Trio frees images within wood with chain saws


April 01, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Sun Staff Correspondent

TANEYTOWN -- A few tugs on the starter cord and Terry Boquist's chain saw roared to life. The spinning, razor-sharp teeth sliced into the wood like a block of cheese, scattering sawdust and wood chips.

With deft strokes, the 35-year-old carver quickly scribed a few lines on the wood and within minutes had coaxed a majestic 3-foot eagle with furled wings from what had been an ordinary weathered pine log.

In a clearing and shed in the woods near his Carroll County home, Mr. Boquist and two associates work at a new art form that has migrated from Minnesota timber country -- woodcarving with chain saws.

"It's just a bigger jackknife," said Hobart Reitan, 54, Terry's cousin. Mr. Reitan has been a carver for 15 years, following the Renaissance Festival circuit around the country.

Using an electric rasp, Mr. Reitan, a native of North Home, Minn., cut details into the headboard of a huge medieval fantasy bed designed by Towson lawyer Jim McCadden and his wife, Carol.

On the headboard, an armored knight on horseback is approaching a turreted castle -- Camelot -- and by no coincidence, the knight's bearded face bears a strong resemblance to Mr. Reitan.

"That's his signature. There are about a hundred pieces around the country with Hobart's face on them," Mr. Boquist said.

Among them is a statue of St. George slaying the dragon carved from a 24-foot cypress log at the Renaissance Festival grounds near Houston. Mr. Reitan is St. George. Another, done for a carving competition, is a life-size figure of Mr. Reitan with smaller figures carving on it with chain saws.

The McCaddens are immortalizing themselves, too. Their faces -- from close-up photos -- appear on the armored knight and begowned damsel figures that form the posts of their bed. A gargoyle and a still-uncarved dragon will form the foot posts. The McCadden family crest will adorn the footboard.

"I'm a big fan of the Renaissance Festival. I've always been fascinated by thatperiod," said Mr. McCadden, who already has some period-style decorations in his home. "We needed some new furniture and I saw what they could do, so we worked out the design -- Sir Galahad and Lady Carol. It will be the starter piece, and I'm really looking forward to it."

Nearby, Scott Crocker, 28, who grew up in Vermont's Green Mountains and worked as a journeyman carpenter beforemeeting the cousins at a Renaissance Festival in Texas five years ago, used a narrow-tipped chain saw to score detail on his 8-foot statue of a Plains Indian in full war dress with feather bonnet and lance.

Mr. Crocker was visiting his brother at the festival when he saw the cousins at work. "I had never used a chain saw before, but once I tried it I was hooked," he said.

"He's really good and he learned quickly," said Mr. Boquist, who is from International Falls, Minn.

The artisans do most of their carving with chain saws. They have about 15 chain saws of different sizes -- from heavy blades for felling trees to small ones that can pick out detail work.

They turn to rotary burrs in heavy-duty drills to cut small details and a rotary whip sander to smooth the carvings. These are the power versions of the chisels and rasps used by hand woodcarvers.

In finishing a piece, they stroke an acetylene torch back and forth to char the wood surface, scrub it with a brass brush to create contrast between high and low carved areas, and coat it with polyurethane sealer.

"We call it creative burning," Mr. Reitan said. "We use the torch like a brush, to paint in shadows. We use the brush to mellow the charred wood and smooth it out.

"Because this kind of work is so new, there are no specific tools, so we use whatever does the job as we go along," Mr. Reitan explained.

"When we get done there's very little to indicate that a chain saw was ever used to carve the wood," Mr. Boquist said. "A lot of carvers leave it rough just as they finish. We don't. We finish it completely."

A pile of white cedar logs, hauled from Vermont, forms the rough stock for their work, although they do use other kinds of wood, including pine and sycamore. "Nothing too hard; it doesn't carve right," Mr. Boquist said.

White cedar is the best wood for the work, he said, because it is easy to carve and is pest-resistant.

Fantasy figures -- dragons, gargoyles and wizards -- are among the most popular subjects, which makes the Renaissance Festivals a perfect place for the carvers to work.

In fact, Mr. Boquist said, they only moved into the Taneytown house last summer after years of a gypsy life, setting up shop at one festival after another. The fairs run on weekends, and during the week they work on figures commissioned by fairgoers, he said.

The three men call themselves Woodbutchery and now do three Renaissance fairs a year: at Sterling, in upstate New York; at Waxahachie, Texas, and at Crownsville. Their work ranges in price from about $100 for a small piece to $15,000 or more for a major work.

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