7/1/2014 2:24:00 PM 'That old saw'
Saw pattern makes new kind of cane
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Jack Basic, cane user, and Merle Ehlinger, cane maker, hold attention-getting articles.
Merle Ehlinger patterns cane handle on hand saw, and inserts saw bolts for decoration.
Jack Basic, 87, walks and takes the bus everywhere from his North Portland home. And now, thanks to fellow Holy Redeemer parishioner Merle Ehlinger, Basic carries a powerful conversation-starter.
It’s a wooden cane with a handle modeled on that of a hand saw, with an intricate pattern to fit inside the human fist gracefully.
Ehlinger, a retired carpenter, has given away more than 20 of the canes, including five to retired carpenters. No one knows better than they the importance of a good saw handle.
“Your saw had to be comfortable for your hand because you used it all day,” says Ehlinger, a carpenter for 60 years who helped build Catholic churches in places like Plush, Adele and Antelope.
Ehlinger, 80, spends about 40 hours on each cane. He has donated three to be auctioned off for charity. One fetched $225.
“It’s been something to do after retirement,” says Ehlinger, who has a woodworking shop at his Northeast Portland home.
Basic appreciates the comfort and sturdiness of the cane, but also it’s capacity to fascinate.
“Every day someone comes to me and asks, ‘Is that a saw?’” Basic says. As he strolls down North Rosa Parks Boulevard, drivers honk because he is that man with the captivating cane. One tourist took a photo of Basic and immediately texted the image to his brother in England.
One Sunday after Mass at Holy Redeemer four years ago, Ehlinger noticed Basic heading for home with “a scrubby old cane.” The former carpenter pulled a saw-style cane out of the trunk of his car and gave it to his friend.
Ehlinger did not invent the idea. About five years ago, his brother in Wisconsin went to an American Legion meeting and observed a can with a saw handle. A report about the curiosity came to Oregon and Ehlinger ran with it.
To prevent splitting as he creates small and intricate features, the wood needs to have a tight grain with some twisting. He has used oak, and white ash plans to try hickory. Basic’s cane is made of black walnut.
Ehlinger saws and drills a rough pattern, then he gets to work with hand tools and sandpaper.
He brought his prototype to a picnic and those who saw it “went wild.”
Friends now donate old saws to him so he can use the handles for patterns and take the brass screws to decorate the canes.
Ehlinger refuses to take money or begin a cane business. He says he gets all the compensation he needs from watching someone enjoy his work.