Fixing a skateboard is a lesson in life and in vocabulary

SATURDAY'S HERO

January 28, 1995|By ROB KASPER

It is not every day you can fix something and increase your vocabulary at the same time. That happened to me the other day when I "chamfered" the end of my kid's skateboard.

I did not know I was chamfering, I thought I was just cutting new threads in the axle of his skateboard. One wheel had come off his board. The nut that was supposed to hold the wheel in place could not grip because the threads, or grooves, on the metal axle that held the nut in place had been stripped smooth.

I regarded the stripped threads as a chance to teach the kid something. The kid regarded it as a drag. We had differing views on how to remedy the skateboard problem. He wanted to toss out the aged axle, which he regarded as over the hill, and replace it with a new one. I thought the old part still had some miles left in it, and just needed rethreading. It was a generational thing.

My view on the value of preserving old parts ties into my overall HTC view of what is wrong with America today -- namely, nobody fixes anything. Instead, they buy new. I bet any day now Alan I-Smell-The-Economy-Burning Greenspan will announce that a major cause of the nation's overheated economy is that Americans are buying too many new skateboard parts.

The other day I resisted the plea to buy a new axle. Instead, I gave the kid $2 and sent him over to the neighborhood hardware store with instructions to buy a device that would cut new threads in the old axle. I told him it would be a simple procedure.

It was not so simple. The device, called a "die," cost $2.70, so the kid, who was 70 cents short, had to make two trips to the store to complete the transaction. Moreover, a companion tool, a die stock, was needed to enable the die to cut new threads. The store was out of the device.

To compound the situation, this was a school night, and the kid had a massive geography project -- something like drawing maps showing every African country for the last 100 years -- that was due the next day. He had planned to get himself in the mood to do the homework by riding his skateboard. When the wheels fell off that plan, life seemed rotten.

As the kid thumped upstairs to deal with Africa, I grabbed his younger brother and drove him to a practice. It seems that every night there is some kind of practice-- basketball, swimming, piano, guitar-- that somebody needs to be driven to. After this particular practice session, basketball I think, I stopped at another hardware store and bought a die stock.

All I had to do now was put the die in the die stock. The device would cut new threads on the old skateboard axle.

When I got home, the 14-year-old was upstairs wrestling with Africa. I went in the basement, took his skateboard apart, and tried to figure out which was the "chamfered end" of the die.

The instructions on the back of the die stock package told me to "always start threading with the chamfered end of the die."

I didn't know my chamfered end from my unchamfered end. I checked the dictionary. It told me chamfer was a word meaning to cut a furrow, or groove. I looked at the die, a hunk of metal about as wide as a quarter. There were grooves on both of its ends, the wide end and the skinny end. Both looked chamfered.

So I did what I often do when in home repair projects, I guessed. I went with the wide end. I guessed correctly. That is what Fred "The-Guy-Who-Knows-Everything" Garms told me later. Garms works for Primark, a division of Vermont American, the company that puts the message on the tool and die package: "Always start threading with the chamfered end of the die."

When I called the tool company's offices in Lincolnton, N.C., and asked the staff members to find somebody who knew how to chamfer, they found Fred. Talking from his office in Louisville, Ky., Fred not only told me the wide end was the chamfered end, he also gave me a few tips on how to use the die stock to cut new threads.

He said I should turn the tool a half-turn forward, then a quarter-turn back. This back-and-forth motion clears away the metal chips made by the die, he said. He also recommended putting drops of oil on the metal being rethreaded. This kept the metal from heating up as the tool cut new threads, he said.

So I chamfered. Then I put the skateboard back together. The kid, freed from the bonds of homework, rode the board down the alley. I felt pleased. I had saved an old part and learned a new word.

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