Linda Patton-Cowie works on her sculpture of a baby and grandma bear in the chainsaw sculpting course at Haliburton School of Art and Design. She has a cottage in Dorset. /JENN WATT Staff

Art takes shape in chainsaw sculpting class 

By Jenn Watt

Published Aug. 1 2017

Artists plied their pine blocks like butter their chainsaws like knives pushing away layers of wood. Through the foam of protective earmuffs the whine of the machines is more like a soft hum as three chainsaw carvers shuffled back and forth around their blocks coaxing out the animals within.
The carvers were part of a class on chainsaw sculpting at Haliburton School of Art and Design last week and their product: two turtles and a bee.

One of the carvers is the instructor of the course Robbin Wenzoski who takes on the bee which at first looks like a fish with wings before he begins to segment the thorax and turn bumpy chunks into legs.
“The best way to learn is through speed carving” Wenzoski says after the exercise which is observed by all of the students in the class nearing the end of the day. It focuses the mind – removes the instinct to become precious with the wood.

Chainsaw carving started as more of a craft he says with most artists making predictable woodland creatures. But the practice is changing with some choosing to carve large scale artwork.
On Thursday afternoon you can see the levels of mastery as the carvers work on their wood. Wenzoski is quick and confident with his chainsaw while the other two work more slowly still creating interesting work but without the same ease. A woman sporting a blue T-shirt that reads “Sawdust in my Bra” creates her turtle as part of the block like a frieze while the other woman uses the whole block for hers.
A chainsaw blade turned on its side can softly contour the wood. Used directly it makes the slices.
The time’s not quite up on the speed carving when Wenzoski says he’s done. The other two stop their work and look from theirs to his and laugh. There’s no way in the minute remaining they’ll catch up to the instructor but that wasn’t the point. They join their fellow students and head back under the big tent beside the parking lot at HSAD. Earmuffs on protective glasses lowered chainsaw buzzing as the next piece takes shape.