The art of chainsaw carving

Chainsaw carving is steadily gaining popularity as a hobby and as a career. Do you want to learn how to carve with a chainsaw? Take a look at our chainsaw carving tips!

A woman wearing protective equipment carving a wooden owl with a chainsaw

What is chainsaw carving?

Chainsaw carving emerged as a novel way of making wooden art in the 1950s. Carved art is the creation of intricate objects and art pieces through the process of cutting and shaping wood. Chainsaw art is exactly the same – it just uses chainsaws instead of hand tools. Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s nothing refined about it though - the best chainsaw carvers can transform an entire tree trunk into a breathtaking work of art. The method is simple enough, so you might find that even if you start off just carving a simple star, before too long you are adding the final flourish to an imposing dragon, or creating unique fine furniture. With chainsaw carving the creative possibilities are limitless.

If you’re already an experienced chainsaw user, you should pick up carving quite quickly. Even beginners can learn the basic principles of chainsaw carving by tackling straightforward projects.


how to start chainsaw carving

Before you start carving you need to be able to handle a chainsaw safely and properly. Don’t despair if you haven’t worked with a chainsaw before as the basic techniques are not difficult to learn. All carvers were beginners once!

Start by getting the right equipment and looking for an interesting carving project suitable for a beginner.

A man using a STIHL MSE 193 CE chainsaw to carve a wooden bird

Personal protective equipment for chainsaw carving

When working with a chainsaw, even as a hobbyist, you still need to wear protective clothing. This includes cut protection trousers, cut protection boots, ear protection, safety glasses, a face shield and gloves made from robust material. You should also wear a helmet if you are working in an area where there is a risk of falling objects. All details can be found in the instruction manual for your chainsaw.

A person wearing protective clothing holds a heart carved from wood

Chainsaw carving for beginners: inspiration and ideas

As a chainsaw carving beginner, you should look for an easy project to get you going. Geometric shapes and simple objects are ideal practice subjects and will give you a feel for working with the chainsaw.

To inspire you, we’ve put together step-by-step instructions for a number of carving projects.

Which chainsaws are suitable for chainsaw carving?

A man using a STIHL MSE 193 CE chainsaw to carve wings on a wooden bird

Chainsaw carving is all about making precise cuts, as well as delicate patterns and flourishes. This type of work requires a carving guide bar and saw chain.

Carving guide bars have extremely low kickback due to their narrow bar nose; this feature also means you can cut very tight details with them. The special carving saw chains have a shortened cutter top plate which means minimum vibration, making a real difference when creating finer features on a wooden sculpture, such as an animal’s coat, beak and face.

Carving saws are supplied already equipped with the right cutting attachment, but you can buy carving bars and saw chains and fit them to certain STIHL chainsaws if you already have one. Just speak to your STIHL Approved Dealer to find out which bar and chain you need for your chainsaw. 

What type of wood is suitable for chainsaw carving?

There are a few things to consider when choosing wood, as it makes a major contribution to the aesthetics of your chainsaw carved sculpture. Remember, as wood is a natural material, its look will change over time. If your artwork is for outdoors, we recommend you choose weather-resistant wood types that don’t need special protection and treatment. This will help preserve the structure and colour of your wood sculpture even when exposed to the elements.

A range of wood types and their properties can be found in the following list:

Suitable Unsuitable
  • Oak: though it has a long drying time, this is an exceptionally robust and water-resistant wood.
  • Larch: one of the few coniferous trees classed as a hardwood. Larch is highly durable and has a vibrant, almost reddish appearance.
  • Robinia: a weather-resistant hardwood which is easy to work with. The yellow-green or yellow-brown heartwood should be protected against greying with varnish.
  • Cedar: its attractive reddish-brown grain and weather resistance make cedar an excellent choice for chainsaw wood carving.
  • Pine: this softwood can quickly fall prey to mould and pests, so it needs the right care. Moreover, it is less weather-resistant and decomposes quickly.
  • Spruce: spruce also requires lots of care and attention and is prone to cracking.
  • Douglas fir: when dry, this wood is hard to work with and is also very susceptible to cracking.
  • Fruit trees: though fruit woods are interestingly patterned, they are hard and thick and unfortunately not ideal for carving. 

The edges of a standing wooden heart ornament being smoothed off with a STIHL

Lime wood is an ideal carving material for wooden objects that will be displayed indoors, and is the ideal wood for chainsaw carving beginners to practice with. Lime is a softwood, which makes sculpting it easier.

Chainsaw carving: general instructions

Chainsaw carving can be picked up easily with practice. Equip yourself with the right knowledge and a bit of patience, and you’ll reap the rewards in no time.
We’ve put together general instructions for carving with a chainsaw – individual steps may vary in different projects, but the overall approach is usually largely similar.

That’s it! Depending on the wood, you may also want to seal or treat it to avoid rotting and discolouration.

Summary: chainsaw carving

  • The basic principles of creating chainsaw art can be self-taught or learnt on a carving course. The rest is a matter of practice.
  • Always wear personal protective equipment when working with a chainsaw. Details can be found in the instruction manual for your chainsaw.
  • A special carving saw is ideal for fine detail.
  • Select a suitable type of wood for chainsaw carving: oak, larch, robinia and cedar are all good choices.
  • Always work with a sharp saw chain. You can sharpen your chain yourself or it can be done at a STIHL Approved Dealer.