My construction company collapsed in the crash – so I reinvented myself as a chainsaw sculptor

What I Do: Will Fogarty, known as Fear na Coillte, makes sculptures from fallen or dead trees

I got into chainsaw sculpting by accident. I ran a construction company with my brother and after the economic downturn 15 years ago, I had to reinvent. We got to a stage where we had no work coming in. I’m not the kind of person who can sit around, so I started carving.

First, it was walking sticks and I started carving little wood spirits into those. They were well received, but there is only so much you can charge for a walking stick.

I had heard about chainsaw carving. My dad had a chainsaw that must have been 50 years old. I got it working and had a go cutting up wood. That got me started.

I did woodwork at school and was big into technical drawing. I had worked in the carpentry side of construction. Wood is a lovely material; it’s just beautiful to work with and I had an affinity with it. Twelve chainsaws later, here I am.


Animals are the main things I carve, lots of birds, lots of owls, people tend to like them. I carve lots of Irish wildlife, too – foxes, badgers, salmon. The human figure is probably the hardest thing to carve. The face is bare, but if you look at the animals, they are covered in hair or fur which masks a lot of the features and muscle lines. With the human face, you have nowhere to hide.

I’ve done several Gruffalos, a family of bears and trolls. I love people coming along with a strange idea I haven’t done before. I am always trying to improve. My philosophy is to make each one better than the last.

I have a Facebook page with 32,000 followers. When I post something, it usually gets a good reaction. People send messages, or it will prompt an idea in their head about a tree in their garden that has died that maybe they can do something with.

I do trees in peoples’ gardens, trees in public areas for councils or Tidy Towns associations, or people can just call me up and I can carve something for them at home in my workshop.

Covid was a strange time. When the first lockdown happened, my phone started ringing and it has never really stopped. People spent a lot of time in their gardens, they probably had a bit more disposable income, so I got a lot of business out of that.

People are generally delighted to see the tree being given a new lease of life. People are invested in trees, they take ownership of them

The reaction from customers is always very positive. It’s not an unveiling, as they see it from start to finish. I’m quite happy if somebody is looking over my shoulder.

Doing the carvings in a park where someone goes for their walk every day, they see this tree that has been cut down and has been there for months. I turn up with my chainsaws and start hacking bits off. People are generally delighted to see the tree being given a new lease of life. People are invested in trees, they take ownership of them, which for me is just such a buzz.

On a chainsaw you can get specialist carving bars. They allow you to do curves that you can’t do with normal chainsaws. You would be surprised at the amount of detail you can get with a chainsaw. When the sculpture is finished, I treat it with oil.

All woods have different characteristics. Some are more suitable or long-lasting than others. I have a few favourites. Macrocarpas, the big old conifers you see in farmers’ yards, grow very big, which is good for me. It is a soft wood, but it’s very hard-wearing, and when oiled it’s a lovely golden colour.

Some sculptures turn out better than others. A lot of my wood spirits – basically old faces carved into the tree with lots of hair and a beard – can look quite grumpy. I did one down in Cork and it had a lovely smiley face.

The work is physically demanding and I’m not getting any younger. I don’t go to the gym, I don’t need to. This keeps me fit. But I have to pace myself. At the moment, my elbow is giving me grief. I’ve got every kind of bandage support for my wrists, elbows and knees.

Generally, I’m covered head to toe in protective gear. I have earphones, a face mask and a respirator. I use bluetooth headphones to listen to music while I’m working. I tend to listen to upbeat stuff that keeps the body moving. Some songs might not be doing it for you, so you skip and skip until you get one and you think, that’ll do. There might be a bit of AC/DC on there. That gets me in the groove. You can be in a little world of your own, happy as a pig in poo, to be honest with you.

If people are passing, they tend to slow down. I’ll stop and have a chat because I love that part.

There are other days, dark days in January when it’s spitting snow, when you are just not feeling it. Days like that can be tough. If it’s really raining, I’ll go back and do dreaded emails and paperwork. That’s the part of the job I don’t really enjoy. But give me a chainsaw, a lovely day and piece of wood, and I’m in my element.

Ten years ago, if you had of told me I’d be in a position where I’m producing art works, I would never have believed you. That people tend to like them is an incredible boost to the ego. It’s humbling.

The financial crash at the time was like the end of the world. I had a few years where I really struggled – financially, mentally, everything. But this journey that I have been on, every day I wake up and I just thank my lucky stars. I am so thankful for what I have and where I am.

See Will’s creations on Instagram @will_fogarty_fear_na_coillte

In conversation with Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance