By Mordechai Schmutter

By Mordechai Schmutter

So I recently learned how to use a chainsaw. Who says you can’t learn new things as an adult?

I had to do it as an adult. This isn’t something they taught me in school. Though I guess other people go to different schools, so I don’t know what they learn. There might be some school somewhere where they give a bunch of teenage boys chainsaws. That’s Day One:

“What did you do to your desk?”


“I haven’t even finished giving out the chainsaws!”

You’d think, “It’s a chainsaw. How much is there to learn? Just don’t juggle them.” Ours plugs in anyway, so it would be hard to juggle.

My wife is the one who bought it. It was her idea. She bought it because the bushes in front of our house have gotten too big, and we can’t see out the window anymore, and the branches are too thick to just trim.

No one planted such huge bushes. Someone planted tiny bushes. A lot of people plant tiny bushes in front of their house, because they’re cute. But they’re only cute for a while, and after a bunch of years they’re big and unwieldy and they get in your way when you want to look out the window. They’re kind of like your kids.

We currently have four bushes. One is tall, one is furry, one is always getting hit by our van, and one has birds living in it somewhere.

The kid metaphor ended at some point, by the way.

Oh, and one of them is home to hundreds of houseflies. I always thought houseflies came from houses, but, apparently, they come from bushes near the front doors of houses, and they’re alerted to go in the house when they hear someone yell, “Close the door! You’re letting the bugs in!”

“They’re letting us in, everyone! They just announced it!”

So we discussed possibly cutting down the bushes and starting over, and the next thing I know, my wife came home with a chainsaw that is literally the scariest thing we have in our house.

I’m thinking of getting one for fleishigs.

She got the kind with a cord, so we can cut whatever we want that is six inches from an outlet. It’s a safety feature. Another safety feature is that you can never accidentally cut the cord, because it’s six inches long. At best, you can cut the extension cord.

Sure, we could have gotten a cordless saw, but we figured that corded is fine, because: (1) It’s not like we’re running with it; (2) There’s no way we’re showing up at the gas station with a chainsaw; and (3) We keep losing our cordless phones.

There are actually a lot of safety features on this thing. I was initially scared to get a chainsaw, what with all the kids running around, but once we got one, I saw that they’re actually very safe. In fact, in the 23-page instruction manual, 16 pages are devoted to safety alone. That’s how safe they are. There are hand guards and sneeze guards and dead man’s switches, Rachmanah litzlan, and a safety switch, and even a little plastic sheath for the blade that you know will not do a thing if you turn it on by accident.

And in fact, the first thing my wife said when we opened it was that we both had to read the instructions. She was lucky that I hadn’t already cut the instructions in half.

Who has time to sit around and read the manual? I want to get out and cut stuff.

“What kind of stuff?”

“Fine, I’ll read the manual.”

Because that’s one difference between men and women when it comes to these things. My wife bought the chainsaw to cut something very specific, but once I was holding it, I was kind of like one of those guys who gets a new screwdriver and then walks around the entire house looking for things to tighten. My plan was to cut a garbage can in half. And maybe make a Tishah B’Av chair.

But then I realized that the last thing I wanted to do was try to cut something that would ruin the chain before we even got to cutting bushes. So I found the time to read the instructions. I ended up reading them in the waiting room of my kids’ dentist’s office, because who knew how long I was going to be there. Like the dentist’s office isn’t scary enough for these kids, there’s also a psycho reading a chainsaw manual.

And it turns out that I learned a lot from the manual, such as:

  • Do not operate the chainsaw in a tree.
  • Always keep your hands on both handles. Yes, there are two handles, probably because people are like, “Well what do I do with my other hand?” They don’t want people just walking around with two.
  • Wear hearing protection. Because that’s what you want when you’re using a chainsaw: people coming up behind you and giving you a heart attack.
  • When the tree begins to fall, remove the chainsaw from the cut, stop the motor, put the chainsaw down, then use the retreat path planned. I don’t know how you’re supposed to retrieve the chainsaw at that point. Buy a new chainsaw, I guess. The manual says nothing about yelling, “Timber!” So I’m not sure how people are supposed to know that there’s timber. Other than the chainsaw noises.
  • Do not use power tools when you are tired. Um, how tired are we talking here? Because I’m always tired. And so is my wife. Should we just hand it off to the kids? Are we talking about tired enough to affect judgment, or are we talking about people who will nod off while standing outside with a loud piece of dangerous machinery? Because I’m not that tired. Do people who are that tired stop to read 23 pages of instructions?

(I nodded off while reading the instructions. That’s how tired I am.)

But there’s also something to be said for learning by doing, although I don’t know if that statement was created for chainsaws. And what I learned by doing is that despite all the safety precautions, a chainsaw is a very scary device, and nothing can stand in its way except bushes. I say this because the bushes I was cutting kept making the chain get stuck. So we’d spend about ten seconds cutting and then ten minutes pulling branches out of the chain. But to be fair, what we cut in ten seconds would have taken us ten minutes with the garden shears. So it evened out.

Another thing that I learned by doing (and this was not in the manual) is that because of the placement of the handles, it’s actually a righty’s chainsaw. Which doesn’t mean that I (as a lefty) can’t use it; it just means that I can’t use it accurately. But who cares? We’re getting rid of the whole set of bushes, right?

That’s another difference between men and women: When my wife used the saw the first time, she was delicately shaping the bush smaller and smaller. When I did it, I basically hacked large chunks off, trying to get through to the trunk.

“What are you doing? We decided we’re not cutting it down all the way!” she said, when I finished my turn.

“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t hear you over the chainsaw.”

My wife is constantly conflicted between wanting to look out the windows and wanting privacy. If it were up to her, we’d have one-way glass. But then people would keep stopping in front of our window to adjust themselves, and it would look, from the inside, like they’re staring at us and playing with their hair. Or their neckties. Or their shel rosh. Also, birds would keep flying into the glass.

So for now, she decided that we’d cut the branches down beneath the windows and see if the leaves grow back at that height or if we’d cut off the part that can actually grow leaves. We can always cut more later. It’s not like if we cut too much, we can put some back.

So right now, thanks to our hacking, the bushes look like they just got a haircut for the Three Weeks.

“Make it short. Uncomfortably short. I can’t get it cut again until the end of the summer.”

Except for that one bush that I gleefully butchered, which is now basically just a bunch of naked branches growing out of the ground, but that we are still keeping there for now, apparently as a cautionary tale. And in the meantime, it seems to be keeping away the meshulachim. My wife is still hoping that the leaves grow back, but I don’t think they will. But for now, we’ve been keeping the chainsaw near our front door, I guess in case the bushes grow really big all of a sudden, seeking revenge.

Maybe we should keep it there all the time, for protection. You know how there’s all this controversy about whether you should have a gun in your house for protection? I say that you should have a chainsaw. Keep it next to your bed. If someone breaks into your house and he hears you firing up a chainsaw, he is not coming back.

“Hey, where are you going! The chainsaw’s corded!”

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to 


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