Friday, February 10, 2012

The Saw Sharpener

I tap the front door knocker and peer in the door window. Nobody home? I walk out back. There’s a car in the driveway and a kitchen window is wide open. I rap on the shop door, it rattles. As I turn to step off the granite stoop, the old man pokes his head out. “What do you want?”

“I came to pick up my hand saw I left to get sharpened, it’s a crosscut. Do you remember me?” I give my name and follow him into the shop. His face is flushed, wears a hearing aid. His work shirt is sweat–stained; has on steel-toed work shoes, pant legs cuffed high. He walks painfully slow; some finger tips are missing on his gnarled left hand.

A vice is mounted on his workbench with various files laid beside it. Tools on a board above it are nicely arranged. Hand saws and circular blades, each with a white tag, hang from a rafter either waiting to be sharpened, or waiting for customer pickup. In one corner, a table is piled high with saws nobody wants anymore but he can’t throw them away.

One by one he lifts down each hand saw, squints at the tag until he finds mine. As he hands me my saw, I hand him $3.00, “I put a lot of set in your saw, don’t press down, just drag it across; the saw will pull in by itself. Be good to your saw, steel wool it and wax it, less friction. It’s much less work.”

As we move outside on the driveway, I attempt to impress him, “I will be doing some work this weekend if it’s not too hot; I have some fancy cuts to make on rafters for the deck roof I’m building.”

“Why don’t ya use a skill saw?” He inquires with a frown.

“I’m not used to using one; was brought up on the hand saw, never did enough carpentry to bother learning.”

With a faint grin, “So you don’t like the whine of the saw do you?” Pumping his arm back and forth as if sawing a board, “You like uh huh, uh huh, uh huh.”
He chokes up, “I am weak as a rag: I stagger a lot and it’s getting worse. I don’t drink, mind you; I’m not drunk!”

“Have you been to the doctor lately?” I inquire.

“Yes, but he didn’t help much.”

“When are you going back?”

“In a few weeks.” Then with second thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t wait on that; maybe I should go next week.”

With a nod toward the back of his two-story house, “I am not useful anymore; had to hire some men to have the house remodeled. They didn’t put the roof on right, it leaks. They flashed it wrong in the valley.”

“Can’t you call them back, have them make good?”

“Naw! They’re not smart enough to fix it.”

Gingerly, I test the sharpened teeth with my fingertip, “Thanks for fixing me up.”

“You probably can do better than me. Go to someone else next time.”

There is no someone else!

by Ira Smith ©2012


  1. Replies
    1. Ira. This is wonderful, but makes me very sad. Can I send him cookies?

      Kay Carstens

  2. Ira,

    The fact that I feel sad as I write this, attests to the skill of your writing. You brought us into the world of a particular old man so perfectly. You presented the character of the saw sharpener so skillfully - the dialogue was perfect - sparse, short, to the point! To be of use - isn't that what every one needs - even the little dog at my feet. Well done, Ira.