Randy Arrington bends down to look his creation in the eye. He takes an extra minute to run his hand along the arch that forms the back.
Then the 46-year-old northern Baltimore County man pulls the cord on an engine. Fountains of sawdust spray across the floor. Arrington seems oblivious to the gas fumes and the ear-numbing roar. Although his work is in one sense exacting, it's about as delicate as a Mack truck.
Arrington is a chain-saw carver.
The Harley of power tools, more often used to chew through tree limbs and firewood, is like a sculptor's chisel in Arrington's hands. He swings the saw along a stump, slicing away until the wood is in the shape of a potbellied bear.
"Trees are pretty cool," Arrington says. "As far back as I can remember, trees have been it."
Born in Pennsylvania and raised mostly in the Finksburg area, Arrington started as tree trimmer. He'd been in the business 18 years when he fell into wood carving - or, rather, stumbled upon the idea.
"When I'd be clearing vines, every once in a while I'd see a branch that would make a good walking stick," he says. "And I'd think, `Why not make something out of it?' Then, I tripped over a root once that I thought looked like a moose. So I carved it into a moose. Another time, I saw one that looked like an eagle."
Arrington is one of more than 1,000 chain-saw carvers in the United States, according to an estimate by Jerry Schieffer, president of the United Chainsaw Carvers Guild.
"It's an art that's become especially popular in the past few years," Schieffer says.
"As an art form, the uniqueness of the big, powerful chain saw and the quickness that the piece can be done appeals to the public" at carving shows and competitions, Schieffer says.
Arrington doesn't compete, though he occasionally sells his work at a craft fair. His first wood sculptures, done by hand, are displayed in a window sill in his dining room.
"I tried to carve by hand at first, but when I used the chain saw, that's when this really took off," he says, adding that he has learned by doing and by reading books and articles on the Internet.
The contractor he had been working for gave him a three-month leave of absence just before Christmas in 1996 so that he could see whether he could make it as a full-time sculptor.
In spring 1997, Arrington and his wife, Linda, opened their business, Woodspirits & Things.
Linda Arrington, 47, originally from the Union Mills area, started helping with the painting shortly afterward. "I just grabbed the paint and started," she says.
She's able to do most of the painting with an airbrush and has also recently completed her first chain-saw carving. She also sands the pieces.
"We sell enough to get by, and I'm happy with that," says Randy Arrington, who works in jeans, a flannel shirt and a dusty baseball cap.
Sold at nurseries, mostly in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Arrington's folk-artsy sculptures begin as discarded stumps from local tree-removal companies. Arrington can carve most sculptures in less than 30 minutes.
All of it is done a few steps from a modest farmhouse on about 8 acres at the northern tip of Falls Road, past the point where the thoroughfare that begins in the city has turned into a dirt and gravel road.
A barn is both the artist studio and storage space for the finished pieces. It's a drafty old place but perfect for the Arringtons' work because the cracks in the wood allow light and fresh air inside - crucial features when you're surrounded by gas and paint fumes.
On a recent day, as cold drizzle fell outside the barn, Randy Arrington was busy carving the image of a bear from a stump of white pine. He gives it "fur" by running the tip of the saw along the sculpture's body.
The chain saw, fitted with a 12-inch bar slightly smaller than a typical one, weighs about 12 pounds. Sawdust and wood shavings cover everything. The scraps and fine wood particles fill several barrels and cushion the barn floor. The Arringtons recycle the material by allowing worms to eat it and turn it into topsoil, or by giving it to companies that use it for bedding, he says.
Randy Arrington says it's not hard to find tree companies looking to get rid of their stumps, so he doesn't have to cut down trees for his work. He often gets white pine, the softest wood to carve, but also carves cherry, black walnut and - Linda's favorite because of its fragrance - cedar.
The Arringtons' grown son, Randy Jr., who lives in Cockeysville, and their daughter-in-law help during especially busy times. Their three grandchildren - ages 2 to 9 - aren't quite old enough to be involved.
He figures he completes more than 1,000 sculptures a year. "I keep cutting," he says. "I can't sit still."
Stan Dabkowski, owner of Spring Meadow Farms in Upperco - one of the places where Arrington's work is sold - says the pieces appeal to people because they're durable but not mass-produced.
"He has an eye for some unique styles," Dabkowski says.
Dabkowski took one of Arrington's carved fishes to make a bench for the nursery's fishing pond. "It's one of a kind," he says.
The most popular items are snowmen, though ghosts, crabs, bunnies and bears are also top sellers, Arrington says.
Most of his pieces are priced from $20 to $30, though some sell for as little as $10 and others for more than $100. When Arrington recently saw some of his Santas at a shop priced too high, he was ready to pull them off the shelves.
"We want this to be affordable for people," Linda says.
"I don't want to forget my roots," Randy says. "We want everybody to be able buy one."