With a chainsaw roaring and wood chips flying, Matt Hass’ precision and skill quickly transforms a three-foot tall pine log into a true work of art. Where some artists use oils and canvas, Hass uses a chainsaw and lumber. Hass, a favorite exhibitor at last year’s 4-H fair, will be returning to the fairgrounds and extending his time to four shows a day for demonstration and auction.
From his home in Bristol, NY and traveling to events such as the Cape May County 4-H Fair, Hass can turn a chunk of wood into soaring eagles, proud chiefs, howling wolves and towering bears. Hass, 31, is the owner and chainsaw artist at Sawdogs Chainsaw Carvers and earns a living turning big logs into improbably fluid sculptures and furniture with nothing more than a tool that most use to cut firewood.
Hass said he was always comfortable around woodworking tools. Since his father had his own construction business, he remembers being at job sites and pitching in from the time he was nine-years-old.
At 18-years-old, Hass said that he took a trip to a local fair that changed his life. “There was a chainsaw artist at the fair that was just amazing,” he said. “He made it look easy. He’d start with a log and make a few quick cuts and you could see the sculpture beginning to take shape.” Inspired by the man covered in saw dust and wielding a chainsaw with knife-like precision, Hass decided to follow in his footsteps and become a chainsaw artist. He didn’t know it at the time, but the artist that sparked his creativity was a world-renowned and award-winning artist by the name of Dennis Beach.
“The only thing I had was an 18-year-old’s desire to take on the world and proficiency with tools,” said Hass. He said that he was able to recreate high end furniture for his high school teachers with nothing more to go on than a photo. But creating a sculpture out of a log using a tool that isn’t designed for intricate detail was different. “When I first started, it looked nothing like Beach’s creations. In fact, it was pretty terrible,” Hass said with a laugh.
Instead of throwing in the towel, Hass stayed with it and eventually the artistic side of his personality began to come through. “I would work at it constantly, keep going to shows, talking to more artists and learning more and more,” he said. “And then I got better and better.”
Hass said that a few years later, he ran into Beach at a chainsaw artist competition and was honored to spend some time talking and sharing tips with such a highly regarded chainsaw artist. “When I first started, it was really impressive to see how many other people do this and what they put into their craft,” he said.
When Hass works, he starts with a chainsaw that has about as much power as a kid’s dirt bike to take the big chunks of wood away. Then, he takes a lesser powered chainsaw to do detail work, like the fur of a bear or the feathers on an eagle.
“I like to do things quickly,” said Hass, so working with a chainsaw makes perfect sense to him.
In fact, Hass is known for his speed and likes to enter quick cut competitions where chainsaw artists are given a log and only 45 minutes to create a sculpture. After the 45 minutes are up, the pieces are immediately auctioned off. The winner is whoever can bring in the most money.
Hass has done everything from a seven-foot bear, a three-foot tall lighthouse, and tables and chairs. “I did a life sized motorcycle at one of my first competitions,” Hass noted. “It was individually shaped to about 30 or 35 pieces and then they had to fit together without using screws or anything like that.”
Hass said that he may have lost count on the number of chainsaws he owns, but he hasn’t lost sight of the passion that drives him to continue to evolve as an artist. “I am one of those people that is never satisfied with being mediocre, so I keep striving for that next thing,” he said.
Since Hass was once inspired by an established chainsaw artist, it seems fitting that he sparked creativity and the desire to try something new in someone else. “I was at a competition and one of the guys came up to me and asked me to check out his stuff. While we were walking over to take a look, he told me that he had seen me at a competition, and I was a huge part in getting him started in being a chainsaw artist.”
For your chance to see the Sawdogs Chainsaw Carver in action and maybe take home a one-of-a-kind piece of art, visit the Cape May County 4-H Fair on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, July 16-18. For more information on Hass visit, sawdogs.homestead.com.
Don’t forget the fair: The annual 4-H fair runs July 16-18 at the 4-H fairgrounds located at 355 Court House – South Dennis Road in Cape May Court House. Admission is free! Hours are noon to 9:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Saturday.
The 4-H Youth Development program is part of Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County. Volunteers are always needed to assist at the 4-H Fair. Please call (609) 465-5115 ext. 605 for more information. Learn more about the Cape May County 4-H Youth Development Program and the 4-H Fair at the 4-H Foundation website cmc4h.com