Friday 19 May 2023

A simple task

Simplicity is prerequisite for reliability.
Edsger W. Dijkstra

Like M. Jourdain in Molière's le bourgeois gentilhomme who is surprised to find he's been speaking prose for the last 40 years, I discovered I've been using simple machines all my life without realising that was A Thing. Actually, simple machines have been A Thing since Archimedes offered to move the world with one. A machine is a tool which uses mechanical advantage [technical term!] to make it easier for us the move stuff. The Greeks knew five such objects: 

  • the wheel and its axle; 
  • the screw; 
  • the wedge; 
  • the lever; 
  • the pulley. 

In the 1590s, Flemish engineer Simon Stevin added a 6th - the inclined plane - [prev rant] although that is a sort of stationary wedge.

Over the last tuthree years of splitting firewood, I've been making pairs of my own wedges by making an oblique cut in a straight-grained baulk of timber maybe 500mm long [examples R with club hammer for scale). The whole point of simple machines is to make something other than human sinew and muscle do the work. The other solution is to press animals - principally asses Equus asinus and horses Equus caballus but in other times and places oxen Bos taurus; buffalo Bubalis bubalis; camels Camelus dromedarius; and llamas Lama glama - into service. 

Meanwhile back in the wood . . . You can leave wedges in a check / crack / split overnight to work their mechanical advantage. Impatient folks may choose to whack at a lump of wood until an accident ensues. This is adjacent to washing dishes: soaking some burned pans in cold water overnight will save a lot of work scraping and cursing; and be better for the pan's surface. Pouring hot soapy water into these pans if often a waste of energy and dish-soap and the soap-soup gets cold surprisingly quick.

But part of the joy of splitting wood is being contemplative and part of that is looking closely at the piece of work to exploit its structural weakness. Look at the picture: judicious tapping with that one-handed club hammer is often good enough to reduce a log to fire-box size. A lot quieter than the damnable chain-saw. I will agree that my wedges are a mort too fat. A longer more acute point does more work although it looks more breakable.

I'll tell ya this for free: my sinews are really not up for the machismo of wearing out an axe or a splitting maul. I have no desire to have my wrist go sproiiing; putting me out of action for weeks.  And FFS use PPE. You only have two eyes and a flying splinter will take one out as soon as look at you: so wear a forester's visor or safety goggles. Last year, bish bash,  two lumps of wood separated from a log under my maul and drove back into my shins: first the right then six weeks later the left. In both cases my trousers were unharmed but the missile raised a chicken egg sized contusion under the cloth which took several weeks and many dressings to dissipate. I guess kevlar chain-saw chaps would be reasonable protection, . . . down there: so I try to remember to wear them. Here's a chap with some thoughts on wedges which split rounds. This fellow makes wooden splitting wedges gluts.

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