The Carver King: A Conversation with chainsaw artist Bob King

a bottom up view of a white man wearing a grey ball cap and red and black flannel using a chainsaw to make cuts for a wood carving of a bear

Bob King spends his life surrounded by sawdust. It crunches underfoot, coats his clothing, and swirls about him. Each day he dons layers of protective gear and enters his workshop. Circling a western red cedar log or another piece of timber, his chainsaw periodically darts forward to carve another channel into its surface. His focus is upon the image he is releasing. It will be the latest in a long line of art pieces he has created as one of the most successful chainsaw artists on the planet.

Using close to two dozen chainsaws and a host of other tools, he can spend days and weeks on one log. We caught up with him to find out a little more about what drives him to create such beautiful and unique sculptures.

black and white of an older white man wearing a flannel shirt, holding his eye and ear protection standing in front of his wood carving of a bear in progress
a bottom up view of a finished wood carving of a bear roaring inside a retail store entrance

How do you know what to carve?

Sometimes it is predetermined; other times, I work with the shape of the log. Weirdly shaped ones are the best. Then I just start carving into it, releasing what I find in there, one cut at a time.

“I like to call it poetic pandemonium. It is fascinating, deafening, and manic”

What’s it like when you are carving?
I like to call it poetic pandemonium. It is fascinating, deafening, and manic. Many things are going on all at once, especially in competitions, so I just have to maintain focus on what’s in front of me. It’s both crazy and exciting at the same time. The noise just seems to attract people. Carvers are an oddity; we are not cutting a log in half but instead doing something different. Often, I will be so focused on my work I won’t realize a crowd has gathered to watch me, their fingers plugging their ears until I take a break.

Do you feel a connection with a log when you start carving it?
Absolutely. I am taking something destined to be firewood or a part of some house and giving it new life. I make a piece of art that can proudly be displayed inside someone’s home for generations to come. The tree that the log or driftwood came from will live on inside my creation, and it brings me joy knowing that.

You left a career over two decades ago to pursue this passion full time. What have you learned from that?
I often get phone calls, or people will come up to me wanting to know how I got into this. I tell people that what I am working on is just firewood. Why not just give carving a try? That’s what I did. If I messed up, I just started over with another log. Life is that way too. Try something different and see what happens. You will learn something along the way and have tried something new. I tell people you might not experience the success I have had, but that doesn’t matter. There is always someone out there looking for something authentic that is made by hand. Just try, and see what happens.

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