The chainsaw is commonly appreciated for two purposes. The first and more obvious one is productive, as wood is intensely useful yet difficult to cut without some assistance from a motor. The second most popular use for chainsaws is limited to the kinds of movies that end with far fewer college students than they start out with.
In the right hands, the chainsaw also becomes a tool of artistic expression. There’s something so charming, so whimsical, so American about chainsaw carvings. They’re not on par with the Renaissance masters’ best work, but Donatello’s Penitent Magdalene will never make me smile like I do whenever I see a moose holding up a welcome sign.
Scott Petry is Glyndon, Minnesota’s own Donatello with a chainsaw. When he and his father aren’t constructing fine log cabins together, Scott is hard at work hewing delightful sculptures from white pine.
“I always seemed to have some God-given talent for any kind of art I tried,” said Scott. “Even when I was real little I wanted to be an artist (or a pro hunter), and I loved taking art classes and exploring different mediums all the way through college.
“I actually studied to become an elementary school teacher. Around the time I graduated my dad founded Andy Lake Woodworks and asked for my help building cabins. I said the heck with it – this is my chance to give art a shot, so I withdrew all my teaching applications and committed to working with wood.
“We had a rough start. During our first year in business a fire destroyed three of our cabins along with all my tools and carvings. Only 48 hours later my wife and I had our first child, a healthy baby boy named Axel. But that just made my dad and I take a more serious approach to our business. We now have a big, heated shop and full showroom, and I’ve been carving full-time for three years.
“A lot of chainsaw sculptors focus on carving the same couple of subjects over and over – just blocking out really rough bears and eagles, maybe adding a little detail, and sending them on their way. Personally, I prefer more challenging projects over the cookie-cutter ones. I’ll still do bears and eagles, but I take my time giving subjects like those realistic details and a sense of movement.
“Custom orders really give me an opportunity to showcase my talent. A lot of people come to me after other carvers turn them away, like the woman who wanted a big vervet monkey to sit outside of her husband’s shop. (The vervet has a very funny anatomical feature that I’m not sure you’d want to mention specifically in a magazine.) Just recently I’ve carved a life-size whitetail buck, Prince playing the guitar, Vikings players, Minnie Mouse, sasquatch, all kinds of birds, gnomes and goofy fishermen, and quite a few custom dogs. Many people reach out to me when their dog passes away and they want a unique memorial piece. I’m honored to help preserve so many good dogs’ memory.
“I have a logger up in Northeast Minnesota who brings me a new shipment of white pine logs every two or three months. It’s a big, clean wood, medium as far as hardness goes and perfect for carving. Much of what I get was knocked down naturally by wind, so carving is a great way to give those local trees a second life.
“I use a team of three chainsaws. The first has a 3 foot bar. It’s a real big sucker, and I’ll use it to make a cut or two at most. I then use the second, medium-sized chainsaw to shape the log for five to 45 minutes. Finally comes the most important tool: the battery-powered Stihl, which I use for detailing. I love how smoothly it cuts, and especially how it stops running the second I take my finger off the trigger. Once the cutting part is finished I detail the carving with an angle grinder and die grinder, treat it with several coats of Australian Timber Oil and then varnish or clear enamel, and finally paint it, if the carving requires color.
“People are surprised when they see how much I can actually carve in a couple hours. They’ll say something like ‘Holy buckets, you must be rich!’ But chainsaw carving isn’t always the excitement of wood chips flying. Once you factor in all the oiling and painting, it usually takes me 10 to 20 days to finish a single piece.
“Most of the sculptures you see in stores these days are mass-produced replicas. They don’t represent any real craftsmanship. They don’t offer any connection with an artist. When you order a custom piece from me, you’re dealing with a local artist who works exclusively in a locally-sourced medium. I believe Andy Lake Woodworks is about as authentically Minnesotan as it gets.”
To see more examples of Scott’s work and order your own piece of chainsaw art, please visit andylakewoodworks.com.
By David Scheller