Birthday: December 12
Hometown: St. Croix, IN
Professional Carver Since: 2002
Non-carving Hobbies: Fishing, hunting, family
Oddest Job Ever: Working at a lab that raised rats for tests and other studies
Favorite Saw: ECHO CS-600P
How long have you been a professional carver?
What do you consider your best work?
I started carving in 2002. I consider my professional career to have started when I sold my first piece 30 days after I carved my first bear.
My best work? Tough question. What is my best work…is it the carving that won the biggest prize, or the one that received the most media attention, or is my best work the one I received the most money for, or the one I donated to a charity I really wanted to help, or is it the one the client loved so much they cried. Hard to pick…I love them all!
What have you learned from carving?
Confidence would be what first came to mind. It really takes guts to stand there with a chunk of wood and a chain saw of all things and make art in front of a crowd of people. Then, humility. Sometimes you nail it and sometimes you don’t, still in front of all those people. Next would be perspective – you may have a carving you absolutely love but it’s slow to sell, or you may have a carving that you see nothing but flaws in and that one is the first to go. I guess that means there is no wrong answer when it comes to art. My eyes are opened everyday…still learning.
What's the strangest situation you've ever been in while carving?
A strange situation that comes to mind is when I was asked to do a casket for a client who had recently lost her pet Chihuahua. You would think it would be a small box but she wanted it pretty large, so I did the job and added some pretty ornate carving to this cedar casket. When she came to pick it up, just in small talk I asked why such a large box for such a small dog? She replied “I have three more in the freezer at home and will bury them all together.”
What's the most unexpected question you have ever been asked?
Most unexpected question…those usually come later on in evening shows when there is a beer garden nearby…funny stuff!
Have you ever changed your mind about what you were going to carve after you had started the carving? Explain ...
I change my mind all the time when I’m carving. Usually not in a huge way, but carving for me really is a series of adjustments. You really don’t know what the piece will look like until you are finished.
How do you prepare for a competition?
I don’t! I’ll do a little research on the topic and get a few pictures of ideas, then just stay loose. I don’t really stick to an idea until the night before or the morning of the event. This drives my wife crazy…she is the planner. Good thing for our business we have both!
Do you miss having a "regular" job?
Sometimes I think it would be nice to go in, punch a clock and get lost in a normal job with co-workers where you are a piece of something larger unlike carving where the entire process is completely on your shoulders. A carving career can definitely be a challenge. The positives outweigh the negatives such as choosing when to work in my studio, when I’m feeling creative, or when I’ll travel the world to carve, or meet up with friends at carving events, or create art for someone out of their yard tree. I’m reminded how lucky I am to have made this my career…never a boring moment!
How do you decide what to carve?
I have a hard time deciding what to carve. I usually start with a general idea, and then depending on time and the wood, I see how it evolves.
Have you ever had to scrap a piece and start over?
Not in a competition, but at a demo show in Ohio I was carving a soaring eagle out of eastern red cedar. The neck of the eagle had a rotten spot that I didn’t see. The head fell off in the middle of the show in front of about 150 people. The carving was completely blocked out so I did the only thing I could do…walk to the wood pile with everyone watching, cut a new log and start all over. Needless to say the show ran a little longer than normal. Believe it or not, someone still wanted to buy the headless eagle!
Do you prefer competing or commission carving?
Competing vs. Commission carving. They both have their place. The thrill of competing is not so much about the other competitors but more about dealing with the wood, subject or theme, and time! It’s about doing the best you can with the amount of time you have. Sometimes the judges get it right and sometimes they get it wrong, but it’s more about how you feel about what you accomplished. Commission carving has some of the same challenges as far as subject and deadlines, but the part I enjoy most is the relationship between myself and the client. It becomes personal. You put a lot into the piece and when they fall in love with what you were able to do…well that’s a better feeling than winning any competition.
What's the longest you've carved without stopping?
Most of the time at a competition when you are allotted time to work you make sure you’re working. You don’t want to give your competition an advantage. The longest day I can remember was at the ECHO Cup one year. We left the hotel around 6 am and returned around 8pm, and the event was close to the hotel so not much travel time! Lots of carving that day.
Do you listen to anything when you carve?
Yes…the sound of the saw. Just kidding. Honestly I listen to a variety. It really depends on my mood and what I’m carving. If I’m doing a fast speed show I like to jam to Buck Cherry, 3 Doors Down or something with a fast beat. If I’m on detail work I like Springsteen, Rolling Stones, or Lynard Skynard. Not really a wrong answer on music when I’m working. I love a variety.
Do any of your kids (if you have any) want to carve?
As far as family carving goes, my wife Cindy has really honed her carving skills over the last year or so. Besides running our retail store in French Lick, managing my appearances and business, and keeping up with our three kids she finds the time to carve around 20 hours a week. Her carvings move well in the store. Ethan, our son, does some carving, but at this point I’m not sure he wants to carve for a career. He is very mechanical minded and loves to fix things. Right now he helps Cindy finish her carvings mostly. Payton carved her first piece last year as a gift for a teacher who was retiring. She has a lot of natural talent. Macey, our youngest daughter, is very involved with the process also. She grinds, sands and paints the carvings. We jokingly made it a rule that you have to weigh more than the saw to carve. She has a ways to go… All jokes aside, the three of them would make wonderful chain saw artists. We encourage them to chase their own dreams. It is really a joy to watch them starting to look at career options and plan for life after high school.
Do you carve anything other than wood?
No. I have carved ice a few times. We are in a rural area so we don’t have access to large ice blocks.
Do you ever carve just for fun, or do you consider it a job?
Carving is what I do for a living. It is physically and mentally draining. Hard work! I occasionally go to schools for career day and I try to send the message to the students that if you can find your passion, whatever it is that excites you, and turn that into your job you’ll never work a day in your life. I know this has been said before but it really is so true!
What's the largest piece you've carved? The smallest?
Here in the Midwest we don’t have huge diameter trees like they do on the west coast…yes I’m jealous! So we go tall sometimes. The tallest piece I have done was an Apollo 13 space craft in Carmel, IN standing 30 feet tall in the client’s front yard. I carved it from a scissor lift. There were a lot of trips up and down in order to keep the carving in proportion. I don’t do a lot of small carvings with a chain saw, but I guess one that comes to mind is a 3” dolphin for one of my daughters completed mostly with a grinder.
What's your favorite ECHO chain saw?
Tough choice because they are all great saws and each one has its purpose. If I could only have one saw to carve a piece it would be the CS-600P. Mainly because of its weight to power ratio. It is a good blocking saw and can be used for detail as well.
What do you like about ECHO chain saws?
The thing I like about ECHO chain saws is they start every time and they don’t quit running! Carving is very hard on a saw – it is screaming RPM’s under no load. ECHO chain saws don’t seem to mind the work!
What has it been like to be a member of the ECHO Carving Team?
Being a member of the ECHO Carving Team has been an amazing experience. When I was asked to be a member I had only been carving a short time compared to the other team members so for a beginner it was an honor. Being a member has propelled my carving career not only through the exposure to big events but also the experiences I have gained from carving with the top carvers in the country. I look forward to the many adventures to come and am proud to be associated with a company such as ECHO and team members – Mark and Bob.
What advice would you give to a novice carver?
My advice would be to be patient first of all, know your equipment, and seek advice from experienced carvers.
What saw would you recommend to someone just starting out in chain saw carving?
I’d suggest the CS-600P or the new CS-590 (Timber Wolf). I like them for their weight to power ratio. Slap a 20" Toonie carving bar on them and you can hold them all day long plus really move some wood.