Interview with chainsaw sculpture artist Chad Gainey
We got a chance to catch up with Chad Gainey, a 42 year old professional chainsaw sculpture artist from the Panama City, FL area. His sculptures are spread throughout the United States and Canada, with even a few in Europe. He is also a global ambassador for Husqvarna where he can showcase his skill, professionalism, and knowledge of Husqvarna chainsaws. He has been able to carve a career for himself in this physically demanding medium, using his imagination to create art from a large chunk of wood.
Tell us how you got started in wood carving?
I started carving in 2011 as a hobby. When I was growing up, a friend of the family was a chainsaw carver so he was the inspiration for me to try it.
Is this a full time career for you?
It is my full time career. I’m sponsored by Husqvarna and carve at events with them and do on-site sculptures and I also do private commissions.
How many chainsaws do you own?
I own about 40 chainsaws. I us about 10-15 for carving, and the rest are more collection pieces. I like collecting the older “legendary” saws like the Husqvarna 2100cd, 266xp, L77, 288xp, 242xp, 346xp etc… My favorite saws to carve with are the 550xp, 540lixp, 572xp and 592xp.
Are you self-taught or have you taken some formal training along the way?
I am self-taught, but I have learned a lot carving with other carvers through the years.
Has your style changed over time?
I think my style is always evolving. As an artist I think we always look at our work and see areas where we can improve.
Which wood do you like to work with the most and why?
Red cedar is probably my favorite wood to carve. It has a dense grain that holds detail very well while also being soft enough to carve quickly.
You need to use the saw enough to be comfortable with it but never get so comfortable you let your guard down.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I find most of the inspiration for my sculptures in nature. I love carving woodland and aquatic animals.
Please explain the process: how do you get the idea that is in your head into the wood?
This is a tough one. Some sculptures progress easier than others. Sometimes I’ll start with a rough sketch on the log which helps, but it’s always a puzzle where you have to find one feature before you know where the next feature needs to go.
Do you prefer to work with rooted or sawed-off trunks?
I prefer sawed-off trunks. I can work on them at my shop on my own timeline.
But the good thing about rooted trunks is the size. You can carve much larger sculptures out of rooted trees because they are more stable.
You not only carve the tree trunks, but also paint them – what paints and varnishes do you work with?
I paint with an air brush, wood stains, spray paint, and acrylic paints. I finish the carvings with timber oil made for log homes and spar urethane depending on where the sculpture is going.
How long do your works of art last?
The longevity of the sculptures really depends on care and upkeep. A sculpture indoors will last virtually forever. Outdoors they need to be resealed like you would a deck or log home. Rooted trees have to be inspected and treated for insects at the base every year.
Obviously, you work with a chainsaw carving wood, have you ever used a different medium?
I have played with ice before and carve quite a few pumpkins every year.
Since working with a chainsaw can be dangerous work, any special safety tips you can offer?
Always wear all of your PPE – boots, chaps, eye protection and ear protection. You need to use the saw enough to be comfortable with it but never get so comfortable you let your guard down.
You participated in a TV Show called “Halloween Wars” – why did you decide to do it?
It was a great opportunity to work with more large pumpkins than I have ever had the chance to carve.
How far have you come and what experience have you gained?
I’ve been very fortunate in my carving career. When I started carving, I was teaching High School and selling carvings at the farmer’s market on the weekends. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to travel the country and carve in some amazing places. The National Arboretum in DC is probably my favorite. Through my partnership with Husqvarna, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in product training and development workshops in the Czech Republic and Italy.
You are already skilled in pumpkin and wood carving. Are there other materials that you shape?
I’ve carved a little ice and enjoy carving pumpkins but wood carving is what I do and by far my favorite.
Using wood and pumpkin as examples: How different is the approach when you work with different materials?
Both wood carving and pumpkin carving are surprisingly similar. With both you have to remove the material you don’t need. It’s easier to remove the material with pumpkins but with wood you have more freedom because pumpkins are hollow.
Do you have a dream project you would like to do one day?
I have a lot of ideas for sculptures I would love to carve. One of my dream sculptures would be a huge ” life size”, if you could call it that, dragon. The drawbacks to something that size would be sourcing the logs, finding a buyer, and transporting the completed sculpture.
Let’s hope Chad gets to realize his dream sculpture someday, but until then he will continue to hone his talents in creating unique works of art.