High Math and the Soaring Saw
    I've seen videos of the monster saws, wielded by beer-swilling mesomorphs at logging competitions, that saw three slices off 12-inch logs in three or four seconds. Trouble is, these competitions are no more germane to the realities of logging than rodeos are to stock raising or the Indianapolis 500 to commuting. So why are they so much fun to watch?

    Great Grandpa Augustus was quite an inventor. He developed a better sharpening method for crosscut saws--"misery whips" they call 'em around here--which was easier for a man working in the woods. One of his customers joked, "Too bad you can't make a puttin'-on saw for when you buck a log too short."
    I have Great Grandpa's diaries. He worked on this "puttin'-on" saw idea for some time, reasoning that, since putting on sawdust would be the reverse of cutting it in the first place, a putting-on saw would be the inverse of a cutting-off saw. He want on to describe some of his early experiments, which were very interesting but failed to work.
    Then someone told Great Grandpa about algebra and negative numbers. He bought a book and studied it until nobody could understand what he was talking about; by then, he figured he was ready. Then he made a saw in which every dimension and feature was a negative number--even the weight. You had to tether it like a helium balloon.

     Grandpa's next experiments were successful. He cut a round off a log with a conventional saw and then "uncut" it with the putting-on saw. What made the putting-on saw a sure thing was that the sawyer could start sawing all sweaty and fatigued and finish clean and refreshed. Great Grandpa's fortune was assured.
    Great Grandpa had worked in secrecy all this time; but now he was finally ready, so he announced a demonstration the following Saturday. Loggers worked half days on Saturdays then came to town in the late afternoon. Quite a crowd assembled on Bay Street to carouse and socialize, and the first to arrive became impatient as Great Grandpa waited for the crowd to grow. He had a small log--3 feet in diameter by 60 feet long--for demonstration purposes, and an array of saws. Forty feet up, tethered by a light rope, was the putting-on saw, shiny and new, and freshly dulled as a negative saw would have to be.
    Ole Gunderson pushed in front. He was impatient and wanted to get to his beer drinking--he was at least a gallon behind schedule. "Let's get started," he demanded, waving his arm at the table where the normal saws were laid out. At the end of his gesture was the tether, and at the end of Ole's arm was his meaty hand, holding a cigar as always. The cigar made contact and the tether smoldered through. In slow motion, Great Grandpa leapt on the table, lunging for the tether. The final inch slipped from his fingers as he went crashing into the crowd.
     This started a fine riot of fifty loggers as the putting-on saw--the only one in existence--sailed into the sky, never more to be seen. Great Grandpa records that he was extra savage with the beating he gave Ole that day. Ole's feeling were hurt, so later Great Grandpa had to apologize but never did he make another putting-on saw.
     The arithmetic was just too tedious.

. . . Forrest Addy





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