Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Defeating dust

It took me a long time to realize that certain tools and devices can be very good for one kind of task, but totally inappropriate for an apparently similar task. Here's an excellent example:

For somebody like myself who consumes a lot of walnuts (grown here at Gamone), that high-tech hammer is perfect for cracking them open. But the hammer's nylon head is incapable of driving in a nail.

In the domain of vacuum cleaners, I purchased this powerful professional model many years ago, and imagined that it would be ideal for the house at Gamone:

It doesn't use bags, and it's perfect for dog hairs, wood shavings, spider webs, etc. Apparently it can even suck up liquids, but I've never used it for that. When you stick the nozzle in a fireplace, it sucks up the ashes in an instant, and appears to be the perfect solution for this regular winter task. But that's where I made a huge blunder, which I didn't actually detect for years. Let me explain...

Air carrying solid stuff is sucked into the device through the nozzle and tube, then this air passes through a thick cloth filter (which can be washed) and exits from the metal cylinder through a large opening in the rear. This simple operating principle means that the device sucks with great force, and is easy to clean. However I was dismayed to see that furniture in my living room was constantly covered in a film of reddish dust. For a long time, I imagined that this was surely the result of convection currents emerging from my open fireplace. Alas, the true cause of this dust was in fact my vacuum cleaner. I made this discovery on a sunny spring morning when I was using the device to remove ashes from the fireplace. All of a sudden, the rays of sunshine streaming into my living room revealed that a cloud of dust was emerging from the open hole in the back of the vacuum cleaner. This dust was so fine that I wouldn't have normally noticed it on a typically overcast wintry morning. But, on this sunny morning, the cloud of dust was clearly visible, and I suddenly realized that I was using a vacuum cleaner with a peculiar property. Not only did it suck up large volumes of ashes and bits of charcoal, but it deposited in return a fine layer of dust over everything in its vicinity. This was not a fault in the design of the device. It's simply not a vacuum cleaner designed for dusty stuff. So, I promptly banned this device from my living room, and moved it to my workshop in a far wing of the house, where it's great for wood shavings and such things. Then I replaced it by a special-purpose device that's designed precisely for sucking up ashes from a fireplace.

This new device works wonderfully well. I've always had a top-quality Miele vacuum cleaner of the domestic kind for the bedrooms. Realizing that I'm inclined to hesitate before carting the Miele machine up or down the stairs, I decided, a few days ago, to purchase a new Electrolux vacuum cleaner that I'll keep upstairs, above all for my books, papers and electronic devices such as the computers.

Incidentally, the French company that manufactures the device for sucking up ashes proposes an ingenious system for blowing warm air into damp shoes. I've always been fascinated by their publicity pictures.

Installed in a corner of the kitchen or living room, this would be a wonderful conversation piece. It's the first thing a visitor, entering the house, would notice. For young children, you could make up marvelous fairy stories about the way in which, on the stroke of midnight, the system gets up on its legs and actually strolls around the house all night. At dawn, like a well-behaved Cinderella, it returns to its right place.

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