The Art of Chainsaw Carving

Griffon Ramsey | March 26th, 2024 (Volume 3)
Griffon Ramsey traces her unexpected journey from novice to accomplished chainsaw carver, ignited by a challenge to make her first ever attempt in front of a crowd of several hundred people. This pivotal moment led her to embrace the art form, transforming it from a hobby into a career with global reach. Ramsey's story highlights the fusion of creativity, performance art, and the power of embracing challenges to engage audiences worldwide and elevate the craft beyond traditional perceptions.


I am Griffin. I’m an artist and entrepreneur at the Crossroads of Creativity, Commerce, and Community. “Just come on down and embarrass yourself.”

…was what Texas musician and chainsaw carver, Doug Moreland, told me in 2011 when he invited me to come chainsaw carve at the Cadillacs Calf Fry, which was a very competitive bull testicle cook off/country music festival/chainsaw carving event back in 2011. It happened every year in Manchaca, Texas. And I had just been asking Doug for one lesson in chainsaw carving, but he said he was too busy with this event so , “Just come on down and embarrass yourself.”

Well, I had never actually used a chainsaw at that point. I barely even knew how to start it. And so not only was that a challenge for me to try something incredibly intimidating for the first time ever that I had never done before, but to do it in front of hundreds of people at the same time. But by challenging me to embarrass myself, he was also giving me permission to suck at it. And I did suck at it. I wore flip-flops at some point. I set my saw down and I tripped over it and I cut my ankle. And I never even finished this carving, but the challenge that compelled me to try something really intimidating, use this very scary tool for the first time and before I even really realized what was happening, I had started this journey of carving wood with chainsaws.

The first thing I actually finished was the Gears of War III logo, it was meant to launch a YouTube channel which had been the original goal in asking Doug for the lesson in the first place. I had only planned on making one carving, just to do something interesting to launch this YouTube page with and to look tough at the same time. Well, it worked and it went semi-viral for a new channel. And it wasn’t long before everyone in my world was asking me about this exciting new hobby. And I had already been a maker. People had known me for making things, but something about chainsaw carving just got everyone so excited, so curious. And their curiosity helped fuel me and my interest in learning more. I just kept carving, I kept posting things on YouTube. At the time, I was mostly doing pop culture because that played well on YouTube. And back then it was about getting the eyeballs.

It was never really meant to be a job, but an opportunity presented itself that allowed me to take the next step and get to a whole new level with it. Posting all of this content around chainsaws online attracted the attention of Stihl Incorporated, the leading chainsaw manufacturer, and their marketing department offered me a free chainsaw. And that chainsaw turned into more equipment, which quickly turned into a lot of offerings for live performance opportunities on a local, regional, national and then international level. We worked together for seven years. I did a lot of performance. I created things for them. And at the time, I was their biggest influencer. And in exchange, they gave me a whole lot of equipment that really helped me take it from hobby to a profession. I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by the power that the creation process itself has to attract and engage an audience more so than the objects that we create.

Chainsaw carving is more than just sculpture, it’s also performance art. These tools are so fast and so powerful that a skilled artist can make something really quickly before your very eyes. And I’ve seen things made in half an hour, to these large scale pieces that can be done in a few days. The process really attracts a lot of people because it’s so exciting first of all, to watch something being made, and fast enough to where you don’t lose interest. And a lot of people can’t even believe it. But these events happen all over the world, competitions and auctions and different kinds of events, and they draw huge crowds of people who just want to watch them be made. One of the gigs that happened for me that really made me feel there was a lot of potential in chainsaw carving to be elevated out of this stereotypical hillbilly folk art that it’s categorized as into something that’s more lucrative and has a little bit more prestige, Buffalo Trace hired me in 2019. They flew me across the Atlantic. They installed me in a very hip, Shoreditch London art gallery that they had re-skinned to look like one of their bourbon bottles. They provided me with three large logs cut from the same sycamore tree that had fallen down nearby. And they asked me to carve their logo, the American Buffalo, in front of their big picture window.

They gave me four days to finish it from start to finish, and they were really hoping that something like a giant buffalo being carved by an American woman in the window of this big metropolis gallery would attract some eyeballs. And they were right. For four days, we had people gawking in the windows, had their cellphones out, were taking pictures. I was just racing to meet my deadline. And I have to tell you that this kind of thing, making something really large, really fast with a lot of pressure and a lot of people watching, in the beginning would’ve completely freaked me out. But at this point, luckily I had some experience with that intensity. And I have to tell you, I felt a lot like a rock star. They had me carving every day, all day. They had me out at night doing interviews. I was doing bourbon tastings. I was hobnobbing with the Buffalo Trace executives. And somehow in all of that, I managed to get it done on time and I was able to enjoy the opening gallery party before I ran off around the corner to go on an amazing Jack the Ripper tour in Whitechapel.

Because I have to tell you, the most amazing part about this for me was to be showcased in one of the coolest neighborhoods, one of the coolest cities in the world, to not only show my work but show people how it’s made with all of the fanfare around it that I think it really deserves, and then to be able to go and explore the city at the same time. And it made me wonder, “How did I even get here with this tool? How did this loud, aggressive machine, taking me all over the world, and I’ve had the most amazing adventures that have just made me want to burst with joy.”

But as many opportunities as it gave me to show my work, it also gave me so many opportunities to embarrass myself. And I have to tell you, some of them were so bad they may haunt me until the day I die. But I’ve learned that embarrassment and fear won’t kill us. And the times that I’ve been brave enough to face it and be bold enough to just jump right in, it’s been the moments I’ve actually felt really alive. And it’s also opened up the whole world to me, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Thank you.

Griffon Ramsey
Production designer, homesteader and chainsaw carving artist.