The revenge of “Mike the Hammer”

The revenge of “Mike the Hammer”

Few incidents over the last couple of years will stay branded in my memory like the day of Mike the Hammer. A day that started out just like any other ended in carnage and resulted in the brutal murder of a lawnmower, and the birth of a legend. Please be advised, the following content may upset and offend sensitive readers. Some names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

A cheery afternoon and a mild mannered customer
It was like I said in the introduction just a normal November afternoon a good couple years ago, sun was shining, birds were singing, it was really just a perfect summer’s day. It was hot during the day with thunderstorms at night, typical Highveld weather. I did mention that this was a couple of years ago, before this crippling drought. It was conditions tailor-made for rapid grass growth and breaking lawnmowers. As one would expect from that time of year, our workshop was very busy with a 3-week waiting period. Our mild-mannered customer, Mike, had a plot not too far from our shop and made use of a 3-wheeled brush mower with a Yamaha MT110 engine. Now, Mike has been a customer of ours for many, many years, pre-dating my arrival at Enviro in 2008 and had a good relationship with Marius and my dad. At that time I was still a young upstart with much to learn.

Some background
The Yamaha MT110 engine was a legend in its own right. Hands-down one the best lawnmower engines ever built. Simple and robust, relatively cheap to maintain, even though it was not a cheap engine to start with. But if and when it starts giving you trouble, even the finest detail missed, will cause hours of headaches for any technician. Mike’s MT110 was just one like that and had been in and out our workshop a couple of times over the previous two seasons. We were blissfully unaware of the fact that Mike was on his way with said machine and carnage following very closely behind.

The excrement hits the rapidly rotating device
Through one of the windows I saw a bakkie screeching to halt, its nose a hairs breath away from the air conditioner unit. The driver side door swings open and Mike gets out, nothing seems out of the ordinary so far. I watch him walk to the back of the bakkie where he starts untying the ski rope holding a lawnmower in place. Before anybody can get outside to help off load the mower, Mike, with one fell swoop, pushes the mower of the back of the bakkie and it lands with a crash in the parking lot. That was the first clue that something was amiss, but we still had no clue of what was to follow and that we were mere minutes away from the birth of a legend and the demise of a mower.

Give me a F*&%ing hammer!!
Mike bursts into the front of the shop, shunting the mower before him, visibly upset with the current circumstances. I start walking around the counter to meet him and to establish the reason for his malcontent. This was of course a complete waste of my time and energy as Mike simply burst past me straight into my workshop. My first reaction was more of a “how dare he” than “let’s find out what’s wrong”. The first person he meets is my trustworthy chief technician, Johannes Serhithi, to which he puts the following request: GIVE ME A F*&%ING HAMMER”. Johannes reluctantly complies with the request and hands Mike a hammer. By this time Mike was outside the workshop in the courtyard by our rear entrance, hammer in hand and a mind full of malice.

Hammer to fall
The next thing I see was Mike brandishing the 3-pound hammer, and with a mighty swing, full of anger, he bashes the top of the starter cover rendering it useless. I attempted to stop him but Mike had only one thing on his mind, destroying this mower. He then continued to bash this mower senseless destroying every salvageable part. I stood there horrified at the scene unveiling itself in front of me, seeing a perfectly useful engine being demolished. Through the hammer strikes I heard Mike mumble: “I’m going to f&%k this thing up so badly that no one will ever be able to use a single part of it”. It was absolute carnage!

When the dust settled
When it all was over and all that remained was just a mangled piece of metal on the ground, shards of aluminium and pieces of carburettor everywhere, a calm and composed Mike walked back to the front of the shop with the only clues of what had transpired the beads of sweat on his brow and the hammer in his hand, almost like a modern day Thor. He came up to the counter, placed the hammer in front of me and, cool as a cucumber, said:
I would like to buy a lawnmower please.

The moral, if there is one?
Well,if you really want to look for a moral, it might not be the best advice ever, but it worked very well for our friend Mike. If something gives you enough S&%t and frustration, destroy it completely with the most possible force. It apparently refreshes the soul. I don’t know if that true, but one thing I can tell you is that after telling my wife this story, she has been much quieter, I get coffee in bed every morning and my hammer is missing. I’m still trying to figure out why.

Until next time.

Stay sharp

The truth is out there…

The truth is out there…

The chainsaw, a marvel of ingenuity. So simple, yet so complex, and most importantly, so misunderstood. So many myths and so much ignorance surround this marvellous power tool. So let’s get down to it. The truth is out there…

Please don’t let me be misunderstood
It seems like this plea of Eric Burton from The Animals have seemingly fallen on deaf ears when it comes to the humble chainsaw. I will now attempt so save and restore the reputation of the chainsaw back to being the useful power tool it can be. I will utilise my experience of almost a decade behind the sales counter of a chainsaw store. I will look at the questions most often asked, the myths and fallacies and the most common mistakes that are made.

Size is not everything
One of the most purported fallacies when it comes to a chainsaw is that the longer the bar, the bigger the saw. This could not be further from the truth. The length is a secondary consideration as a saw can in most cases take a variety of lengths. The key is to firstly establish what the intended application of the saw is going to be. If you are going to cut firewood and prune the odd tree, you don’t need a saw with a 63cm guide bar. Secondly, the golden rule is, use the shortest possible bar required for the intended job, and use better cutting techniques. For example, if I need to fell a tree that is 50cm in diameter, I don’t need a 50cm guide bar, but instead, a 35cm – 37cm bar will do nicely, and the advantages being that my saw is better balanced with more of the weight where I have the best control over it: in my hands. There is a cost benefit and sharpening time is decreased.

Staying sharp
Now that we have the size debate settled, let’s look at the cutting chain. The thing that does all the work, the very thing that the chainsaw is built for, without it a chainsaw is nothing but a very noisy paper weight. The success or failure is going to rely on effective chain maintenance. Frequent sharpening is advised. The key is to keep your chain sharp at all times and it’s recommended that the chain is sharpened with every refuel. If you hit soil with your saw, stop and sharpen right away because your chain is going to be dull, if you hit any foreign object in the tree like a piece of railway track (true story), your chain will be dull, guaranteed!!!

A chain of events
While we are on the subject of chains, do you know what the number one cause of mechanical failures on a chainsaw is? You’ve guessed it, bad chain maintenance or no chain maintenance whatsoever. Practically, every chainsaw failure can be traced back to a dull chain, from the anti-vibration system right to the air filtration system. It is really a chain reaction if you excuse the pun. Many people feel intimidated by the prospect of sharpening a cutting chain, or think that it will take up too much time. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard, and pretty quick to do too. Yes, it takes a bit of practice, but there are a variety of sharpening aids available to make the job easier. Sharpening will save you time in the long-run as the chain will cut faster, and will, if you are in a production type industry, yield more production, faster. Earning more money while saving money.

Look after your cutting chain, and your chainsaw and wallet will thank you!

The age old question: Can you cut dry wood?
This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions that I have had to answer over the years. It ranks right up there with the question, “is that your best cash price?” and “how much discount do I get?”.
So hold on to your hat, as I am about to blow your mind…
The answer is a resounding YES! YES you can cut dry wood! Just be watchful for one thing, and that is soil. Insects can carry soil into the wood, you get soil under the bark, and rain can splash soil onto the wood. And as you know, soil is to a chainsaw’s chain like kryptonite is to Superman. Remember, the cutting edge of the chisel on a cutting chain is coated with industrial chrome. This chrome is harder than any wood will ever be, dry or wet. Keep your chain sharp and watch out for soil and you will be fine!

Well that is all from me for now, join me again next week for another edition to the Chainsaw files.
We will be looking at the roll of 2-stroke oil, chain oil and short-/long-term storage of your saw.

Until next time.

Stay sharp!

In the beginning…

In the beginning…

A young man stares up at the towering giant redwood in front of him, a sharp stone tied to a stick in his hands and nothing but a loincloth to cover his sensitive bits. He sighs because he knows it is going to take a couple of days, or maybe even weeks to take down this monster of a tree. In the back of his mind a little seed is planted: “isn’t there an easier way?”

Now, as improbable as the scene above may be, we have to this day, still implanted the same seed in the back of our minds. The thought of finding an easier way drives innovation and technology in all spheres, and even though something works fine, there is always room for improvement. The sharp stone on the stick evolved to become the chainsaw we have today.

Introductions, let’s get them out of the way.
Seeing that this is my first blog post, let me introduce myself and give you a quick rundown of my history in this business. My name is Theo Kraamwinkel (Jnr.), My dad, Theo Kraamwinkel (Snr.) started Lynnmowers in 1972 and has ever since been involved in the chainsaw business. It is something that I grew up with, and now at 36-years-old I find myself in the same trade with my dad and close friend and colleague, Marius Taljard, who is undoubtedly one of the best chainsaw operators and instructors this country has ever seen. But I’m digressing. Let me get back to the subject at hand.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, or do they really?
The outdoor power tool industry has, on the surface, not changed much over the last 30 years or so. This, for the most part, is true, certain principles still apply, 2-stroke engines still work on the same principle, a chainsaw has retained the same basic shape, cutting chains still get dull if you cut into the soil, any chainsaw, brush cutter, trimmer and blower will seize up if it runs without oil and they are still not fond of dust intake.
So you are asking yourself, what has changed? Everything has changed, from how we interact with each other, our expectations in terms of service and quality of products, how we view the world around us, and the choices we have. Today we have more choices than ever before, all of them at our fingertips thanks to the internet. It is the age of the customer, where it is the customer’s wants and needs that dictate terms and no longer the other way around. The rise of e-commerce has changed the retail landscape forever, and the power that you carry in your pocket – the smart phone.
As far as product technology goes in our industry, and specifically in the STIHL camp, we are seeing electronically controlled carburettors, which require a computer to set the carburettor (this was like science fiction to my dad), fuel injection on a handheld cut-off saw, 2-stroke machines that are becoming more fuel efficient and kinder to the environment, and my favourite, the rise of the battery-powered machine! But inside the average chainsaw and lawnmower shop, time has largely stood still. Yes, we use email and online B2B ordering, but the way we communicate with our customers has not yet evolved, we are still stuck in 1972 for that matter.

But why are we standing still?
This part I am still trying to figure out myself, but I know that there must be a change in the way things are done, if we don’t evolve, we will surely be left behind. Thankfully, there is an influx of young blood into the industry that I think will get the ball rolling with a new way of thinking and approaching challenges. Please also keep in mind that these are my own thoughts and there is a likelihood that I am completely off the mark with my analysis of the matter.

When the penny drops
I realized that this evolution must happen sooner rather than later, and hence I am writing this blog and publishing it on our website. Our website will in time become a very useful tool for us to engage with you, share information, process orders and book machine services. It is our duty to stand upon the shoulders of those who came before us and take this industry forward into the future, utilising the technology that we have at our disposal today.
So just like the young man in his loincloth and primitive axe, the seed in the back of my mind is germinating and taking root. ISN’T THERE AN AN EASIER WAY?

Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and I would love to get your comments on the subject.

Until next time.

Stay sharp!!