Updated: Apr 12, 2020
I caught up with James from James Elliott Chainsaw Sculpture. Specifically we talked about pet sculptures and the process from start to finish.
Q: What is the best way to start the day?
A: I need to start the day with a black coffee or I am crabbit the rest of the day
Q. How long have you been doing this, what were you doing before?
A. I have been carving for 3 years, 1 year full time, before this I was a tree surgeon
Q. What led you to sculpting?
A. I’ve got a degree in illustration and thought I would give it a try after a shift one day. The wee owl I carved sold straight away! I thought I was on to something here and it could be an extra income. My boss at the time asked if I’d make some stock to sell at his garden centre in spring, so, that gave me the boost to start and then it took off and dog commissions were flying in. It was a part time job out and of nowhere- which was brilliant!
The more successful it became, I realised I could go full time and then took the chance to do so.
Q. What does a typical working day look like for you?
A. I am usually up at 5.45am and head up to the farm for 7am. I spend an hour sharpening and cleaning my tools. I like to do a couple of 30min warm up carvings to get into the swing of things and then make a start on larger jobs. I am also usually cleaning sawdust and helping the farm with the cows and out cutting up logs.
Q. What do you love about your job?
A. Love that I’m working myself and in charge of scheduling my day even if it means I give myself less time off. I love that I can bring life into wood that would otherwise be chipped for biomass. I also love that I can bring memories of loved pets to owners and knowing that I can make something someone will get joy from- it’s very uplifting.
Q. What kind of job would you be terrible at?
A. Anything office related; I am too used to being outside and being able to pee where I want! :D
Q. What are your goals for your chainsaw sculpting business?
A. I would like to get into the international competitive circuit, my long-term goal is to tour America and Canada; build a bigger name for myself internationally as the industry is at its biggest over there. I want to do bigger jobs and create something massive that will last for decades.
Q. Do you enter any competitions or do live sculpting at country shows?
A. Yes, I enter competitions and do some live sculpting. Live sculpting is a different style because it’s obviously a lot faster. I have entered the British open, English and European open championships.
Q. Would you encourage young people to get into this type of work and what skills would they require to become a successful in this role?
A. Yes and no, it is obviously a risk using a chainsaw in a way that it is not designed to be used. You must have good working knowledge of using a chainsaw and you need to take a safety course to use it normally- let alone for something it is not designed for!
If you are good with your hands, have a creative eye and enough motivation you could be successful in this industry.
Q. What is your favourite kind of project?
A. I like the human form
Q. Are pet portraits popular?
A. Yes, 80% of my orders are probably pets/a memorial for a beloved animal. You can go to a garden centre and buy a clay golden retriever but at the end of the day, it’s reproduced. It’s not a bespoke service personal to you- my portraits are personal to you and your pet.
Q. What is the most difficult thing about doing a pet sculpture?
A. The hardest thing is trying to get a true likeness close enough so owners see it as their dog as well as trying to capture personality and life in something as still as dead in a bit wood.
Q. How long, on average, does it take to create a pet sculpture?
A. It can vary from 6 hours to 72hours depending on size, detail and what finishing techniques are used.
Q. What would you use to create a pet portrait?
A. A large chainsaw to cut the log into a block then a medium chainsaw to cut out the silhouette, from there I use progressively smaller chainsaws to shape and detail. I will use a corded grinder to add tighter details and finally, a chisel to cut out the eyes. I then go over full thing with blow torch to seal it then sand it back and add a natural wood stain to match the dog's colour then finish it with a premium outdoor timber oil.
Q. Is it nerve wracking when it is time to show the final product to the customer, have you ever had anyone say they don’t like the result?
A. Yeah it is nerve wracking, I have never had anyone say they don’t like the result, but I have had to tweak some projects on certain parts so that the customer is happy with the end result. That’s part of the bespoke service- it can be changed if you’re not happy- that is what makes it a special product you can’t buy in shops.
Q. What are some of the big projects you are working on now?
A. I am working on an elephant that is 2metres tall and 3m long- made out of laminated beams of wood. It is a massive operation with plenty of challenges and has been a huge learning curve for me.
Q. What are you most excited about right now?
A. I am looking forward to some of my upcoming jobs, I have some good ones coming up. (You’ll see them on James’ Facebook page “James Elliott Chainsaw Sculpture”).
Q. What are some of the challenges you regularly face in this role?
A.Sourcing timber, it’s better to buy in bulk which brings the issue of transporting the timber.
There are also a lot of tool breakages and it can take a couple of hours for replacements.
I also have things like wood splitting and rot pockets that you can know about until you start cutting and it results in an instant loss of a day or weeks work. Sometimes you find metal in wood, you can be cutting into a 200-year-old log and most of it is fine but right in the centre is a big nail, it can be a challenge and quite testing at times. I was working on a big horse 2 years ago in someone’s garden and found a huge iron nail 8-inch-long by 1 inch thick, must’ve been from the 1600s, this thing was a piece of history and it ruined £200 worth of chains and that kind of thing eats into the profit.
Q. Lastly, how do you like to spend your time off?
A. What’s time off?! I work every day!
To find out more or to book your own bespoke pet sculpture contact James on 07773893896 or visit https://www.facebook.com/JamesElliottChainsaw/.