|Have You Heard The Buzz?
Chainsaw Carving is
By Christa Marshall
| Brian Ruth, known as "The
Master of Chainsaw," prepares a log for
sculpting. Ruth began chainsaw carving 27
years ago, before the Internet helped spawn
a movement. He now participates in live shows
with a select group of talented newcomers.
(Courtesy of Melissa Collins)
|****Please note small file
size: 1200 x 1600 pixels****An eagle begins
to emerge from a log as artist Brian Ruth
carves during a photo shoot for Zenoah-Komatsu,
a Japanese power tool company. (Courtesy of
A mermaid sculpted with a chainsaw by Mark
Watson, from Ithaca, N.Y., who books performances
and sells his art via his Web site, www.speedsawcarver.com.
Watson sculpted a chainsaw eagle in one minute
for "The David Letterman Show" in
2005. (Mark Watson)
Brian Ruth took a chainsaw into a New York
City church last fall to transform a log into
a 4-foot dove.
After putting on a pair of specialized headphones
to protect his ears and walking into a netted
cage in front of about 300 members of the
Glad Tidings Tabernacle, he revved up the
noisy machine and began hacking away, spraying
sawdust 5 feet into the air.
“I use a chainsaw instead of a paintbrush
to create a masterpiece,” said Ruth,
who lives in Lehighton, Pa., and is known
among his carving peers as “The Master
of the Chainsaw.” “It also happens
to be the most extreme art form you’ll
Ruth is one of a growing number of chainsaw
carvers creating art with a power tool once
reserved for loggers. With the genesis of
the Internet, chainsaw carving has spread
rapidly from rural areas to suburban backyards,
attracting serious artists and casual hobbyists.
“When I started out a few years ago,
there were few other carvers in the country,”
said Jessie Groeschen, author of the book
“Art of Chainsaw Carving.” Groeschen,
who used to sculpt animals in her Seattle
backyard, said, “It’s not about
the big burly logger shaping out a mushroom
in the woods on the way to cut down a tree.”
But chainsaw carving largely started that
It’s been around as long as there have
been chainsaws, but on a small scale. As early
as the 1950s, there were examples of chainsaw
art created by loggers who decided to start
sculpting on their lunch breaks. A few of
them became skilled enough to create totem
poles and ice sculptures.
It remained largely the domain of rustic artisans
until the early 2000s, when the growth of
the Internet allowed purists to spread their
techniques and advertise events, including
chainsaw carving competitions where carvers
divide themselves into categories like “Master”
or “Old Fart” and try to sculpt
a wooden masterpiece in the shortest amount
“Without the Internet, chainsaw carving
would have been practiced by a few adventurous
souls and left at that,” said Jerry
Schieffer, president of the United Chain Saw
Carvers Guild, which was founded in 2003 to
provide an organizational hub to the growing
number of carvers.
The Internet has helped draw attention to
a growing number of chainsaw carving schools,
including the George Kenny School of Chainsaw
Carving in Allyn, Wash., which does most of
its business through its Web site. The school
attracts mainly city dwellers, who take a
three-day carving vacation in the Olympic
Mountains and choose from single-sex classes
or sessions for couples.
Chainsaw carving is sought out by many who
simply find it cool, but it’s also become
a full-time job for some artists. A quality
sculpture can sell for as much as $30,000.
The dollar signs are an attraction for people
who say they couldn’t make similar money
with any other type of artwork.
“A woodworker with a chisel might spend
200 hours to make a duck carving,” said
Duane Bender, 59, a full-time chainsaw carver
from Pennsylvania. “I can make a chainsaw
duck in two hours. Without that option, I
would have remained an electronics technician.”
Every artist has a different method to transform
a piece of raw wood. Bender says he gets an
image in his head and just starts to hack
away at a log. Other artists draw their sculptures
on paper before taking out the chainsaw. Some
add finishing touches to a piece of artwork
with the help of a chisel or hammer.
The growing popularity of the art form has
spawned a new industry of chainsaw gear, since
traditional machines only allow for awkward
movements and imprecise cuts. Today, artists
can purchase entire chainsaw carving kits,
replete with specialized miniature saw attachments
that allow carvers to create intricate detail
and produce smaller collectables for office
desks or bookshelves. The specialized equipment
also helps prevent injury.
“I know a guy who cut himself in the
face, injuring his jawbone and losing some
teeth,” Bender said. “Better equipment
will cut down on that type of thing, and novices
should be aware of the dangers.”
The potential dangers have not held back women,
who have increasingly joined the chainsaw
“I’m 4 feet 11 inches tall, 105
pounds, and use one of the biggest saws out
there,” said Ana Henry, from Saratoga,
Henry, like most chainsaw artists, lives in
a town where wood is plentiful and there’s
little risk of offending neighbors with noisy
sculpting. She says most artists have a large
customer base of locals who don’t have
to pay shipping costs on the art, which can
be as large as 10 feet.
Still, the proliferation of artists has brought
chainsaw art increasingly to the attention
of city dwellers who pass through small towns
and spread the word via word-of-mouth. Henry,
for example, says she sells most of her art
to fans in downtown Atlanta.
And, of course, there is the Internet.
Ruth, who carved the dove at Glad Tidings
Tabernacle in less than an hour before the
minister referred to it in a sermon on World
Peace, makes his living by putting on live
performances and organizing competitions booked
through his Web site, mastersofthechainsaw.com.
He also sells chainsaw artwork to galleries,
museums and private residences. He says he’s
planning to go on an international tour, and
he and his wife recently started a chainsaw
carving franchise in Japan.
“This is everywhere,” Ruth said.
“It’s not just folk art.”