Chainsaw Carving. Tips from a Professional


Carving can be a great way for people to show their creativity with their hands. Carvers can almost make any sculpture they please with the chainsaw as their only limitation. Chainsaws can be awkward and challenging to work with for some, but carvers will find almost no limit to what they can create once they get the hang of it.

Chainsaw carving:

If you want to start carve sculptures using a chainsaw, start with easy and doable projects. For example, with a simple mushroom or chair shape. I recommend using softwood for less experienced carvers, as it is much easier to carve. Make sure you have chainsaws of varying bar lengths available. Always make use of the safety gear and keep practicing to get the hang of using a chainsaw.

Wondering how to start making your carving projects from a chainsaw? I will help you in this blog post by explaining what type of project, the best chainsaw, and the type of wood you should choose.

Chainsaw Carving Fundamentals:

Before starting your sculpting projects, you need the following tools and gear:

  • Chainsaw: A chainsaw (gas-powered or electric) with a bar length between 12 inches to 20 inches. If possible, use one with a triangular guide bar. These make awkward cuts more precise. Ensure that the chainsaw feels comfortable and has a weight smaller than 20 lbs.
  • Wood: Suitable wood for your project. When you start, cottonwood and pine are good wood types that give pleasing results.
  • Protective gear: Personal protective equipment for your safety. The most important are goggles, a helmet, protective chainsaw trousers, a jacket, and protective gloves.

Carving Chainsaw

Most old-school wooden sculptures were made using traditional hand tools such as ax, manual saw, chisel, and hammer. The introduction of chainsaws has brought a lot of value in the form of productivity and precision. If you know your way around a chainsaw, it is a good start.

Talking with many colleges helped me create the following requirements for an ideal carving chainsaw:

  • Weight ranging from 6.5 lbs. to 15 lbs.
  • Triangular bar of 8 inches to 18 inches.
  • Power source: battery (1.4-1.5 lbs.), gas (6 gallons), or an electric model
  • A cutting chain of 45F and a dime tip with a radius of 9-10mm.

Wood

In general, two main types of wood are used for carving; softwood and hardwood. Softwood is affordable, readily available, easy to handle and carve. It leads to fewer cracks, and less effort is needed. Hardwood gives a more excellent result and will last much longer. However, more expertise and a bit sophisticated chainsaw are required to deal with hardwood.

Personal Protective Equipment

Using a chainsaw can pose certain risks. I never recommend someone to use a chainsaw bare-handed. While carving, you must use protective gear and equipment for your safety. 

A safety helmet, protective goggles, hand gloves, chainsaw trousers and jacket, and steel-toed shoes are the main protective gear required in chainsaw carving. They help to make sure that your safety isn’t compromised on the job.

Is chainsaw carving hard?

In general, no form of art comes easy without sufficient practice. And chainsaw carving is not an exception. But most people can learn it if you truly love doing art and are willing to put in the effort. Do expect to make a lot of mistakes at the start.

I can provide some practical methods that can help perfect your skill and become adept in making wooden carvings with a chainsaw:

  • Start with easy shapes: Start with making simple shapes (triangles, circles, stars) from a wooden piece using a chainsaw.
  • Mark the wood first: Before you carve, create markings on the wooden log to aid in making cuts.
  • Use a sharp chain: Make sure your chain is sharpened, and the depth gauges are filed so that less material is wasted.
  • Practice, practice, and practice: Practice enough to get the hang of right cutting angles and hand pressure.

What chainsaw carving Project should I start with?

If you’re a beginner, it is better to start with short and easily doable projects. Completing these projects will give you more confidence to move on to slightly advanced ones. It is better to start carving wood by making simple shapes like stars, mushrooms, triangles, circles, etc.

Take a piece of log about 2 feet. Prepare a sketch on softwood before carving it. Have a firm and stable grip on the chainsaw. In the end, finish with a smaller guide bar to refine the entire shape.

Chainsaw carving, from beginner to expert

It takes a great deal of patience to prepare and carve a nice-looking sculpture. To help perfect your skills, buy a beginner’s wood carving set. This contains knives, notches, and extorts. Also, buy a 30- power sanding stone to sharpen your tools before starting. Do not go for an advanced-level sculpture as a beginner. It will be tough for you, and you will end up getting frustrated.

What is the best wood for chainsaw carving?

Generally, hardwood and softwood are the two basic types used for chainsaw carving. For carving beginners, the preference should be softwood, as it is easy to carve. It provides better control and has less tendency to crack due to less rigidity. Popular wood types are Cottonwood, Pine, Basswood, and Walnut. For more experienced carvers, hardwood will give a more excellent result and last much longer.

Some frequently used types for chainsaw carving are:

1. Cottonwood

Cottonwood is considered one of the most effective and affordable kinds of softwoods. The white color of the cottonwood makes it more preferable as it embellishes the outlook of the whole sculpture.

Some people categorize cottonwood as hardwood but based on its texture. It is indeed soft. It doesn’t easily crack and is easy to carve by chainsaw, making its place in the softwood category.

2. Pine

Pine is another example of wood that is readable available and is often used for carving. One of the reasons is that it is often used is that it is very affordable. I recommend that if you are a beginner and you have no previous experience with chainsaw carving, this is the wood type to start with.

If you want to practice, this is the wood you should use. It is affordable, its reliability and steadiness are commendable. The skills you gain while using pine will be as effective as on other wood types; no apparent difference can be noticed.

3. Basswood

Basswood is the other most widely considered wood for chainsaw carving. Even do it is hardwood, basswood can be formed easily into a refined sculpture.

Additionally, a lot of people like its natural red color that gives more appeal to your art. If you have an intermediate skill level, it is the wood type I recommend using. It will add to the overall appeal despite its slightly greater hardness.

4. Walnut

Walnut is one of the more expensive wood choices you can make for your chainsaw carving. But it enriches your result with high-quality color and grains. People use it for furniture manufacturing too. It is a type of hardwood. Hence if you are an intermediate or advanced sculptor, this wood is surely for you.

How do you make a Chainsaw Sculpture?

If you haven’t made a wooden sculpture before with a chainsaw and are wondering how to start, these are the steps you can follow:

Step 1. Preparation

  • Choose a design: Choose a sample you want to replicate. Start with easy ones like a chair or a mushroom.
  • Draw the design on the wood: Make sure you draw out what you want to carve on the wood.
  • Workplace: Pick a comfortable workplace, far away from the public. It should be large enough to walk around the wood freely.
  • Remove larger blocks of wood using a chainsaw with a long bar. For finishing purposes, use a small knife or a chisel to carve out intricate details.

Step 2. Select the Chainsaw

There are many different types of chainsaws in the market. Each type has its pros and cons and is best suited for a specific job. For example, a chainsaw with a large guide bar is used for cutting large chunks of wood. The smaller guide bar is used for refining the shape of the sculpture.

Chainsaws can also be categorized into gas, battery, and electric models. Gas chainsaws are often more powerful and bigger and heavier.

Electric chainsaws tend to be quieter and lighter. But you have to be careful you do not cut the power cord. Battery-powered chainsaws are getting more and more popular. They are portable but still less powerful than some gas models. And the battery does not last that long.

While purchasing, check whether the chainsaw has an antikickback function. This improves safety and proficiency while working on your sculpture.

Step 3. Monitor the Safety Aspect

I always recommend taking safety seriously. Ensure you wear personal protective gear while chainsaw carving your sculpture. It will help you protect yourself from a lot of potentially dangerous situations. Prevention is better than cure, so before you start, I suggest that you do invest in protective gear.

Step 4. Choose and Procure the Wood

The next step is choosing the wood you can easily work on for the project you have on your mind. There are a lot of wood types you can use for chainsaw carving. I mentioned several earlier in this blog post.

The best wood for you depends on many factors like your budget, expertise level, and type of project. Make sure you consider all alternatives and then make the best choice.

Step 5. Project Planning

Plan your project correctly before starting with using your chainsaw. If you are a beginner, start with simpler sculptures like mushrooms. However, if you have proficiency in chainsaw carving, you can go for challenging sculptures such as a bear or an eagle. In any case, do not try to choose a project that may be too difficult for you to complete.

Step 6. Choose Your Workplace for chainsaw carving

Take some time to choose a good workplace for your chainsaw carving. I recommend choosing something that is away from other people as carving is noisy. It also needs to be big enough that you can walk around the object you are carving. And it should be easy to clean all the wood that you remove. Often somewhere in the garden is chosen, but if you have a large garage near your house, you may use it as your carving workplace.

Step 7. Stabilize Your Wood

As a beginner, I do not recommend using large logs for carving. Start with small logs. They are much easier to handle. Slowly you can increase the size as soon as you feel comfortable. Try to use wood jacks or sawhorses to stabilize logs. Depending on your project, cut the log into smaller pieces which could be machined with a smaller bar and chain. Stabilizing the wood is essential as it prevents it from shaking and improves the finish of the sculpture.

Step 8. Cutting and Finishing

Draw out what you want to carve on the piece of wood. Only really experienced cavers can start without a clear picture of how the end sculpture should look. The chances are that you’ll end up wasting a lot more wood than you’d expect.

Finally, cut out all the blocks of wood that you do not need with a chainsaw and start moving from top to bottom. Keep in mind the measurements of the design that you have chosen. You can use a knife to carve intricate details after the outline of your design is ready.

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