Oh dear, I hate it when I damage my tools: ok, it's not as though I treat them like precious objects - they are, after all, working tools - but I still feel guilty.
A couple of weeks ago, just before Christmas, I had a slight accident with one of my long-handled tools, and it's proving to be annoyingly difficult to fix.
Here's the plot: I used to have the use of a terrific long-handled pruner, which was basically just a hinged knife on an 8' long metal pole.
Simple to use, elegant, easy: for many years, this tool was my mainstay for pruning fruit trees, Wisteria, Passion Flower, anything which grows above head height, because my business insurance doesn't cover me to go more than 1.5m off the ground. Which means I can't go up ladders.
(Before you start sending me info about insurance companies who would allow me to go up ladders, I am perfectly happy with this restriction, because I hate going up ladders!)
When my dearly-beloved Nissan Primera Estate finally died, after 14 faithful years (*sobs*), forcing me to change my car, my criteria was not so much engine size, 0-60mph (*snorts through nose*) (I'm laughing because when you regularly carry plants and plant material, you really want a car that will accelerate gently and smoothly, to avoid damage...), or what gadgets it had: no, it was more a case of "I must be able to get my 8' long pole into it" and I even took the pole with me, round all the car showrooms.
Now, why was I so faithful to the long metal pole? Because it was quick, simple, and didn't cause any problems or faff. (As anyone who has ever been my Trainee or Student will tell you, I hate faff!) It would cut through quite large branches with no problem, never needed sharpening, and didn't get stuck up in the tree tops.
When I had to give the long pole back to it's owner (don't ask), I had to find a replacement, which took a while, because most of the long reach pruners have a hideous string-and-pulley arrangement: this sort of thing -
Firstly, all that external stringing - the first time you use it, you realise that strings get tangled up, in branches, in twigs, in fences, on wires: for goodness sake, they even self-tangle!
Then you realise that, no matter how clever the pulley arrangement might be, you still have a degree of "stretch" in the string, so you can't get a good, clean, simple cut with it. You find yourself hanging on to the string, heaving and heaving, as though you were trying to raise the Jolly Roger on a windy day.
And I have nothing whatsoever to say about the added knife: this is a classic example of a "jack of all trades" tool: with the knife attached, the hook and blade can't get to the right branch without getting tangled up with an unwanted branch. And when you want to actually use the saw blade, you find that you can't cut cleanly with all that damned string hanging about the place. I already have a long-reach saw, a conveniently extendable one, which fits easily into the car: it's the cutting knife that I need, and these string-driven things just are not up to the job.
So: after rushing around garden centres like a mad thing, bereft of a long-reach tool and panicking slightly, I managed to track down the Fiskars UP84, a modern-construction tool, which was nearly as long as the 8' pole, and nearly as chunky.
For two years, it worked fine: not quite as good as the dear old metal pole, because they designed it to have a clever, poseable top part (very 'Action Man') in order to allow you to cut an any angle. Quite useless in the real world, of course: at any angle other than 'straight up', you can't see the blade, so you have to guess if you are in the right place. Or not. Also, the old fashioned one was easy to use - you would hook it over the branch, then once you have the branch, you pull the lever and chonk! there it is done.
With the UP84, you have to push the jaws up at the branch, and there's very little sensory feedback along a nearly-8'-long handle, so you are never quite sure if you have the branch firmly in the jaws, or not. This means you waste a lot of 'handle operations' with no actual cut, unlike the very positive old-style one.
Yes, if I could find another old-style one, I'd buy it...
Anyway, the UP84 lasted two years, then a couple of weeks ago, I was tidying up some Beech hedging: the neighbour had contractors in to cut their high Beech hedge, but they hadn't bothered to do all the overhanging bits, so we - next door - were left with an ugly fringe of branches, obstructing the gateway and looking terrible. Out with the UP84, and chomp, chomp, chomp with the branches. Until there was a chomp, chomp ping! and off went the spring.
It took me a while to work out why the tool suddenly wasn't working - there's a spring across the jaws, which makes them open ready for the next cut. This spring had somehow been pinged off, never to be seen again. (I did try searching for it, but honestly, there was no chance of finding it.)
Here it is, poor thing: spring-less and apparently gasping in exhaustion.
Firstly I checked my understairs cupboard (which is where my tools live) to see what springs I had 'in stock', as it were.
Nope, nothing suitable.
Then I looked online for a replacement spring: Fiskars do a spares set, which includes a new blade - and which costs £35.99!! Ouch!
All I need is the spring!
The whole tool cost about £90, by the way, so I suppose buying a spares set would at least be only one third the cost of buying a whole new tool, just for the sake of a spring which probably costs about a quid ....
So I tried to buy just a spring: the gap measures 65mm so that's a start, but I didn't know if 65mm was the size of the springy part, or the size of the whole thing including the attachment loops at each end.
OK, let's be sensible; we'll buy a box of assorted springs, one of them is bound to be the right size.
Well, the sizes were ok, but they were way too feeble. I had not used the words "heavy duty spring" in my search, because I thought that would lead me to the sort of suspension springs you get in cars.
I tried eBay: but, not knowing what "loading" the spring ought to be, I don't know how to get one that is strong enough, but not so strong that it's immoveable.
Then I had a brainwave! Let's ask the nice people at Fiskars!
So I emailed them, and asked if they would sell me just the spring, please.
I had found their facebook page, and it was not encouraging: there seemed to be a lot of posts from irate customers, asking why Fiskars had never responded to their emails. Oh dear. But I gave it a few days, and then a reply appeared.
It was from a lady called Laurene and she just asked "How long have you had the UP84?"
Hmm. Either they have changed the specs, and want to make sure that they send me the right one - that's the optimistic viewpoint - or they are going to say 'sorry, out of warranty' in which case I am going to be cross, because I asked if they would sell me a spring - I'm not expecting to get it for free.
I emailed back with the information, and a few days later - hooray! An email from Laurene confirming that they will send me a new spring, free of charge!
What lovely people! My £90 tool will once again work, and I won't have to waste £35 on a full spares kit that I don't need.
And when the spring arrives, I will fit it, and then I will take the pliers to it: the spring - as you can see in this screen-shot, left - has a loop at each end which hooks into the blade at one end, and the body of the tool at the other, and clearly that's how the original one was pinged off - a branch must have caught in it, and flicked it in exactly the right direction to come unhooked.
So I am going to bend over those hooks, to make them into closed loops, so they can't escape again.
And if they're too strong to be bent, then I will add some thin wire, around the loop and around the hole in the blade (and the body) - there's no way I'm letting my replacement spring escape!
So, top marks to Fiskars, excellent customer service, and I'm delighted that, in a few days, this tool will be working perfectly again.
Update: well, life is never quite that simple, is it? Fiskars contacted me again, to say that they no longer have any springs for the UP84 in stock.
So, would I prepared to accept a replacement tool, instead? *incredulous face*.
They sent me a link to their catalogue, and I looked through it: the nearest to the UP84 seemed to be the UPx82,
It seems to be a good bit shorter, only 1.6m as opposed to 2.4m, but it is half the price.
Hmm, not much use to me, though.
The other "long reach" tool is the UP86, now superseded by the UPx86, which is telescopic - problem there, is that a) it might not fit inside my car, and b) telescopic tools tend to get wobbly and weaker, the longer they get.
That's why I loved the original simple pole with bypass blade on the end.
I notice that all these new UPx tools have the same unwelcome poseable head, but I note that they've added an orange plastic extension: perhaps they listened to my complaints about not being able to hook it over the branch?
Anyway, neither of those two options seemed to be terribly welcome, so I made an alternative suggestion to Fiskars: would they be prepared to send me courtesy spares set? The £36 set? Cheaper for them, than a whole new tool: and easier to post: and they would be winding down their spares anyway.
And they agreed! "It'll take a month or more to arrive" warned the very nice Laurene, from Fiskars, but I said that was ok, I would just have to manage without it until then.
Secretly, I couldn't quite see why they couldn't break open on of the spares packs, and pop the spring in an envelope to me, but heyho, time seems to be more costly than money to big companies, if you see what I mean: to get someone to do that, would involve instructing them, they'd then have to physically go and get a spares pack, break it open, pack up the spring, dispose of the unwanted bits: yes, I can see their point, easier to send me an entire spares pack.
Which they did.
It took forever to get here, thanks to Brexit: it came from Eindhoven, via Appledoorn, where it sat for a good month or more: then it was released by customs, and made it across the channel to Stanford le Hope, where it sat for another couple of weeks: it was booked out for delivery two weeks ago, but didn't make it, and went back to Stanford le Hope... you get the picture. But UPS were very diligent, and almost every day for two months, they send me an email regretting that my shipment was delayed due to Brexit.
Finally, yesterday, the 12th March, I looked outside to see a flat package sitting in my porch.
It had arrived!
30 seconds later, I'd unpacked it, and was trying to fit the spring.
Half an hour later, I did it!
There you go, new spring wrestled into place, with the help of a pair of pliers and a lot of patience.
So well done Fiskars, and in particular to Laurene, who managed to get it all sorted out and organised for me.
But now, before I use it, I am going to find a way to attach some sort of retainer onto that spring, because I can't bear the thought of losing another one!
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