Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday Tool...shave and a haircut edition

The tool of the day is the Sunbeam-Stewart Clipmaster Shearmaster clippers.

We have five sheep that are pregnant, due to have their lambs in a few weeks.  You want to get them shorn before that happens, so you need some shears.  Until a short while ago, we didn't have any.

The guy who was responsible for building our barn has been connected with farming in Oregon for quite a while.  When he saw that we had sheep, he said that he had some used clippers that he could sell us.  They'd belonged to his brother, who raised sheep for a long time, but had retired.  He wasn't sure if they were still any good, but if we weren't interested, there was a neighbor of his who might use them--they are apparently the thing for trimming your (medical) marijuana--but he said he'd rather see them used for sheep.  We said we'd check them out if he brought them by. 

The barn guy brought us two clippers, and a box full of blades and combs.  The box contained an interesting corporate history: there was a "Stewart" brand clipper, which was compact, narrow-bladed, and had an antique Bakelite body.  Next to it was a Sunbeam-Stewart brand clipper, the result of a corporate buyout with a bigger motor and a wider head.  When I took these to the sheep dude at the Co-op for evaluation, he pointed out that the newer models are by Oster, which bought Sunbeam, and the heads are even wider (though the motors are less powerful).  He said that the Sunbeam should do fine, and that there were enough blades and combs to last for a long time, but that if anything broke, we'd have problems since the model hasn't been made for a long time and replacement parts are nonexistent.  (He also said that he'd learned to shear with the older, "Stewart" model, a long time ago.)  So, we bought the clippers from the barn guy, and set out to remove some wool from these poor sheep.

Sheepshearing is a skill.  It takes practice, and neither the Real Doctor nor I had ever done anything remotely like.  A pro will do this slick jiujitsu that puts the sheep on its rump, zip the clippers around, and have the sheep as bald as a cue ball in a couple of minutes.  Us?  Our sheep are gravid, so no jiujitsu.  They had to go up on a stand and be restrained.  Also, I was unfamiliar with the shears, so for most of the time I had the blade tension too slack, meaning I was chewing rather than cutting--and once I did tighten them up, I promptly took a quarter-sized chunk of sheepskin off of the poor victim.  I am not overly familiar with the contours of a pregnant sheep, so I was very hesitant, and most of the time stayed way too far off of the animal's skin--except when I accidentally got way too close, leaving a raw bald spot.  Every single sheep took almost an hour of concentrated effort from the both of us.  Our poor sheep look like they have the worst case of mange the world has ever--or will ever--see.

But, this is the fault of the shearer, not the shears.  The basic design of the newest Shearmaster shears is exactly the same as the oldest ones.  They are mechanically very simple, very clever, very elegant machines.  For an engineer, they are beautiful.  If you get the chance, take them apart and see. 

That said, we may not have gotten a bargain.  I was just finishing the last sheep today--trying to get rid of the most unsightly clumps and tufts--when the clippers coughed, shot some chunks of hot material out of the fan at a high velocity, slowed, and died.  They won't start.  I'll be taking them to the sheep dude at the Co-op tomorrow.  

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