Chainsaws are typically used to prune trees, fell them, lop off branches and divide up the trunk. But this tool also has a surprising amount of creative potential. With a chainsaw you can even sculpt wood, otherwise known as chainsaw carving. This art form originated in the USA in the 1950s and became popular in the 1980s. More recently it has even caught on in Italy, where dedicated events and courses are held.
You may be tempted to regard it as a crude, rather simplistic form of sculpting. But actually, sculptures made with a chainsaw by professional artists have surprisingly accurate forms and fine details. Of course, as with everything, it takes training.
The important thing is to get started. Why not take advantage of the festive preparations to try and create a Christmas sculpture with your chainsaw? How about a wooden Christmas tree? Its linear and symmetrical shape provides a perfect first lesson in chainsaw carving. So what are you waiting for? Let’s give it a go.
What you need to make wooden sculptures with a chainsaw
To create sculptures from wooden logs, choose the right chainsaw. It shouldn’t be too big or heavy: if it’s light enough for you to cut comfortably then you will get less tired, enabling you to work safely and concentrate better on your sculpture. With chainsaw carving, a wrong cut may force you to change your design to integrate the mistake or even—if it’s a permanent error—throw everything away and start over.
Pruning chainsaws are lighter, more compact and easier to handle than traditional chainsaws of the same power rating, which is why they are more suitable for making wooden sculptures. In addition, you can use them with carving bars, which are short guide bars with a tapered nose. Of course, carving bars are not only used to sculpt, but also to make precision cuts when pruning.
The Oleo-Mac GST 250 pruning chainsaw, weighing just 2.7 kg and with a 25 cm long carving bar, is designed precisely for this type of activity. Once the sculptures are finished, you can also use the GST 250 with a standard (round tipped) 25 cm guide bar.
Before sculpting or pruning, it is important that the saw chain is properly sharpened. Not sure how to go about it? In this article we explain the procedure step by step.
Prepare a solid, uncluttered work surface at a comfortable height for your back, such as a tree stump or saw horse. Place the piece of wood to be sculpted on the surface, after having secured it by nailing it onto a wooden plank, for example.
Although chainsaw carving is an artistic hobby, it is important to wear chain resistant safety clothing (gloves, trousers, jacket and boots) and protective equipment (safety glasses or visor, noise filtering ear defenders).
How to make sculptures from wooden logs with a chainsaw
Before you start carving with your chainsaw, design your sculpture: especially if you are a beginner, it is better not to start carving without prior planning and guided solely by your creative inspiration. Instead, look for ideas and models to copy on the Internet or in specialised publications.
If you don't already have a log to work on, choose the type of wood. For example, lime and poplar are easy woods to work with, so they are also recommended for novice chainsaw carvers.
How to make a wooden sculpture with a chainsaw?
Here are the steps you need to follow:
- Sketch the rough outline on the piece of wood you want to sculpt using a stick of chalk or a carpenter pencil.
- Cut off the excess wood with a chainsaw equipped with carving bar.
- Define the volume of your sculpture by progressively removing material with the chainsaw.
- As you work, keep using the chalk or pencil to demarcate the parts of the wood that you want to remove.
- Smooth down the surface using an angle grinder.
- Carve details using the tip of the carving bar: to ensure precision and safety, first mark the wood with the chalk (or pencil).
- Apply a protective finish, such as linseed oil.
How to create a Christmas sculpture with a chainsaw
Carving a stylised Christmas tree is a nice way to learn the art of chainsaw carving. On the Internet you will find numerous examples of Christmas sculptures made with a chainsaw, some more elaborate than others. We propose this simple model, which you can make from a log measuring around 60 cm high with a diameter of 20-25 cm.
Before cutting or carving, draw guidelines on the wood with chalk or a pencil:
- Cut the top half of the log (to just below halfway) into a pyramid with 4 faces.
- Trim off the edges to obtain an 8-sided pyramid.
- Round the edges one at a time, so that you're left with a cone: this is the shape of your Christmas tree.
At this point, your Christmas tree sculpture is almost ready, you just need to create a foliage effect as follows:
- Starting at the tip and working towards the base, make diagonal incisions with respect to the tree's vertical axis, ensuring that they are parallel to each other.
- Repeat the series of incisions next to the ones you just made, so that the ends overlap slightly.
- Keep making incisions around the entire perimeter of your cone-shaped Christmas tree.
Congratulations! Your wooden tree is ready to be displayed.