I fired up the big ol, Stihl cut-off saw and began slicing through the six-inch steel beams that formed the frame for the ex-fish-farm ramp I was working on. After cutting to length, I was going to drag one end of it up to the new deck extension I had built to gain access to my lower deck from the beach. The ramp was a replacement for the aforementioned (see previous posts) set of lethal stairs I had been using for the past eight years.
I had begun the day’s chore when the ramp was half in the water, half out, with the back half semi-floating by way of a strapped-on old fish-farm float. I had dragged it from the sea like a whale skeleton using one of my winches (the gas-powered ‘pull-toy’ and 4 blocks). I figured I was getting and needing close to 6000 pounds of pull. The tension on the cable was incredible.
The heavy steel ramp slowly skidded up the beach on bits and pieces of flotsam, cedar branches and an old landscaping pole but it still took everything the little winch had. Had the cable or some part of the rig parted, I would be wearing the snapped-back assembly around my head. With the engine screaming and the winch straining, it was an unpleasant chore that seemed to last way too long. I was glad when the ramp was out of the water enough to make my cut.
The cut-off saw weighs about 30 pounds, is gasoline-powered and turns a 14+ inch composite blade at something like 500 rpms. Torque is something to consider but the main issue is to get the blade dead-on the cut. Twisting it when it is running in a groove may cause the blade to snap and, once again, the operator’s face acts as the backstop.
Footing, of course, was poor. Treacherous, actually. It’s a beach. Slippery rocks, a few of them under water, all of them covered in kelp, barnacles and irregular in the extreme made the use of the saw harder still. I hate it when it is like that. I tend to be less confident.
OK, make that: scared to death!
I cut through one sidebeam and then sliced through the steel mesh that forms the walkway. I was 3/4 of the way through the final six-inch beam when the whole assembly shifted a smidge. It was only a one-inch shift but it came with a loud bang and felt like Fukashima.
I stepped back and, confirming a rapid but steady pulse, I re-examined the wisdom of the whole task at hand. ‘Hmmm……how can I save face (literally) and safely get out of this fine mess I have created…..?’
After a good hard look I decided that I could proceed for a bit longer but cutting through would likely release so much tension in the now-sprung-steel ramp all at once that I would likely be thrown from my footing and a sharp edge of ramp or tool might just leap up and cut me.
Or I might just fall down and hurt myself.
I bleed often and I bleed well. Thankfully, I also heal pretty quickly and I rarely feel any pain while in the accident-causing moment. The magic of nature, eh? As it stood, I was already sporting a good-sized gash on my leg from an earlier encounter with a sharp beach rock and I was, perhaps, a little blood-shy. I was down half a pint already. No need to contribute more. So, I stopped short of separating the two pieces of ramp in an effort to halt any further unnecessary violence.
I now had a ramp cut in one-third and two-third lengths. Almost. Probably about 3000 pounds of steel on one end, at least 1000 pounds on the shorter end. About 3/4 of an inch of 1/2 inch steel still connected them. The short end had a float attached and the whole assembly was moving a bit with the waves.
“I’m gonna tie off both pieces and let the tide and currents wiggle the final separation free for me overnight. When the floating piece rises and the other piece sinks, there should be enough movement that the remaining 1/2 inch of steel will ‘fatigue’ and break. I just don’t wanna be standing anywhere near that cut when it separates.”
“Wow! You are being careful. And overly optimistic. What’s come over you? Gettin’ sensible or gettin’ chicken?”
“Well, I don’t mind getting a few cuts and bruises but this could cause some real damage and I’d prefer to keep my remarkably good looks intact. Buk, buk, bu-awk!!”
“Well, it won’t work, ya know? You are already too ugly and the steel is too thick. The sea won’t work it enough. They’ll still be attached in the morning.”
“Well you may be right about the ugly but I am gonna try the easy way first. If it hasn’t separated, I’ll come at it again tomorrow. A chicken’s work is never done!”
Epilogue: Next morning. “When you finish this blog, I want credit for being right! Those pieces are still stuck together, ya big doofus!”
“Give it time. It’s still early in the morning. I’ll check when the tide is out later in the day. But, don’t worry. If you are right, I’ll write about it.”
THANK GOD! The theory worked! Sal was wrong. Please make a note. For the record – the chicken was right!
“Unh, Dave…..why are you cutting steel in shorts? Isn’t that a sure-fired way to get hurt?”
“Well, you make a good point. But getting the odd cut is not as big a deal for me as falling with running machinery and wearing shorts give me the freedom to move. So, for me, it is a trade-off. It may not look safe but, for me, it is. But thank you for your concern.”