Chainsaw Artist Carves ‘Designer’ Firewood

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Where a camper sees wood for a bonfire, Brian Willis sees potential “designer firewood.”

Seven years ago, the chainsaw artist learned the craft of turning a tree-cutting tool into a gas-powered paintbrush. Now he transforms tree stumps, logs and firewood into artwork for homes and yards.

“I basically carve anything from little eagle heads and bears the size of a cigarette lighter all the way up to 14-foot tree stumps in people’s yards,” says Willis, who hails from Granite City, about a five-minute drive from St. Louis. “The subject matter is just about anything. The bears, raccoons and eagles seem to be the biggest sellers.”

Brian Willis, Wood Carving, chainsaw, Granite City

In 2004, just three years after losing his job when a local steel factory closed, Willis made a career for himself. For years, he had hand-carved wood into flowers and duck and goose decoys. A friend introduced him to the art of chainsaw carving, and he applied his hand-carving skills to the chainsaw, developing a craft that started as a hobby.

“Now it’s a love affair, and it’s what I do for a living,” says Willis, who calls his business Willis Wooden Creations.

Two years ago, he and his wife, Tracy, opened a year-round shop in nearby Pontoon Beach where he works and sells his artwork, which varies from benches, tables and three-dimensional wildlife carvings to plaques and signs. Prices range from $50 for small signs and critters up to more than $1,000 for large carved tree stumps. Most pieces sell for around $150 to $300. In addition, he gives demonstrations and sells products at up to 15 festivals and events annually within a four-hour driving distance of his home.

He owns six chainsaws ranging from 12 to 24 inches in length and with different tip sizes for everything from block cuts to fine detail work. On a typical piece, he uses two chainsaws to completion. Larger pieces might require three or four chainsaws. Some artwork can be produced in less than an hour. Large, detailed pieces can take days.

His favorite wood for chainsaw art is catalpa, which holds detail well, has minimal cracking, is rugged in the elements and is beautiful finished naturally. However, he most often uses red oak, walnut, cedar and sycamore because they are more readily available from the tree trimmers who provide most of his wood.

A raccoon carved by Brian Willis using a chainsaw, Granite City, wood carving

To finish his products, he torches and wire brushes the wood to remove splinters and sharp edges. He then will paint or stain and finish with a coat of polyurethane at a customer’s request. Otherwise, he recommends his customers protect the artwork with outdoor deck oil.

The long-time chainsaw owner and firewood cutter gains inspiration from everyday life and almost daily writes or sketches an idea.

“I always tell people I like to create smiles,” Willis says. “That’s why most of my bears have little grins or tongues hanging out.”

Willis Wooden Creations

Owners: Brian Willis of Granite City, Illinois
Products: Chainsaw-carved wildlife figures, benches, plaques and signs
Contact: cruz41dge@aol.com; 618-876-2371
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10 Comments

  1. Mike Urgo

    July 3, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Hi we live just outside Chicago
    Generally looking to price an on site carving of about an 8-10 ft maple tree trunk into perhaps a roman type column
    If you could get back to me I can tell the tree removal service to leave enough stump to work with. Tham
    Nx

  2. D Massey

    January 31, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    We have a plum tree that we are losing in our yard. I am interested in the cost of wood carving. We could then put a flower bed around it an turn it back into something beautiful. Can you give me a cost estimate for something like this! We live in Troy, Il. I know there is a place in Pontoon Beach that is nearby.

    The Massey Family

  3. Greg stafford 217-416-3696

    April 4, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Please call ASAP 217-416-3696 to quote a tree being cut down

  4. Tammy Hickey

    August 30, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    We are interested in obtaining an estimate for turning a future tree stump into a unique military sculpture. For the design we would want the 5 service emblems, the American Legion emblem and the POW/MIA emblem or the m-26 with the helmet hanging on the gun. I have the design in mind if you would want to come give us an estimate.

    Sincerely,

    Tammy Hickey
    American Legion Post 58
    Finance Officer
    618-660-6670

  5. Michael

    November 1, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    I am looking for a four foot carved Santa Clause. Would you be able to do that?

    • Rachel Bertone

      November 3, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your comment! We suggest contacting Willis Woodworking directly at (812) 949-7103 or by email at williswoodworking@yahoo.com. Hope this helps!

      Rachel Bertone
      editor, Illinois Partners

  6. Dulcie Willis

    August 10, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    The phone number, website and etsy shop belong to another williswoodworkng located in the Louisville KY area and we do not do chainsaw art.

    • Dulcie Willis

      August 17, 2016 at 11:24 am

      Thank you for correcting contact information. It is now correct.

  7. Wayne Davey

    May 23, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Good Morning Brian. We have a pine tree that is coming down in our front yard by the road and we thinking of having an eagle or some other type creature carved in it. Do you know how much that would cost if it ends up 4 – 5 high. Thank you

    • Jessy Yancey

      June 16, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Hi Wayne,

      We did this story a few years back, so you should contact Brian directly. Contact: cruz41dge@aol.com; 618-876-2371

      Hope this helps!
      Jessy Yancey
      editor, Illinois Partners

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