In Case You've Wondered

My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.

If you're here for the stories, I started another blog:

One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.

I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Lament of the Concrete Sawyer

I learned to saw concrete by the method common in the late seventies: "Here's the saw. These are the controls. Get to work and don't screw up." It wasn't a completely new experience; I had watched the process, so I wasn't completely unfamiliar with sawing concrete.

We were pouring a new street. Four lanes of concrete was the final result, but it required long days of preparing for the eventual concrete pour on Friday. Usually, it was a single lane of concrete approximately a thousand feet in length. The pour started at daylight and lasted until around 2:00 pm, except for me.

Concrete is guaranteed to do two things: get hard and crack, which requires controlled cuts in pavement for the cracks. The cuts are usually around a quarter of the way through the concrete and an eighth of an inch wide. After the concrete is completely cured, the joints are cleaned, a backing rod is placed and the joint is sealed to prevent water infiltration. The sealant is flexible, so that the concrete can expand and contract without losing the seal.

After the first pour on the project, I was asked if I knew anything about sawing concrete. Young, fairly energetic and not really wanting to go back to setting paving forms, I agreed to place the saw joints in the concrete. The job, which is called "green cutting" required marking the proposed location of the joints with a chalk line and sawing the concrete, which due to the concrete thickness, was two inches in depth. Another hand helped me start the sawing process by helping pop chalk lines. Eventually, I learned how to remove the need of a helper; they could be unreliable and not hold the line in the right place.

The concrete at the first of the pour was set to the point I could run the saw on the surface without marring the finish. The saw, which was common at the time, was a 65 horsepower saw manufactured by Target. Self propelled, heavy, awkward and loud was the only way to describe the saw. The big Wisconsin engine had it's own peculiar bellow that was unmistakable. To this day, I could pick the saw out with my eyes closed. 

I propelled the saw to the first joint location. Stopping the engine, I placed the diamond blade on the arbor. The 14 inch blade was heavy, and had signs of wear. The diamond segments were half worn, but the blade would last for a few pours, if I insured the right amount of water was on the blade and didn't try to "bulldog" the saw. Low water, or pushing the blade would cause the blade to wear too fast, which meant hundreds of dollars were wasted by a negligent sawyer.

I hooked the water line to the saw, opened the valve on the water truck pulled next to the pavement, started the saw, adjusted the throttle and pushed the control to lower the blade to the pavement. I was not in line, so I wrestled the heavy saw back and forth until the blade was right over the line. I opened the water valve on the saw and lowered the blade to touching the pavement. Adjusting the gauge, I lowered the blade to two inches and eased the direction control forward. I was now a sawyer, whether I liked it or not. Considering I had 1000 feet of paving to saw, with the paving joints every 15 feet across the 12 feet of paving, it was time for me to get busy. I worked until dark and finished the next morning.

Over time, I learned how to speed up the process. The saw became more familiar and I learned shortcuts for sawing. The saw became a cumbersome appendage, which I would move without thought. The mindless repetition of sawing allowed hours of time to think, so the distraction of sawing was soon eliminated by instinct. I became an expert, which has it's good points, but it was tedious, which is not my strong point. Sawing became drudgery and the only thing I liked was the overtime. 

I eventually taught someone else to run the saw. There was a bridge to build and I had the most experience with such things, so my sawing days ended until years later on other projects. It's an honorable trade and the pay is good if you have the experience, but sawing always involves long, strange hours. I know some that relish the job and they're poetry motion while they saw. Me, it's not my favorite, but I know that it's a skill I can still peddle if required.  Hopefully, I never have to make that decision.


  1. Running almost any kind of equipment that requires skill does tend to separate the artists from the mere operators. Forklifts, articulated end loaders, skid steers, road graders and any other kind of construction or farm equipment have their experts, and if ya watch 'em, they can easily be picked out. They're the ones who get the job done with far less time and effort, without abusing the equipment, and often with an artistic flair.

    I haul tanks for a living, and often our oilfield products include walkway and stair kits to mount on the sides, hauled broken down. We have "bolt kits" which are Tyvex bags of nuts and bolts used to put the erector set stuff together. There was an ol' boy that unloaded me with a big articulated Cat end loader fitted with forks in Oklahoma that had mad skilz. He picked up my walkways, but the bolt bag slid off it's perch halfway across the yard. I started walking over to pick it up to give to him, but he motioned me to stop. He actually picked up that bag by sliding one fork under it and then in one continuous motion transferred to the top of the fork. He then ran across the yard and dropped it back on the walkway.

    Had I tried that, I'd either have smeared that bag and bolts all over the yard, or dug a trench and perhaps managed to carry the bag with all the dirt and rocks. This guy was good!

  2. I watched an excavator operator pick up a dime, with less than a cup of dirt, to win a bet. It turned out to be a sucker bet since he could probably perform the trick with his eyes closed.