“If you can dream it we can build it,” is the motto of Dave Adams, owner of Adams Chainsaw Carvings in Cortland. From what I’ve seen, it’s an accurate statement. When I spotted his artwork outside his shop one day, I was so intrigued (he created that out of wood with a chainsaw?) I wanted to find out more. We met in October, and I had the chance to see more of his sculptures, which range from the realistic to the whimsical. While Dave was packing for a move from Route 13 to a new shop on Delaware Street – and also preparing for an onsite carving – we talked about his skills, his materials and the market for chainsaw art.
How did you become involved in this kind of sculpture?
I’ve always been interested in art. As a chef in a Hilton Hotel in Colorado, I was exposed to ice carving, and I found it really exciting. Sculpting was one of the classes I took when I spent a semester at Mesa State in Grand Junction. I’ve also worked in Cortland as a chef, and then for awhile in the oil industry in Colorado and Pennsylvania. I came home to pursue sculpting full-time.
Where does the wood come from? Is there anything besides a chainsaw that you use to sculpt it?
In addition to a chainsaw, I also work with chisels, a right-angle grinder, Dremels and other pneumatic tools. I use wood from local tree surgeons who trim or fell trees. Some wood comes from Cornell; from trees that had to be cut down because of disease.
Who are your customers?
They range from just regular people who want artwork for their home or as a gift, to businesses that commission custom sculptures. One of the coolest things I’ve ever created is the figure in front of Hairy Tony’s Pub in Cortland. Binghamton University recently contacted me to do a project for them. It’s still in the planning and bid stages.
A carving can take anywhere from one hour to 100-plus hours, depending on what it is. Carving onsite, rather than in my shop, goes faster because there are generally fewer distractions.
What is the average lifespan of one of your carvings?
Twenty-five years is what I’m seeing out of pine right now, but oak outlasts pine. The better seal you put on it – so the more moisture you keep out – the longer the carving is going to last.
What is your favorite part about what you do? Your least-favorite part?
The hardest thing is meeting my own expectations – not getting discouraged. The best part of it all is bringing life to something so old, like a 200-year-old log. It’s an honor to do that.
The Wine Bottle Project
As Dave got ready for only his second on-site carving, I made plans to join him in Union Springs, at Cayuga Lake Sunset Vacation rental, owned by Kathleen Spingler and Christine Buerkle. My first thought was: chainsaw carving outside in November in Central New York? Will the weather cooperate? It turned out to be a perfect day with beautiful blue skies.
The owners wanted him to transform a standing tree into a wine bottle with a cork sticking out. It was do-able, with a few suggestions from Dave. “A chainsaw wouldn’t work for carving the leaves like I was imagining they wanted. I always wanted to work in copper, and the opportunity was there and the time was right. I did a little reading and then I went at it. I used a hammer and an anvil and I made the leaves. I did the cut-outs. I did all the hammer marks, shaped them. It was fun.”
I left him working that morning, but received a text that afternoon that he couldn’t continue. The tree was rotted. “They told me the tree was dead and they had it cut down,” explained Dave. “Since they found nice clean wood, the assumption was that it was all solid. It was maybe a good 2-and-a-half-to-3 feet down from their cut that I actually found the rot.”
After they discussed their options, Kathleen and Christine decided to let Dave work their design in a piece of pine he had his studio.
“I came back and found a tree as close as I could to the size I needed,” said Dave. “It was a 100-year-old pine.”
The completed sculpture is 7 feet tall and weighs 500 pounds. Dave and his father used a backhoe to load it for delivery.
He wants to continue creating art – it seems to sell itself. “It’s been a struggle, but I’ve been following my dream. Luckily, my wife wants to see me succeed.” Dave would also like to build playhouses for kids, which he has already envisioned. “They would be whimsical, with sloping roofs, crooked walls and circular doors.”
1. Dave cuts down a 100-year-old tree and begins to carve it into the shape of a wine bottle. See page 22 for the next four steps.
2. Dave makes a copy of the Cayuga Lake Sunset vaction rental logo, glues it on the front of the wood and stencils it out.
3. Once the logo is finished being stencilled, Dave can begin to paint the wood.
4. Dave is ready to transport the carving to its final destination.
5. Once the final carving is placed, finishing touches are added on, such as the copper leaves.
To see more of Dave’s work, visit adamscarvings.com. His shop is located at 21 Delaware Street, Cortland.
story and photos by Mary Grasek