Hanson, who lives north of Lumberton, has been carving for 10 years, having received his first lessons from a friend who taught him how to carve a standing bear — which is like chain-saw carving with training wheels. Since then, his carvings have become more creative and varied, his bears always changing. His other creations range from frogs to benches with carved surfaces featuring wolves and human faces.
He learns by doing, but has also learned by attending several carving competitions. His wife pushed him to enter the first chain-saw carving competition ever in Reedsport, Ore., in June 2000 even though he only had three months experience.
“My wife said, ‘You have to enter that,’” Hanson said, “I said, ‘You’re crazy, all I know how to carve is a bear.’”
The other carvers at the Oregon competition had been carving for years. Some even cut their fingernails with chain saws, Hanson said. Although competition is fierce, it isn’t cuthroat, Hanson said.
“They aren’t hoping your saw blows up,” Hanson said. “There are rivalries, but if you need to borrow something from this guy, he’ll stop what he’s doing to help you.”
Competitions typically start with a “quick carve” that is to be completed in 75 minutes, the creation usually being auctioned off by the organizers to raise money. The main carvings are done in four hours. At his first competition, Hanson won third place in the novice division and got his first order.
“My wife said, ‘You have to carve a prarie dog,’” Hanson said. “I said, ‘I can’t.’ She said, ‘You have to, I just took a deposit.’”
With that, Hanson started making money from his new hobby that has taken him across the country. He traveled to Minnesota to see his ailing father. He and his wife, who helps with the finishing of the carvings, stayed for a few weeks in a resort on Lake Superior near Two Harbors, Mich., eventually becoming their carver-in-residence.
“They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” Hanson said. “They offered us a cabin for two weeks in winter.”
Hanson has left a trail of sawdust across the United States. Traveling to tourist hot spots and making items to order have been key parts of his business. They have defined how he has spent his time over the past few years, as he has spent a few summers in Minnesota, but his geographic location has also been responsible for what he carves.
Pelicans sell well at Myrtle Beach, S.C., he says. Minnesota Vikings carvings sell well in Minnesota. Pieces like that typically sell for $100. He has also put together more complicated projects for sale, such as an outdoor bench that he sold for $3,400. The bench was made up of interlocking pieces that could be disassembled for transport. He carved faces and animals into the arms of the bench.
Hanson also made a moose for a man who used it to propose to his wife. The moose came with a large hole in his back that was used to hide the wedding ring.
Hanson belongs to a guild of chain-saw carvers who meet from time to time to share tips and techniques. He describes the guilds as being made up of formally trained sculptors who have worked with bronze or marble but have evolved into making their art a power tool.
It’s from these guild members he has learned some of the most valuable advice, he said. The best carvers aren’t the ones whose chain saws are screaming the entire competition.
“Your carving needs to be like a blueprint on four sides,” Hanson said. “You need to know exactly where your first cut is and your second cut and your 15th cut ahead of time.”
Steve Hanson is a chainsaw carver who specializes in wildlife carvings. He will be carving at the Lake Waccamaw Sportsman’s expo on April 3 and 4. For information, call him at (910) 738-1711.