Caleb Rusk eyes the grain in a piece of wood with a creative eye, envisioning what to cut away and what to leave. Then he carves the felled wood into one-of-a-kind memory, high-speed art that leaves behind more than just a stump after trees are cut down.
“I’ve always liked messing with wood,” Rusk said of his hobby-cum-career. “I took woodshop in high school and started carving little jewelry boxes and walking sticks. It just took off from there.”
Rusk has worked in the woods for the past 18 years as a logger, certified tree cutter and wildland firefighter. After a decade, he added chainsaw carving, a creative outlet that led to opening his shop, Caleb’s Carving Creations, three years ago.
His wife, Teresa, said Rusk has carved eagles, cougars, horses, and “even a goat and turtle.” Orders also come in for custom picnic tables and benches, she said.
Son Tyler, 18, started carving about a year and a half ago, and will join his father at this year’s Reedsport Carving Festival over Father’s Day weekend, June 16-19. Tyler will compete in the semi-pro carvers division, his father in the pros.
“The theme is Oregon heritage,” Rusk said. “I’ll try to think out of the ordinary – that wow factor. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do yet.”
Rusk does know that he’ll combine images from Lewis and Clark to lumberjacks to reflect what has made Oregon the great state it is, he said.
Carvers at the event, put on by the Reedsport/Windsor Bay Chamber of Commerce, come from as far away as Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany to show off their skills. Competitors start with blank logs, and then are given 21 hours over four days to create their main sculpture. Awards are given in five categories: Pro, Semi-Pro, Carver’s Choice, People’s Choice and Quick Carve, a daily 90-minute carving competition.
Rusk will start his main sculpture with a high-speed big saw, chunking his log into the sizes and shapes he desires. Then he’ll bring out small saws and other woodcarving tools to create “character,” he said.
Teresa said her husband has yet to win top honors, but “the competition is stiff, and we know that first is in the near future.”
The father-son duo also competes in the Milton-Freewater Logs to Frogs chainsaw competition, held every year in July. Daughter Kayla Rusk, 3, has many years to go before picking up a chainsaw and following in her father’s footsteps.
Competition is exciting, but it’s the camaraderie among carvers and the satisfaction of having created a piece of art from logs usually slated for firewood that keeps him going, he said.
“If carving catches your interest, don’t worry about picking up a saw and giving it a try,” he advises wanna-be carvers.
“Be creative. You can’t hurt the wood. It’s still firewood when you’re done!”
Rusk said he is willing to teach others the intricacies of cutting logs at his shop on Highway 22 in Gates, home to his inventory of carvings. Caleb’s Carving Creations is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.
“Someone is there most of the time,” Rusk said. “Drop on in!”
For more information, call 503-689-3159.