At 30, Chad Gainey found out he could do things with a chainsaw few other people could. He proved his skill on the grounds of the Sunbelt Ag Expo one year, and his life changed.
Gainey can look at a log or hunk of wood and from it carve most any image or scene he wants using only a chainsaw, a tool many see as an intimidating, high-powered, roaring danger. In his hands, the chainsaw is a precision instrument used to cut away large chunks of timber or to finely form to life the suitable flow of a bird’s plumage or the delicate nature of a person’s face.
The Sunbelt Ag Expo will be Oct. 18-20 at Spence Field in Moultrie, Ga.
For most of his life, he didn’t know he was an artist. He found out in a pretty practical way.
“My wife was making and selling candles at the farmers market. So, I thought we needed something to add to our booth. So, I thought I’d try doing little tiki sculptures using the chainsaw. Tiki sculptures are cut rough and are supposed to be sort of ugly, so I figured I’d start with those,” he said, as if the idea was the obvious thing to do at the time.
His tikis turned out pretty good and sold at the market. Cool, he thought, this is something neat to do on weekends at the farmers market with the family. But more and more as he held the chainsaw in a new way, he realized tikis were the least of what he could form out of wood. From the sawdust emerged a skill, a natural-born talent, he didn’t know he had.
“I never really imagined I’d be able to do some of the stuff I’m able to do. The tikis started driving some demand for other things and I started getting requests for fish and pelicans and then garden gnomes, and it just started expanding from there,” he said.
That was in 2011, and he was an agriculture teacher in Holmes County, Fla.
A year later into honing his chainsaw skills and getting some local attention, he was at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., on a field trip with his ag students. He struck up a conversation with the crew at the Husqvarna chainsaw section who were demonstrating their equipment. At first, he and the crew mostly talked about the company’s line of tools. Then he told them he did a little chainsaw sculpting on the side. OK, they said. Let’s see what you can do. Gainey took a chainsaw and did. Impressed, they said let’s keep in touch and see what happens.
Gainey did stay in touch, but he didn’t instantly go from being an ag teacher to being a fulltime chainsaw sculptor. Due to some shifts in Husqvarna’s upper management at the time, mainly his primary contact with the company leaving, two years or so passed before his relationship with the company caught fire again and things did work out. Gainey is not an ag teacher anymore, though he liked the job.
Since 2014, he has been a fulltime, traveling chainsaw sculptor who contracts to perform about two dozen shows and dealer events for Husqvarna each year. His slate for sculpting work away from the company is also full and has taken him around the country.
He is one of only four chainsaw sculptors in the country who contract with a major company. The other three sculptors form the Echo chainsaw carving team.
Gainey has carved sculptures depicting a wide-range of scenes and images from dolphins playing in waves to life-sized Bigfoots to pirates scowling to Labrador pups humbly retrieving ducks to an old weathered man’s face with his whiskers flowing in the breeze to giant Bald Eagles proudly perched or landing and much more.
Gainey is married to Mandy and they have three children: Lily, 6, Emma, 4, and Tanner, who is 6 months old. The family is based in Washington County, Fla, now but travels with him. The couple home schools the school-aged kids.
“They get to see quite a lot when we go places. We try to incorporate stuff (like in a field trip sort of way) and take days to see and learn about the area,” he said.
The simple way to explain how he goes about his craft is to say he looks at a piece of wood, gets the image he wants in his head and then cuts and trims away the wood not needed to make the image or scene. But it is more complicated than that, he says; it’s like a big puzzle, but instead of piecing something together, your taking pieces away but you have to do it by establishing certain points from which to work. For example, pinpointing where an arm will go in relation to the shoulder, neck or head of a sculpture, or where a bird’s eye will be in relation to its beak.
Some things like owl sculptures he has done many times and can complete from start to finish in less than an hour. The largest piece and longest he as ever spent on a sculpture was for a private client and the work took 10 days to complete. He’ll have to describe that work to you:
“It was a big oak tree right in front of somebody’s house. They actually built the house around it. This tree died, and they had to take it down but they left it at 25-feet tall, and it kind of forked off and one of the forks was forked again. It has a flying pelican at the top and one perched on a limb and that section comes down the tree trunk. Then there is like a big wave that separates the water portion, and there is a marlin swimming down through a school of fish, and the school of fish are schooling back up the branch that goes to the left, and then there are two dolphins jumping on that branch and that branch sort of hangs over the house; and then on the back there is another school of fish and another dolphin going up that same branch,” he said.