White Hall chainsaw carver sees 'art in the trees'
Oct 14, 2014 at 6:15 PM
Lisa Webber has combined two of her passions into a business. The amateur artist who has worked more than 35 years in the forestry industry now spends her free time chainsawing tree trunks, logs and limbs into eagles, owls and bears.
"I don't think I've ever had a job where I didn't have a chainsaw in my hand," said Webber, of White Hall. "I was always an outdoor person and I see art in the trees. When I'm carving, I'm in my comfort zone. I love sawdust."
Webber will demonstrate her saw skills at the Hereford Fall Festival on Oct. 18 and 19. Her wooden creations will be for sale, and she'll take orders, too.
She's been working hard to get carvings ready for the festival. Wood chips flew and sawdust piled up recently when she revved up a chainsaw to turn a chunk of wood into an eagle.
Webber first strapped on a pair of chaps over her blue jeans. The chaps are made of Kevlar, the same material used in bulletproof vests. After putting on safety glasses, she was all concentration as she eyed the soon-to-be-eagle.
"What I do is backwards art. I look at a piece of wood like this one and start taking away what isn't an eagle," she said.
Feathers and fur
Using a chainsaw with a 12-inch carving bar, Webber sliced a deep curved line on the side of the log that delineated a closed wing. Then she used the saw as a scraper, taking away small chips of wood. What was left was a rough texture that looked like feathers.
"I taught myself how to do feathers and how to do fur," she said. "I get a rhythm going and almost dance next to the wood with the base of the chain saw resting on my tummy."
Webber's love of lumber started with a job cutting hiking trails for Maryland Department of Natural Resources. After that, she helped clear-cut fire roads in the Prettyboy Reservoir watershed.
She then went to work for Asplundh Tree Expert Co. where she supervised crews contracted by BGE to clear trees around power lines. She transferred to Lewis Tree Service, also contracted by BGE, as a power line tree clearance expert and strategic planner. She gets a daily dose of sawdust as all her time is spent outside with work crews.
When Webber had a business selling firewood, she first tried her hand at carving. As she'd comb through woods, take down dead trees, haul them out and then cut them into wood stove or fireplace-sized pieces, she'd find a piece worth saving.
"I'd come across a limb that was twisted or looked neat and I'd put it in a pile instead of the log splitter," she said.
About five years ago, describing herself as a "chainsaw-carving artist" she began a business called In the Backwoods. She gave away her earliest creations, animals and rustic furniture. Since she started selling her pieces, she has sold more than 100.
Her largest is a 5-foot bear and the smallest is a gray squirrel. Webber's prices start at $75 for a screech owl and vary depending on the size and complexity of the piece.
"Each of her pieces is absolutely unique, one of a kind," said Dale Verzi, who owns Farmington Nursery in White Hall. "We've displayed and sold her things here for the past two years. People love them."
Knotholes no problem
She'll use any wood with a unique shape. As soon as she saw a thick branch with knotholes on either side, she knew it would become a fish.
Webber prefers to work with white oak and sassafras, but uses many woods, including cherry.
After she has the basic shape carved, she uses a propane torch to lightly singe the wood to darken its natural grain.
And, she has to be ready for anything. She's had pieces split down the middle or come alive with bugs.
"My biggest enemy is black ants," she said. "I can be almost done an animal when I come across a colony inside the wood. It goes straight into a bonfire."
Her biggest seller is a sea gull perched on a log she has turned into a wooden pier piling, complete with rope and netting hanging off the side. She said she had dozens of orders for sea gulls after demonstrating her chain saw art at the Harford County Fair this summer.
And she hopes for the same outcome at the upcoming Hereford Fall Festival.
"Lisa always has a big crowd around her when she's carving," said Tom Ruhl, Hereford Fall Festival chairman. "People love to watch her and they love to hear her stories when she takes a break from the chainsaw."