The right tool for the job

My father used to say “It is a poor workman who blames his tools”. (The saying, or variations, seems to date from the 13th century or before.) Maybe that’s how he justified using mostly a monkey wrench and a Vice Grips on nuts and bolts. I don’t recall him ever buying a tool. I was 18 before I realized that nails come from the hardware store. Before that I thought they came from the baby food jars in the garage. If the nail I needed wasn’t there, I went to the scrap lumber pile beside the garage, pounded a nail out of an old piece of wood, pounded it straight, and used that.

The flip side of that is “Use the right tool for the job.” I have favorite tools in all of my endeavors.

For cooking, it is the 8 inch French knife. Mine has a walnut handle that feels right in my hand. It is not the greatest of knives – it is stamped steel, which holds an edge well but doesn’t take an edge well. Forged steel is better, but this knife has been my companion for almost 50 years, since shortly after I no longer got paid for my knife skills, and my funds were limited (and I could get a massive discount on this particular brand due to my employer selling them). A KitchenAid stand mixer is probably my next favorite kitchen tool. Not used daily, like the knife, but pretty handy when I do use it.

Favorite plumbing tools include the Sawzall, which does what the name says. It will cut through framing, even with nails. It will cut pipe (better for removing old pipe than cutting new pipe, but it will cut copper, steel, cast iron, or plastic in a pinch). The ½ inch right angle drill will fit between studs and has enough torque to get through anything – mishandled, it can do damage – more to you than to the material. Add a Forstner bit (or the Plumber’s Self-feed Bit Kit) and you can make 2″ and larger holes in no time.

Pipe cutter image from Ridgid Tool (think of that as a 4″ diameter pipe to get an idea of scale), Drill image from Milwaukee Tool.

The hammer drill makes quick work of concrete when you could spend ridiculous amounts of time with a regular drill motor and a carbide bit, only to make a dent. The no-hub torque wrench is a simple and elegant tool – a T-handled wrench that tightens the couplings on cast iron pipe fittings and never overtightens. The cast iron pipe cutter beats the hell out of trying to saw through cast iron. It has a chain that wraps around the pipe, with cutting edges (vaguely similar to a chain saw) that bite into the iron. As you tighten it, the pipe suddenly snaps with a suitably straight end. (Torque wrench image from my toolbox.)

For winter biking I have written about favorites before (links to three different posts). The face deserves special consideration. Down to 20 degrees (F) I just use a tight-fitting, windproof cap that covers the ears and fits under a helmet. From 20 down to about 5 or 10 I add a silk balaclava that covers the chin and cheeks and can be pulled up to cover the nose and mouth if needed. From +5 to -20 it is a merino wool balaclava that covers the nose and has a breathing hole for the mouth (and if it is borderline too cold you can breathe inside of it to warm yourself instead of letting that heat escape). A pair of ski goggles gets added at this juncture. You can easily pay $200, $300, or more for ski goggles. Mine fit over glasses and currently sell for about $35 (Outdoor Master is the brand). I can’t find a justification for spending 10 times that much to get the brands the pro skiers wear. Colder than -20 degrees and I switch to a fleece balaclava that is otherwise way too warm. That seems to work to -30 and I haven’t ridden colder than that. I could probably fit the silk balaclava under the wool or fleece one to get colder. These temperature ranges may vary depending on the wind (and you – I see folks in goggles and balaclavas when it is barely freezing).

Ready to face -5 Fahrenheit (-20.5 C – you’ll have to convert the rest yourself)

Since we’re talking about serious cold, this is the weather to read Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire”. Full text is available here and it is a quick read. It is the story of a man, a dog, and a brutally cold day in Alaska.

Since this guy didn’t make it into the last post, I thought I’d add him today.

Now it’s your turn. What do you do and what is (are) your favorite tool(s) to do it with? Tell us in the comments.

sleet, freezing rain, goggles?

Tiny balls of ice falling from the sky; like sweeping sand off the steps. Sleet was followed by freezing rain – with the air just warm enough to keep it liquid until it hit the ground (or any surface). Maybe if I’d held off on clearing the sleet, removing the layer of ice would have been possible.

The temperature then dropped below zero just to be sure that salt wouldn’t melt it. Luckily I had sandbags left over from the summer flood and could spread that on the sidewalk. When I saw that the temperature was to drop below zero again, I ordered some ski goggles, as local stores were out for the season. They arrived just in time for these before-and-after pictures.

After a one day trial, preliminary results indicate that I am pro-goggle. The blobs of ice stuck to my eyelashes don’t help visibility, but they do make intriguing sounds when I blink. The smaller dots off to the side of the lens are salt spots, from evaporated tears.

I found some bikes that remained parked through the storm:

IMG_1477

Best of all was ice skating down the street. It wasn’t easy taking an ice skating selfie, and I can’t upload the video. I hope you get the idea between the stills and the sound file. Near the end of the sound file you can hear a 180 degree turn, as the ice was getting bad in one direction.

Next up is more snow – 6 to 9 inches expected overnight.

High fashion at low temperature

…or, how do you stay warm at -30 degrees?

Now that it has warmed up by 70 degrees F (-26 to +44) [think of it – that’s like 20 to 90 degrees in 3 days], we can look back at the cold weather. What does the well-dressed cyclist wear at 30 below?

I can’t tell you, but I can tell you what I wore and what worked. We’ll go from head to toe (head, shoulders, knees and toes, for the younger set).

For the head: balaclava, helmet hat, and helmet. My favorite balaclava is no
longer available. I now have three of them. For cold weather I use a silk one with the face open – keeps the chin and cheeks warm. For colder weather I use a merino wool one with eye and mouth openings. I can inhale through the nose (and through wool to warm the air before it reaches my nose and lungs) and exhale through the mouth opening to avoid fogging/freezing lenses. For coldest weather I use a fleece one. There is no mouth opening. Some exhaled air stays inside it and is directed down toward my neck and chest. Some fogs my glasses. Exhaling forcefully helps direct more air away from the face to minimize fogging. I may join those who wear ski goggles and let you know how that works.

Upper body (from the inside out): silk turtleneck, wool jersey, wool arm warmers, down vest,  windfront “softshell” jacket (thin fleece).

Lower body: bib tights, winter windfront tights, rain pants.

Feet: over-the-calf silk liner socks, neoprene socks, Bontrager Old Man Winter boots (two layers). [Brand name mentioned because this is kind of a small niche and I don’t know how the few other brands out there function.]

Hands: Silk liner gloves, Empire Wool and Canvas bike mitts [brand name mentioned because most “winter” bike mitts are not really made for the cold, and to give a plug to Kevin Kinney, maker of these mitts up in Duluth MN.] Some folks swear by bar mitts/pogies. Since I haven’t used them, I can’t comment.

All photos shot in available light except the last one, to show the reflective stripe on the mitten.

Just to be clear, in “normal” winter weather I just wear rain pants over my work pants and the jacket (plus vest if 20-25 degrees and arm warmers below that) over my work shirt. The complete change of clothes is only for extremes.

Now this, from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/02/03/684438571/women-who-dare-to-bicycle-in-pakistan

“I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!”

Okay, now it’s cold. Those of you who recall my Winter Biking post know I delivered newspapers as a kid, and that my parents had a rule that if it were colder than -20 degrees F, I could get a ride on my paper route. I decided to keep that rule as an adult, and ride my bike to work as long as the temperature remained above -20.

I broke that rule this week. Bus service isn’t great on Saturdays, so I rode to work. This is what -21 degrees F (-30 C) looks like. The fog on the lenses is from bending over to lock my bike. I was able to see better than that while riding. I am happy to say that my new Bontrager Old Man Winter boots kept my feet warm(ish) with just dress socks. Now that I’ve tested them, I’ll wear warmer socks next time.

This was the first time it has been cold enough to wear that fleece balaclava. Silk glove liners inside my mittens also helped.The title, by the way, is from Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) in “The African Queen”.

Temperatures that cold are fun for other things besides riding. If you throw boiling water into the air it will evaporate before coming to img_1458earth. (The actual demonstration starts at about the one minute mark of the video.) If you blow soap bubbles, they freeze. When the break, they shatter like light bulbs. The sensor on my phone had trouble dealing with all that white, but a frozen bubble sits in the middle of the photo.

(If spacing or formatting look weird, WordPress has changed its editing software again and it is pretty buggy.)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Six inches of new snow followed the cold, and -30 comes next. (Update: it never got that cold, but close, and by Friday afternoon should be above zero.) Now I know people are getting soft. No newspaper or mail delivery today (Monday). Also, when it gets cold enough, the snow squeaks when you walk on it.

 

This morning (Wednesday) we added wind to the cold. -26 plus a 20 mph wind (with a brief shot of 30 mph headwind) yielded a wind chill of ~ -50. (F and C are pretty close together at that point.) About a half mile from work, I thought my rear tire was going flat. There was no way I was going to stop. I was willing to sacrifice the tire and tube. A bit later (when I entered the infamous Pharmacy Building wind tunnel – the cause of that brief but monstrous headwind) I realized I was going flat, not the tire. At that point, my lenses fogged and froze and did look like the picture above. The final climb up the hospital driveway was done by memory as much as vision.

I learned that the wind proof membrane in my jacket gets stiff at that temperature. When I moved, it sounded like I was wrapped in cellophane. I feared the membrane had become brittle enough to shatter, like the bubbles I blew. It still seemed to work the next day. The sound of the tire studs biting into the ice was deafening. I wanted to record all those sounds, but didn’t want to uncover my fingers to work the phone. (Besides, the battery went from 100% to 20% charge just sitting in my pocket during the trip.)

The last time I remember a cold snap like was back in my radio days. I read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” and an except from Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” (which takes place on a planet referred to, in English, as “Winter”) on the air that day. I recommend both if you want to curl up with a warm beverage and read on a cold day.

You’ve probably read that this cold is due to the “Polar Vortex”, and you may have read claims that this somehow disproves global warming. Au contraire! A high altitude warm air mass made its way to the pole, causing the vortex, which normally circles the pole, to split and send a lobe southward over central North America. It is currently colder in Madison, WI than in Fairbanks and Point Barrow, Alaska, as well as Lapland (Saariselkä). Parts of Siberia are still colder.

For the climate change deniers, or those who don’t fathom the difference between weather and climate, the National Weather Service reports that, between 1869 and 1999, the temperature in Madison, WI dropped to -20 degrees Fahrenheit an average of 12 times per decade. Since 2000, it has happened twice – in 2000 and this week. The average number of days per decade when the daytime high remains below zero has fallen from 15 in the 1900s to 2 this century. The Winter Biking link above also contains a link to lake freeze data from the University of WI Limnology Lab, which also supports the conclusion that winters are shorter and milder than they were in the 1900s.

We’ll see what the groundhogs think tomorrow.

So when some old codger says that, when he was a kid delivering papers, he often rode his bike in below zero weather and seldom does now, he is telling the truth. If he tells you he walked five miles to school (uphill both ways) and he and his brother took turns carrying each other because they had one pair of boots between them, he may be pulling your leg.