Saturday, November 22, 2014

Meditative Ritual

The wedges, the four of them, were beaten and battered front and rear. Before anything else, they needed to be made right.

The four were more or less identical three pound splitting wedges. Three of them have been around since forever; I don't know where they originally came from. The fourth one I found on the side of the road last year; I literally reached down and picked it up while stuck in stop-and-go traffic on Beast.

They all exhibited a certain degree of mushrooming. The mushrooming is the main focus of my efforts. I remember a few decades ago, splitting with a mushroomed wedge and a sledge hammer on a cool Vermont fall day. There was pinging sound, and I felt a sting in my bicep. There I found a hot chip of steel, hooked with a little barb, stuck in my skin. I was lucky; people have been killed by flying bits of wedge shrapnel.

So I grabbed the hand grinder and set to work. Four objects, four facets, four edges, two facets. A section of log served as the workbench; my workpiece was held in place by another wedge and braced by my foot. A spray of orange sparks splashed faintly across the log and my shoe in the brilliant fall sunlight.

The deformed metal slowly burned away, transformed into a hundred thousand tiny grains of oxide hanging on the air. The facets of the wedge slowly reemerged as brilliant gleaming silver planes, intersecting as crisp sharp angles. When the facets were all plane, I ground the corners away, leaving gently rounded intersections less prone to deformation and mushrooming.

Grind, turn, grind, turn, grind. The world around me disappears, focusing down to the intersection of a rapidly rotating abrasive wheel, a three pound chunk of steel, a spray of orange sparks, the desired geometry. The hazard of deformation reduced, utility can be addressed.

A splitting wedge does not have or need a cutting edge, like an ax. It works by separating wood fibers; it is less effective if it cuts those fibers instead. But, a blunt edge will not make that first bite into the end grain; it will take more effort and more time. So some edge is desirable, and unlike the reshaping of the deformed metal at the blunt end, restoring the narrow end takes but a pass or two with the grinder.

Deformation removed, edges restored, the wedges are returned to their original form. I take them inside, scrub them down, and warm them over the stove to thoroughly dry them. I then repaint the sides a bright red to make them stand out in the litter and clutter of a woodyard, where the native dull color of steel seems to blend right into the background.

Four objects, four facets, four edges, two facets. Meditation done, now the work can begin.


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