industry to compete with).

Some things are always best left to a professional - electrical wiring for example - when tools and knowhow will save your life. With some jobs you can gain a modicum of proficiency if you know your limits. Like chainsawing.

I have passed my basic chainsaw qualifications and I feel comfortable using my chainsaw for straightforward jobs like logging and felling small trees that aren't under power lines. Contractors are coming to finish the fence on Milkweed so I needed to clear 300 metres of overhanging trees to speed up the fencing process and save some of the cost. We decided to let the contractors put in the rest of the fence because they have the hydraulic post-rammer. The posts will stay up longer than if I pounded them in by hand (see? - better tools.)

We had to improvise a mobile platform to reach the branches and the truck was our best option. It has the tailgate for lower stuff, and the top of the tilt for the 'up high' branches -

I admit this picture isn't the best representation of safe working, but we assessed the risks and did our best. That doesn't mean accidents don't happen. I stood on the tailgate and leaned to reach a branch, just as Mike let the truck roll forward slightly. The truck and I parted company and I chucked the saw away from me, as I was taught to do in case of a fall. I only sustained a bruise, but I managed to hit the truck with the saw -

Completely minor. But in hindsight, I know better than to reach too far and I know I should stop when my muscles are getting tired. But the fence line is clear now and the fence guys are coming mid-August.

While my muscles and my pride recover, I thought I would get on with some more sedate work: processing fleece. My crafty friend Colette managed to borrow a couple of drum carders for us to try. Neither of us knew how to use them, but we were unlikely to cause ourselves major injury by trial and error. A few scraped knuckles at worst. 

Until now I have hand carded all my fleece. A laborious task. It can take up to a year of picking and carding to get enough fleece to spin enough wool to make a jumper.
picture courtesy http://www.wcu.edu/craftrevival/crafts/carding.html

The drum carder is a technological leap forward. It was invented in the late 18th century. It can process fleece in less than half the time of hand carding. This takes the process from unbearable to just tedious.

You can read a synopsis of carding wool and its development here.

Colette had the foresight to look up a couple of YouTube videos, so she talked me through the basics. It goes something like this:

Take pile of clean(ish) fleece -

Pick out a handful and tease it into a loose bunch -

Feed bunch into drum carder by cranking handle -

Pull carded fleece from drum -

Now you have a batt of fibre. You can leave it as is, or roll it into a little cupcake-shaped ball for easy storage -

They're ready to spin. Colette lent me one of the carders to take home. I reckon I can now process both of my Polled Dorset fleeces in a couple of months. God bless the industrial revolution.

Something else I get a lot of practice with?-

Washing fox shit off of the dogs. It's not dangerous - it just smells that way.

We have had another chick appear from a sneaky clutch of eggs -

It's a Phoenix chick. The mother is flighty and distracted, so the chick is constantly peeping for attention. I tried fostering the chick on Susan but the chick rejected her new mother, fell out of the nest box and peeped furiously until I returned it to the original haphazard hen. The chick is just going to have to take its chances now.

This breed is pretty but not one I would recommend. Although the cockerel is lovely natured, the hens are highly-strung during breeding season. I'm tempted to take the whole family to the specialist poultry auction once the chick is big enough.  Someone with more fancy chicken know-how than I have would love to own them. I'll stick to breeds that thrive under my improvised trial-and-error efforts.


Poppy Cottage said...

It was a lovely relaxing morning yesterday. I seem to get on better with the carder Darren has lent me. So hopefully I too will be able to get 'cup-cake' making. To be able to sit and spin without having to break to attempt to card some fleece along with half my knuckles will be heaven!

I really like the apron, I think it might be the next attempt to copy thing i do.

Work was good, just getting ready to go and do another night shift. I think you were right, I do have too much stuff to allow a clear flow. Advice needed I think!!

See you soon, maybe next week, I'll come to you with my new best friend, The Mini Drum!!!!!

Kevin F. said...

That's why god invented the gas powered pole saw, it is a small chainsaw motor with the bar and chain on the other end of a twenty foot pole.
However, the problem as always is, if the job is a one off you don't really want to spend the money to have one. So we are left to improvise.
I think you did well, no one was hurt, the truck has a battle scar and the job got done.

Kevin F.

Paula said...

Very funny story and don't ever do that again. Ever. You got seriously lucky, you do realize that?

I love the picture of Pip- she has that very familiar "oh I know I shouldn't have but I just couldn't help myself' look that I know so well. I love dogs.

Drum carders seem to be all the rage right now. I'm glad you had the opportunity to try one- do you think you'd make the investment in buying one? I wonder how hard they are to buy these days...

Next time you have to do something like that with a chainsaw, please promise you'll rent a scissor-lift. Nothing but nothing is worth your safety.

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - I've got some knuckle scars from this one too. I'll lend you the apron to use as a pattern. And if you want help or or moral support to shift some stuff, it's no trouble.

Kevin - Pole saws are great (Stihl does one with interchangeable heads) but as you said it isn't worth buying one for small jobs. We're teetering on whether or not it would be sensible to buy a compact tractor next. With front loader, flail hedgecutter, topper, and logsplitter attachments. A girl can dream...

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - You are the voice of reason. Consider my wrists slapped.

Pip doesn't even look guilty, does she? She's being pathetic because I've put her in the tub. On her own she'll splash about in rivers with a big stupid grin on her face, but put her in the tub and she mopes. Weirdo.

I like the drum carder but I can't justify the expense. It is nearly as cheap to send the fleece out to a mill to be cleaned and carded, if you include my time and the toll it takes on my sanity.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I love what chainsaws do for us, but God I hate chainsaws. I can't use our big one because I have an implanted defibrillator, but the little electric one is bad enough.

Tractors, though, tractors are excellent! And you can hook anything up to that PTO drive -- probably even a drum carder! All you need is some zip ties and some duct tape.

I'm very glad you weren't hurt. Did the saw survive to saw another day?

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - Ditto on the chainsaw, useful but not something I love doing. Is it the vibrations that are harmful to the defibrillator? (if I'm being nosey, ignore me)

You're right, it's the PTO and attachments that could make the tractor worthwhile. It's nearly feasible, economically speaking. The drum carder idea might just tip the scales for us. That and saving what's left of my joints.

Saw is fine, I only fell from the tailgate. I never lean from the roof - I just bang on it and point so Mike can see me in the rear view, which direction I need to move. That sounds perfectly safe, doesn't it?

Kate said...

Dang! That's a big-assed drum carder! I need a fiber arts friend who knows where to borrow such things.

Please be careful of yourself over there, Jennifer. And tell Mike to be careful of you too!

Do you realize, by the way, how much British vocabulary has worked its way into your language? Your overall written voice is still American, but there's quite an overlay of British in the mix.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate - If you belong to a fiber arts group, you may want to buy one together to share. Sometimes big knitting stores rent them too. But even the secondhand ones are costly.

You caught me! My language is such a mongrel now I can't always remember which terms are US and which are UK. Unless I'm speaking to an English person and they give me a blank look, then I know I picked the wrong one. I hope I never lose my American voice, as my sense of self is tied up in it.

I promise to be careful, if you promise to rest while your foot heals - I've seen the Goals for 2010 list that you're ploughing through!

Sara said...

My perspective is this: You weren't hurt with the saw, you got the job done...you've been trained in chainsaw safety and were actually wearing hearing protection and a hardhat. I say you did a great job and that you're leagues ahead of most chainsaw-wielding people in the safety dept. Leagues. And, in case of a zombie uprising, I'd like to think I could count on you for your mad chainsaw skills.

Jennifer Montero said...

Sara - Sadly, co-workers and I have actually debated chainsaw vs firearm in the event of a zombie armageddon (pros: destructive. cons: close contact weapon = more potential for contamination, carrying enough petrol)

As you can imagine, the days just fly by here in rural Dorset.

When the Zombie uprising comes, gun or saw, I totally have your back.

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

Please be careful! I have seen a chainsaw accident before (my brother) and it ain't pretty. Farm related accidents can happen so quickly! I am so overly cautious it is ridiculous but some of those pics sent chills down my wimpy spine!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Jen -- Yes, vibrations are the problem for the defibrillator, although I understand there may be power issues as well.

But I can't believe that you waste your time arguing whether firearms or chainsaws are better against zombies when everyone knows the only weapon worth having is garlic. Oh, wait ... did I get that wrong?

Jennifer Montero said...

HKS - The woodsman for our estate is currently recovering after a tree came back at him and shattered his leg below the knee. And he's the most experienced tree guy I've ever met.

You know too well the dangers of farm work - PTOs are my fear - and how we try to work safely. But we compromise if we think we can. I promise to be as safe as possible, and post no more scary pictures!

Tamar - I eat lots of garlic and there are no zombies around here, so you must be right!