Chainsaw Carving 101
Story and Photos by Brett R. McLeod
TRICKS of the trade
Teaching at a forestry school, I’ve noticed there are certain
hobbies that students naturally gravitate towards. I’m not talking about Netflix marathons or dorm room design parties; I’m
talking axe throwing and chainsaw carving. While axe throwing
might be thought of as a big game of darts, chainsaw carving is
akin to painting with a 10-pound motorized paintbrush.
Like most art, chainsaw carving is far more difficult than
it appears. Invariably, people want to make their first carving
a bear or some other fairly complicated woodland creature.
I would recommend beginning by carving a simple chair, a
project that introduces and helps to develop the same skills
– such as bore-cutting, ripping, and judging the depth of cuts
– that are needed for more complicated carving. Better yet, this
project can be done without the use of specialized carving bars
and micro-pitch chain.
Begin by selecting a three-foot log section, at least 12 inches
in diameter. Make sure the ends are cut squarely and stand the
log on end.
The first cuts will form the legs and will allow you to practice
angled cuts and notching to the proper depth. In this case, the
goal is to make a “V” that is approximately four inches deep. 1
Keeping the same angle, cut parallel to your V-notch to form
the legs. Make sure the legs are at least a couple inches thick for
stability, and then cut from the outside of the log in, meeting the
angled leg cut. 2 The outside legs of the chair can be dressed up
with a simple notch cut.
With the legs complete, you can begin cutting the chair back.
As you make this bore-cut, it is essential that you use the lower
corner of the chainsaw bar, which is the “attack” portion of the
bar. Never try to bore-cut with the top corner of the bar – the
saw will kick back!
Bore entirely through the log, and continue cutting at a slight
angle to form a curved seat back. 3 The process of cutting with
the grain is known as ripping. Before making the final cut, check
to make sure your bore-cut is at an even height on both sides of
the stump. If not, adjust as necessary before making the final cut
from at the front of the log. 4
If you’ve matched up your cuts, the chair will break away
from the stump with the final seat cut – voilà, you’ve got a
chair! 5 This same procedure can be used to make larger
seats, too. 6 No matter the complexity of the project, the keys
to successful chainsaw carving are a sharp chain and the ability
to envision where each cut will intersect the next.
Brett R. McLeod is an associate professor of Forestry & Natural Resources at Paul Smith’s
College and the author of The Woodland Homestead: How to Make Your Land More
Productive and Live More Self-Sufficiently in the Woods (Storey Publishing, 2015).