The Hess Report

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Case For Steel 

I have in my garage an excellent, heavy duty table saw that was a gift from our neighbor after her husband passed away this year. I used it this weekend to make a table base for an old wooden game board that scavenger!Joy had obtained from her grandmother.

When I went to get the saw out of the garage, I noticed that it had suffered some surface oxidation on the table part. It's been so blitheringly hot and humid lately that the main air conditioning line running across my garage's ceiling had been condensing water on its outside and dripping it on everything underneath. Including the saw. Now, the table itself is good old plain old steel, one of God's true gifts to mankind, not stainless, so it's subject to oxidation, just like iron would be.

I knew that Norm, the late owner of the table saw, would have ridden me mercilessly (but in good fun) if I had allowed that to happen to a even a cheap tool that I had purchased for myself, let alone a rather nice one that had used to be his. So, slightly horrified at the superficial damage, and hearing Norm laughing at me in the back of my head, I pulled out the steel wool.

It only took about ten minutes of buffing to get it back into prime condition. After that, I got an old sock that was headed for the dumpster, put some 3-in-1 on it, and applied a light coating of oil to the table's steel surfaces. Most men in the crowd will understand the next part, and most women will probably just go "huh?". But after the oil hit it, that surface became beautiful, like a captivating piece of artwork. Freshly oiled steel, especially steel that has seen a bit of wear, has a depth to its appearance and a lustrous quality that nothing else can mimic. And the smell. Oh, the smell. I've always loved it.

I suspect that human males are born to love the scent of oiled metal and only deviate from that sense through adverse operant conditioning (like, say, being beaten as a child with an oiled bike chain). Women, on the other hand, seem to be neutral about it, or even naturally averse, as is one-hundred-percent-woman!Joy.

Maybe it goes back tens of thousands of years to iron-age days, when a man who loved the tools of his survival survived longer and better. How does the world of evolution set someone up to take better care of their tools? It makes them love the smell, the feel and the look of it. Not saying that's what happened, I'm just saying it's interesting.

When I closed my eyes and inhaled over the glistening slab of steel, it fired a basic part of my brain that whispered: food... power... safety... freedom... And what's not to like about that?

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