Chainsaw sculptor turns old wood into stunning works of art

When you think of art, you might think of paint, pencils, canvas or clay. But WA artist Darrel Radcliffe thinks of chainsaws.

That might seem unusual to the outsider, but the Albany hospital orderly has been hooked on the unique artistry of chainsaw wood carving for about a decade.

“I’ve carved all sorts of animals and people, from three-metre Ned Kellys down to small owls and everything in between,” he said.

“A small bird can take a day, [but] I’ve spent up to three weeks on a project.”

Radcliffe’s years of labour have resulted in more than 100 carvings being placed along his driveway, attracting tourists from all over Australia.

There have even been pieces commissioned and photos of his carvings have gone viral online.

A wood carving of a Native American Indian flanked by two eagles.
Darrel Radcliffe’s wood carvings vary in complexity and take anything from a couple of hours to more than a week to complete.()

Creating a masterpiece

Starting with a block of wood, what comes next is down to his imagination.

So far, that’s resulted in sculptures of humans, animals, a castle, musical instruments — and even more chainsaws.

Chainsaw Sculpture Drive is accessible to the general public and has become an Albany attraction, drawing cars every day to see what is thought to be the only attraction of its kind in Western Australia.

There’s no entry fee, but Radcliffe does appreciate a donation halfway through the drive.

Why chainsaws?

Radcliffe’s relationship with chainsaw carving goes back about 10 years, after he saw some sculptures in the United States — from where chainsaw art originated in the 1950s.

From that moment he was curious to give it a go and has been at it ever since.

His preferred wood is jarrah — a rich red wood native to WA’s south west — which he said was “reasonably soft” against the chainsaw blade, but strong enough to allow carving fine details.

Darrel Radcliffe carves a sculpture of a pair of eagles with a chainsaw.
Radcliffe prefers working with jarrah due to its relative softness and tight grain, which allow him to create fine detail in his carvings.()

It has also allowed him to take on ambitious designs.

“There’s about an 8ft cello, which morphs into a burnt stump, and also half a grandfather clock, which morphs into a large burnt stump,” he said.

Add to that list an octopus, a spiral castle, three pigs, and a brown bear — plus about 90 other designs.

Artistic freedom

Creating art with a chainsaw means the fate of a sculpture can change in an instant.

Radcliffe has learned mistakes can’t always be remedied, but rather than let that get him down he uses it to explore new designs.

“If you’re carving an eagle and it’s not coming along, carve an owl. If that doesn’t work, carve a pigeon,” he said.

“If you have to end up carving a blue wren, there’s nothing wrong with that either.”

A row of wood carvings with a car driving past.
Tourists come from far and wide to admire the imaginative wood carvings displayed on Darrel Radcliffe’s sculpture drive.()

After a few days behind the chainsaw, there’s the reward of a new sculpture — or a sale.

He said customers had come from across Western Australia to secure a unique piece.

Art makes a statement

Darrel Radcliffe stands behind a sculpture of a rhino head hanging from a chain from a tree
This larger-than-life rhino head is one of more than 100 wood carvings that feature on Darrel Radcliffe’s sculpture drive.()

In Radcliffe’s home town of Albany, he has become something of a recognised face. His work has been commissioned by the local council for parks and beaches.

Social media also helped spread the word: more than a million people viewed a photo of a recent work online, and grey nomads made up the bulk of visitors to the Chainsaw Sculpture Drive.

“They’re quite surprised, and they all seem to be quite happy about it and seem to enjoy the visit,” he said.

Though his catalogue exceeds 100 sculptures, Radcliffe said he did not plan to stop any time soon.

He said he had been invited to the Australian Chainsaw Carving Championship before, but turned the offer down.

“It’s too busy here,” he said.

 

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