Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Jeff Eshom, a chainsaw sculptor at Soldotna's Town of Living Trees, works on a carving of a moose during the Sawfest Chainsaw Carving Competition in Centennial Park on Friday, July 25.

Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Jeff Eshom, a chainsaw sculptor at Soldotna's Town of Living Trees, works on a carving of a moose during the Sawfest Chainsaw Carving Competition in Centennial Park on Friday, July 25.

Carving up creativity

The Sawfest Chainsaw Carving Competition will make its fourth return to Soldotna’s Progress Days after it was taken up by the city’s Chamber of Commerce from local carver Scott Hanson.

Hanson initiated the competition as a way to motivate his apprentices at his business, Town of Living Trees in Sterling. When it became difficult to put on and Hanson decided to stop, the chamber immediately contacted him and asked to keep the tradition alive as part of Progress Days, Hanson said in a previous Clarion interview.

The carving kicks off Friday when competitors get their logs set up outside Stanley Chrysler in Soldotna. The rest of the weekend is a blur of chainsaws and sawdust as carvers work to perfect their pieces in the hopes of winning the top prize.

“They’ll begin carving on Friday,” said Andy Rash, events coordinator for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. “All of the quick carves will mostly start on Saturday, and then there will be a people’s choice vote and an auction on Sunday.”

The people’s choice vote and auctioning of carvings will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday, while the quick carves take place at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The quick carves interspersed throughout the three-day masterpiece competition have become a popular part of the event, giving viewers the opportunity to see a whole piece created in a short amount of time. They have also been evolving, Hanson said. Where the short competitions used to last around an hour and could sometimes “wear a guy out,” Hanson said they have been whittled down to around 20 minutes. Carvers can come back to add finishing touches if they don’t get everything done in that time, he said.

“The quick carve is a little more stressful,” Hanson said.

Last year’s winner Derrick Stanton, owner of Derrick Stanton Log Works on the corner of Bridge Access Road and Kalifornsky Beach Road, agreed that the quick carves can be tricky because so much focus is invested into the masterpieces.

“Usually I’m so caught up doing the masterpiece that by the time they announce quick carves, I just haven’t even thought about it,” he said.

The success of the quick carve depends on how much energy a carver has left at that point in the lengthy competition, Stanton said.

Last year, Stanton and Hanson teamed up on a quick carve together to make a pair of king salmon.

“That was kind of fun and it was really entertaining for the people to watch,” Hanson said.

The masterpieces are another story. While it can be smart to carve something the artist is familiar with, Sawfest is an opportunity to push boundaries, Hanson said.

“A guy should want to get better,” he said. “A competition is kind of good because you do push yourself.”

This year’s competition will be slightly different — the carvers will get to work with cedar, which Stanton said is exciting and not the norm for woodworkers in Alaska. The cedar should allow competitors to carve more quickly and easily, he said.

Hanson and Stanton described a close-knit community of carvers on the Kenai Peninsula and said Sawfest is enjoyable because it is a friendly competition. Meeting other carvers from around the state where people have different styles can be interesting as well, they said.

Stanton was an apprentice for Hanson in the past, and said the competition’s creator has left his mark on many of the local carvers, even as they develop into their own styles.

“A lot of people are styled after him, including myself,” Stanton said. “Everybody has a little bit of Scott in them.”

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