The same went for Neerim South man Paul Stafford, who despite “growing up around chainsaws” had never heard of chainsaw sculpting until a friend requested a piece from him 13 years ago.
“He knew I could draw and he knew I was a timber worker, and I’d never thought of it until then. I wasn’t aware of it at all,” Paul told the Baw Baw Citizen.
After completing a couple of pieces around that time, a lack of interest from potential buyers put him off continuing. But his career changed around four and a half years ago when he was asked to carve something for a local show. He’s now almost a full-time chainsaw sculptor, and if you’ve ever travelled south from Neerim South you have almost certainly seen his work.
In January, Paul was asked to carve the face of the Norse god Odin and two of his ravens into the remains of a giant gum tree which overlooked Main Neerim Road. The tree had just lost its limbs after VicRoads deemed it unsafe, and nearby property owners Phil Mapleson and Mary Rauden were stuck looking out at a bare trunk.
The image is striking, staring out of the tree and over the road not far from the Neerim Bower artwork.
“I was going to turn it all into firewood, so Staff (Paul) rescued it,” Phil said.
“I think the idea came from some beer drinking with Staff and another local up at the pub.”
The image of Odin was sketched up by Mary in reference to her Estonian father’s side of the family. It was a happy coincidence for Paul, who happened to have a Norwegian ancestry and an interest in Norse mythology.
While the sculpture looks out over a busy road, the intention wasn’t to create a piece of public art. Phil said hundreds of people have stopped to check the work out in the six months since it was completed.
“The positioning of it was just perfect,” Paul said.
“We didn’t actually plan to carve it on that side to start with. Phil left it up to me and I walked around to figure out which way was best. There wasn’t a [predetermined] decision that we’d carve it so it looks straight down the road, it’s just how the log was and how the face would suit the tree best.
“It just so happens that he’s looking due north and gets the best of the sun while looking straight down the road.”
Paul is self taught, picking up the craft seemingly easily thanks to his drawing talents.
“I grew up in the timber industry, I’m a tree-feller by trade. I grew up with chainsaws, so [they weren’t] a problem.
“A friend said to me once ‘you draw with the chainsaw,’ so I suppose that’s about right.”
Surprisingly, Paul rarely sketches out a design before starting his chainsaw. He follows the shape of the wood and judges how things come together as he goes.
Work can be quick, too. The image of Odin was completed within four days.
“It depends on how much timber you have to get off,” Paul said.
“Something like this is an etching into the tree, really.”
It’s a long-lasting etching, too. Paul said the tree could be at least 200 years old, and the stump (and Odin!) could survive another 80 years. In the meantime, Odin’s beauty regime involves plenty of linseed oil and turps to keep his face looking freshly carved.
The kit used by a chainsaw sculptor isn’t too dissimilar to that of an average tree feller.
“We do have carving bars which go down to a narrower point which are specially made for carving; they allow you to get into sharp places where it’s impossible using the standard round nose on a bar,” he explained.
“We’ve made a couple of little tools up ourselves, like a flat sander, but you can get stuff from the States.
“Generally I don’t use much more than my chainsaws and a bit of sanding to clean it up. That’s all that was used here.”
You could say Paul’s a miracle worker. That’s certainly what one passer-by thought when they stopped by while he was carving to ask if the face was of Jesus.
“He hugged me and thanked me for carving ‘Father Jesus,'” Paul laughed.
“He asked ‘it is Jesus?’ And I said ‘yeah, it can be Jesus if you want it to be Jesus, that’s fine.’ And he did, he prayed.”