The art of chainsaw carving is a fast-growing form of art that combines the modern technology of the chainsaw with the ancient art of woodcarving.
The beginning of the art form
The oldest chainsaw artist records go back to the 1950s, which include artists Ray Murphy and Ken Kaiser. In 1952 Ray Murphy used his father’s chainsaw to carve his name into a piece of wood. In 1961 Ken Kaiser created 50 carvings for the Trees of Mystery.
Many new artists began to experiment with chainsaw carving, including Josh Landry, Brenda Hubbard, Judy McVay, Don Colp, Cherie Currie (former Runaways lead singer), Susan Miller, Mike McVay, and Lois Hollingsworth. At this time chainsaw carvers started loading up their carvings in the back of their trucks, functioning as traveling galleries.
In the 1980s the art form really began to grow with Art Moe getting much exposure for the craft at the Lumberjack World Championships held in Hayward, Wisconsin. This event was broadcast nationally. The addition of carving contests from the west coast to the east coast brought carvers together to test their skills and learn from each other. The first Chainsaw Carving World Championships was held in 1987 and won by then 24-year-old Barre Pinske. The 1980s also saw the development of the Cascade Chainsaw Sculptors Guild and their newsletter, The Cutting Edge, mailed out to many members throughout the Pacific Northwest and the rest of the United States. The 80’s also brought the first book on chainsaw carving, Fun and Profitable Chainsaw Carving by William Westenhaver and Ron Hovde, published in 1982. Other books soon followed, including a book by Hal MacIntosh published in 1988 titled Chainsaw Art and in 2001 Chainsaw Carving: The Art and Craft. He published material on chainsaw carving that predated the popularity of the Internet.
The first booking agency dedicated to promoting and preserving the integrity of performance chainsaw art was founded by Brian Ruth in 1992. It was appropriately named Masters of the Chainsaw. The company represents some of the most respected artists in the U.S., such as Brian Ruth, Ben Risney, Josh Landry, Mark Tyoe and Marty Long, as well as select artists from other countries. In 2007, Masters of the Chainsaw, under the direction of Jen Ruth, created the first international group of female sculptors under the name Chainsaw Chix. Featured in this all-female team are greats like Stephanie Huber, Angela Polglaze, Lisa Foster, Alicia Charlton, Uschi Elias, and Sara Winter.
Brian Ruth introduced the art as a performance art to Japan in 1995. Since then, he has established a division of Masters of the Chainsaw and a chainsaw carving school in Tōei, Japan.
Although the general impression of the public is that it is largely performance art (because of the noise, sawdust, and very fast carving results), there are a few chainsaw carvers now producing stunning works of art. These works can be produced in a fraction of the time that would normally be expected if only conventional tools such as mallet and gouges were used. Although many carvers continue to use other tools alongside the chainsaw, the chainsaw remains the primary tool.
With the growth of the Internet, chainsaw carving has become a worldwide phenomenon with chainsaw carvers all over the world.
In the United Kingdom, the English Open Chainsaw Competition draws thousands of visitors annually. English chainsaw artist Matthew Crabb has carved the largest wooden statue of the Virgin Mary in the world, at 9 meters high, to great fanfare in Schochwitz, Germany, highlighting the evolution and growth of the art.
In Canada, many wooden statues produced by the chainsaw artist Pete Ryan decorate the small town of Hope, British Columbia. Glenn Greensides, another Canadian artist, branched out into Japan in 1995 and visited Japan each year for 12 consecutive years to create one 5 meter tall sculpture from an exported British Columbia log depicting the upcoming year’s Japanese zodiac symbol.
In Japan, the Toei Chainsaw Art Club established the World Chainsaw Art Competition, which was the first chainsaw carving competition in the country. The 2011 World Chainsaw Art Competition at the Toei Dome will be dedicated to raising money for disaster relief due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that has affected the country.
1999 marked the first year of the Ridgway Chainsaw Carving Rendezvous, every February hundreds of carvers go to a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania for this event. The Chainsaw Carver Rendezvous is the biggest gathering of chainsaw carvers in the world. the event has grown so big that it takes over the small town of Ridgway, Pennsylvania.
In 2010 American sculptor Bob King was awarded a coveted “Star/Sprocket” on the Carvers Walk of Fame in Mulda, Germany, the location of the World Cup competition. This award confirms Bob has won more carving competitions than any other carver in the world to date. Competitive chainsaw carving has evolved to produce masterful artists around the globe.
In 2013, American chainsaw carver, Josh Landry, was awarded 1st place at the “Rally in the Valley” chainsaw carving competition. In previous years, Josh Landry was the youngest chainsaw carver participating in National and International chainsaw carving competitions.
As the art has evolved, special chainsaw blades and chains have been developed for carving. In Finland such equipment is affectionally called konepuukko (“mechanical puukko”).
The chainsaw “blades” are technically known as “guide bars”. For chainsaw carving these bars have very small noses (typically around 25 mm diameter). This enables the artist to create detail in the carving that would be impossible with a standard guide bar. The chains that are used on these guide bars are normally modified by reducing the length of the teeth in order that they are able to cut efficiently at the tip of the bar. The reason for this modification is that all chains manufactured currently (circa 2007) are made to be used on standard guide bars only. These “carving bars” are manufactured by “Cannon”, “GB”, and by a companies in Japan supplying “Stihl” and others. The other very important advantage with these guide bars is that they do not “kickback” when using the tip. they are therefore very safe to use in comparison with standard guide bars.