Chain saw King

When Bob King of Redmond, Wash., was part of a large layoff at Boeing in 1998, he had no idea his hobby of chain-saw carving would transform into a full-time job.

But 10 years later, King finds himself traveling worldwide to participate in carving competitions as the top-ranked professional chain-saw carver in the United States. In his life away from competition, he operates his own chain-saw carving business, Bear Necessities Sculpture and Chainsaw-Art in Redmond. 

King is one of four members of the Echo Carving Team, sponsored by Echo Inc., a manufacturer of handheld outdoor power equipment, including chain saws. His relationship with Echo culminates in the annual Echo Chain Saw Carving Series Championship, scheduled to occur this year at the Albuquerque (N.M.) International Balloon Fiesta, Oct. 3-5. The final sculptures will be auctioned off with all proceeds benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Mexico. Other team members are Mike Bihlmaier of Marengo, Ill.; Mark Colp of Lakeport, Calif.; and Jason Emmons of Branchville, Ind. 

“I just came from the World Cup in Germany where I was representing the United States,” King says. “They invited the top carver from each country to go and compete, which was huge. It’s like the Olympics. I got second place. The winner from last year, who is from Japan, won it again this year, but, of course, I thought I should have placed first.”

The larger competitions last three days with a total of 20 hours allowed for carving. King typically brings 14 to 16 chain saws to an event.

“The largest one has a 6' bar [distance from the front of the saw to the tip of the farthest cutter]; the smallest one has an 8" bar. We use anything that works really to cut the materials. Power tools are an essential part of some of the finish work to get different texture and different details.

“The first day is what we call the rough-out day, and that is when the bigger saws are always out, and actually it is the most exhausting of all the days. You make the thick dedicated cuts that remove the majority of the wood that detracts from what your end result is going to be. We also call it blocking out.

“Then you can move to a mid-range saw or one of the other larger ones and take out more and more wood. Basically it’s like a chef’s cutlery, using knives to take it down to something more manageable. Then you take the fine stuff out and start refining it.”

The species used depends on the location of the competition. Among his favorite woods are Western red cedar, catalpa and butternut.

King says the competitions are like a beautiful baby contest, with only one happy winner emerging.

“When all is said and done, and the judges finalize [everything], there’s one happy guy, and there’s a lot of pissed-off mommies.”

Contact: Echo Inc., 400 Oakwood Road, Lake Zurich, IL 60047-1564. Tel: 847-540-8400. www.echo-usa.com or www.echo-usa.com/carvingseries
Bear Necessities Sculpture and Chainsaw-Art. Tel: 253-686-8983 or 253-845-2115. www.chainsaw-art.com