Big Shot Wood Carvers will show their skills | Kitsap County Fair & Stampede

Steve Backus was born with a chainsaw in his hands.

Well, almost.

Backus, who is part of the Big Shot Wood Carvers, is a second-generation chainsaw woodcarver. His mother and father, his uncles and others in the family have all been woodcarvers of the chainsaw kind.

“We all grew up around it,” he said of the art. “All of us lived here on the south end of [Whidbey] island and any wooden sign you see around here, we’ve probably made it.”

Backus will be one of six of the 40-plus members of Big Shot chainsaw carvers who will be at the Kitsap County Fair Aug. 23-27. Each day they will carve larger pieces that eventually will be sold at an auction on Saturday during the fair.

And three times each day, at noon, 2 and 4 p.m., they will carve a block of wood, the size of a large coffee can, into something, in a timed 10-minute competition with each other.

“All the carvers have their own styles,” Backus said. “Some do abstracts and others make figures that are true to life.”

As a special event on both Friday and Saturday afternoons, the carvers will “hit the ice.”

“Most people think about ice carving as something chefs do for a buffet or a special event,” he said. “But it’s exactly the same as carving on wood. We use the same tools and we do the same thing.”

The ice carving will be done in about a 15- to 20-minute demonstration and following it, the crowd on hand will get to vote — by cheering — for the best carved object.

Each carver has about six chainsaws with him at the competition.

“They weigh from 10 to 20 pounds each,” Backus said. “It’s like with knives, or anything else. You have big ones to do the basics and then you have smaller ones to do the detail work.”

Most people think chainsaw carvers are “lumberjacks who’ve been laid off and pick up a chainsaw and start carving,” he said. “And there’s some truth to that. But in today’s world, it’s become a bit of a performance art.”

For Backus, he found it a form of expression, but quickly learned that if he was going to make a living at it, he’d need to leave “the woods on the south end of the island.”

“At first, I mostly did tree stumps in people’s yards,” he said. “I traveled from Bellingham to Olympia.”

Then he performed with Johnny Miller doing shows at Port Gamble. After about 10 years of that, he decided that traveling the fair circuit was the way to go. He has become the “unofficial official organizer” of the Big Shots, he said.

“I probably have 40 chainsaw carver’s numbers in my phone, and that’s only the Daves,” he joked.

He has done fairs and shows throughout the U.S. including Montana, Florida, New York, Oregon, and in his home state of Washington. He’s also traveled to Germany and England to make his art and consult about chainsaw carving shows.

“It’s something to make a living with a tool that is associated with murders in Texas,” he said, referring to the movie “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Carvers have to have an outgoing personality and a sense of humor.

“I work with the best,” he said, noting that some are local and some are from other states. “They have to be personable and interact with the public.”

Even with different styles, carvers “carve from the heart,” he said.

“I’ve seen some incredible works of art. We do different things [at] different places. At the Kitsap Fair, there’s the military influence, so you’ll probably see a few eagles. When we go to Montana, it’s all about cowboys.”

Carvers will also bring along a selection of their works that will be for sale. A typical 4-foot bear will run about $400.

While it’s uncertain if the next generation of Backus children will chainsaw carve, he is hopeful.

“I have three children, two sons and a daughter,” he said. “They are all contemplating taking this up. They all know how to do it.”

Only time will tell.

Big Shot Wood Carvers will show their skills | Kitsap County Fair & Stampede