Kentuckian wins Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Championship

2022-07-15 09:17:28 By : Ms. Lynn Tang

Deep in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, in a rural logging community, we found Abby Peterson by the revving sound of his chainsaw. 

A professional woodcarver by trade, this soft-spoken Kentuckian was recently crowned the best in the world after winning the 2022 Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Championship held in British Columbia. 

“It’s the world series of woodcarving. It’s a big deal," Peterson told The Courier Journal. "Winning was the highlight of my career, maybe of my life. Chetwynd is the Super Bowl of woodcarving.” 

The married father of four took a gamble on woodcarving a decade before winning the world championship, during a time he described as "the lowest point in his life." 

"I felt an extreme emptiness and void. On the way home from work one evening I asked God to show me the path to a more fulfilling life," Peterson remembers. "I came home, showered, ate, went to bed. The next morning I was in the woods with a chainsaw as the sun came up and something told me to carve a bear head out of the stump in front of me."    

The crude bear head Peterson created in the forest that morning was thousands of carvings ago. Today, his Wood Life Studio in Webster, Kentucky is a pristine testament to perseverance and to what Peterson would say is his God-gifted talent. 

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Surprisingly, sawdust and woodchips are nowhere to be found in this busy woodcarver's workspace. Peterson keeps a tidy shop with dozens of chainsaws of all dimensions hanging in precise, straight rows along one wall of the studio. Nearby, a peg neatly holds a fist full of dull chains, tools of his trade, waiting to be sharpened.

Near the center of the room sits a tall tool chest on wheels. For years, Peterson hauled it to competitions and it is covered in signatures from woodcarvers he has competed against in nearly every state in the nation.

"When we get together, it's always a good time," he said. "We don't only compete, we learn from each other and enjoy each other's company."   

On a high shelf near the ceiling of the studio, one of Peterson's earliest bear heads, carved soon after that inspired morning in the woods, keeps close watch over the world champion from Kentucky.  

"I glance up there on occasion to remind myself how far I have come," the woodcarver said. "I tell myself I can do better. I compete against myself and always believe I can do better than I did yesterday."     

To prepare for The Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Championship, Peterson sculpted a smaller version of the leaping elk he planned to create in June in British Columbia. Each year, 12 carvers (four International, four US, and four Canadian) are selected by the competition's board of directors and are invited to bring their best work to see how it will stand up against the world's best.

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“We all get an 8-foot log of Western Cedar. We have 35 hours broken up into three 10-hour days and one 5-hour day to take a 430-year-old tree and turn it into a one-of-a-kind piece of art," he said.

Peterson ultimately won the prestigious competition as well as the People's Choice, an award selected by the spectators' vote.

"I made a very short speech when I won," he said. "I didn't want to cry on the stage."

Peterson knows he's easily overcome by gratitude and emotion. He remembers "crying like a baby" when he took first place at the 2020 Kootenai Country Montana International Chainsaw Carving Championship in Libby, Montana. 

He's won plenty of awards, but beyond shiny trophies and applause, the woodcarver is reaping other rewards for his expertise. He now has sponsors, Manpa supplies his chainsaws and Aspen supplies the fuel — an expense Peterson said can cost up to $5,000 a year.  

He's also been commissioned to create carvings such as a life-like fairy which will sit outside a Louisville business and larger jobs including Big Foot in Grey, Georgia and then an even larger Big Foot located in Keystone, South Dakota. It's the largest in the world.  

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The Kentucky carver has also traveled to Hill City, South Dakota where he sculpted the world's largest Smokey The Bear.   

“I am happy to share my woodcarving with the world,“ he said. "It's what I love to do and I would probably do it even if I didn't get paid."

A decade ago, Peterson sold one of his first rough bear heads for about $200. Today his artwork sells for thousands of dollars. But for all his success, Peterson has an even larger mission. Much in the way woodcarving changed his own life that early morning in the woods 10 years ago, Peterson invites eager young woodcarvers to his studio to help them carve out a richer life.

“Toward the end of life, I don’t want to say I won this competition or I did this big carving or I made this much money," he said. "I think toward the end of life that will be insignificant. I want to be able to show other people how to do what I have done. To look at a half dozen guys and say ‘hey I took this guy and helped change his life for the better.'"  

You can find Abby Peterson and his artwork and information about woodcarving classes on Facebook at Woodlifesculpture. If you'd like to see the world champion Kentucky carver in action, stop by The Lanesville Heritage Festival, Sept. 8-11 in Lanesville, Indiana.  

Reach Kirby Adams at or Twitter @kirbylouisville. 

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