Chain­saw Carv­ing In­vi­ta­tional cre­ates a buzz at Bal­loon Fi­esta


An­nual carv­ing com­pe­ti­tion en­ters 13th year at Bal­loon Fi­esta.

The wood tells you what it wants to be; the trick is to lis­ten and hear the mes­sage, said wood­carver Brian Gray, the as­sis­tant co­or­di­na­tor of the Chain­saw Carv­ing In­vi­ta­tional.

The com­pe­ti­tion, now in its 13th year at the Al­bu­querque In­ter­na­tional Bal­loon Fi­esta, brings to­gether wood­carvers from all over the coun­try, and of­ten the world, to cre­ate sculp­tures from chunks of wood.

The crafts­men are given a daily theme, such as a bear, a bird or a bal­loon, and then cre­ate a sculp­ture in­cor­po­rat­ing the theme in a 90-minute “Quick Carve,” fol­lowed by the cre­ation of a main piece sculp­ture they have six hours to com­plete, Gray said. Judges score each piece on crafts­man­ship, cre­ativ­ity, de­gree of dif­fi­culty and other fac­tors to de­ter­mine the daily win­ner. At fi­esta’s end, they com­pile the points ac­cu­mu­lated by each artist from the en­tire week to de­ter­mine the In­vi­ta­tional win­ner.

The carvers, this year com­ing from Alaska, Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton, com­pete for prizes and cash, and then sell or raf­fle their sculp­tures.

The Chain­saw Carv­ing In­vi­ta­tional is also a fundraiser for the Al­bu­querque Area Fire­fight­ers Ran­dom Acts of Kind­ness char­ity, which pro­vides food, cloth­ing and house­hold items to needy fam­i­lies and those af­fected by fire, flood, storm or other dev­as­tat­ing events.

Gray, who is an Al­bu­querque fire­fighter, said the com­pet­ing wood­carvers each start off with a 6-foot-tall seg-

ment of pon­derosa pine, which this year came from the Ji­car­illa Apache reser­va­tion. They use a long chain saw called a block­ing saw to re­move large chunks of wood and cre­ate a roughed-out shape of what they en­vi­sion their sculp­ture will look like.

They then use pro­gres­sively smaller chain saws for finer de­tail be­fore turn­ing to a va­ri­ety of hand tools, such as grinders, san­ders and Dremel ro­tary tools to cre­ate the fi­nal form.

The fin­ished sculp­tures are of­ten seared in places with a torch to burn off tiny bits of de­bris, as well as im­part color to the wood. Fi­nally, the sculp­tures are sealed with wood oil, stains or paint.

Gray, who has been carv­ing for about six years, is not a full­time pro­fes­sional like those com­pet­ing in the In­vi­ta­tional.

“I do it on my days off as a hobby and to keep busy,” he said.

In­spired by now-re­tired fire­fighter Mark Chavez, the pri­mary co­or­di­na­tor of the com­pe­ti­tion, Gray bor­rowed a chain saw and took a 2- by 3-foot chunk of wood and carved his first cre­ation — a boot.

“It took me a few hours be­cause I was us­ing only one saw and didn’t have a grinder, san­der or other tools,” he said.

Over the years, he re­fined his own tech­nique and ac­cu­mu­lated an in­ven­tory of tools, which in­cludes 10 chain saws. He sells his sculp­tures at shows and from his Face­book page. They fetch from $45 to $1,500.

But tech­nique and tools are use­less, he said, “un­less the carver lis­tens to the wood, telling him what it wants to be.”


Among the wood sculp­tures on dis­play at the Chain­saw Carv­ing In­vi­ta­tional is this highly de­tailed moun­tain lion. Wood­carvers from around the coun­try are com­pet­ing in the an­nual com­pe­ti­tion at the Al­bu­querque In­ter­na­tional Bal­loon Fi­esta.

Deftly han­dling his chain saw, Chad Haspels, of Pagosa Springs, Colo., trans­forms a chunk of wood into the shape of a bird dur­ing Thurs­day morn­ing’s Chain­saw Carv­ing In­vi­ta­tional at the Al­bu­querque In­ter­na­tional Bal­loon Fi­esta.

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