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Saw strokes

Carving chairs with a chainsaw is an art and a symbol



You can carve just about anything, whether ice, soap or stone, even meat and bone. You start with something whole and begin to cut and craft, in the process removing the totality of a thing to produce an object that’s somehow more complete, that has a shape and size people relate to on a deeper level. It’s an art.

John Hurford starts with a stump. Then he fires up a chainsaw, usually a Husqvarna of about 15 pounds, his favourite on account of their shape and balanced weight. He chews through the stump, dust and chips streaming aside, until a stylized chair begins to emerge. And then he gives it away. That’s the process, the art.

“Just about all the carving I’ve ever done is for a group or activity or something,” he says. “I don’t carve them for myself.”

Aside from recent bouts of rain, the sun has been beaming steady for over a month through the spotty tree canopy of Al McIntosh Loggers Sports Grounds. With the annual Squamish Days event set for this weekend, volunteers and local athletes have been milling about the area with mounting zeal, the hum of heavy equipment gently vibrating the chain link fencing that encircles the gaming grounds.

That’s where Hurford has been spending most of his time. He sits by a woodstove just south of the main field, one foot on the ground while the other, which is broken and heavy with a cast, is propped up on the crossbar of his crutch. Dressed in an orange T-shirt and blue shorts, the bespectacled Hurford seems unfazed by the injury, maybe because he sustained it while volunteering on these very grounds.

Hurford started getting cozy with chainsaws when he was about 15 years old. Fifteen or so years later, carving was just something he got into, kind of like how microwaving cold pizza sets some kids on a path to culinary excellence. He’s shy about his age, but it’s safe to assume there’s a few decades of experience behind each tug of the starting handle.

His involvement with Squamish Days has seen him carve chairs all over the world, from here to Austria. In the ’80s, when the late Johnny Cash came to Squamish to perform at the event, Hurford and a buddy carved the man a chair.

“We had a stage that we built on a semi-trailer,” he remembers. “It was a Friday evening, and Johnny Cash was doing his thing. We carved the chair for him, and then he invited us into his trailer, and we went in and talked to him for 15 or 20 minutes. He took the chair with him. He’s not around anymore, so it’s even more important.”