Chainsaw carver giving wood a new purpose by bringing local history alive
- Credit: Andy Russell
Roadside carver Arnie Barton can tell a story with his chainsaw, giving old wood a new purpose and helping keeping a piece of history alive. Andy Russell finds out how he carved out a simpler life.
Arnie Barton is not just a chainsaw carver, he's a storyteller giving wood a new purpose and bringing history alive.
Travel the A148 road between Cromer and Holt and there's a chance you'll see him working surrounded by sculptures.
'It is doing different things to bring the story to life. I just give it a purpose again. I like to bring a lot of Norfolk history into my work,' said Mr Barton, known as the roadside carver.
Chainsaw carving changed his life. He gave up making million-pound luxury motor yachts for Fairline at Oundle, near Peterborough, and with wife Sarah, a print finisher, moved to Norfolk five years ago in a camper van looking for a simpler life.
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'We just wanted a total life change and a really simple life,' he said. 'I have a simple life – I work to meet my bills and have a little bit extra.'
Now living near Overstrand with 11-month-old daughter Amber Rose, Mr Barton is based in the layby at Lion's Mouth on the A148 Cromer to Holt road at Felbrigg.
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His father, a chainsaw carver, showed him how to use a chainsaw and the basic cuts to make a mushroom eight years ago.
'My wife said why don't you have a go and I really got into it. I have really worked hard for it but I still can't draw!'
He has honed his talent in the layby at Lion's Mouth, near Felbrigg, becoming something of a tourist attraction, with his work finding homes across Europe and in New Zealand and America.
'It is either taking a bit of Norfolk home with you or, if you live here, you are keeping a bit of Norfolk history.
'I try to find quirky pieces of wood and try to bring the history of the wood out.'
Like a bench made of wood from a Thames sailing boat called The Whale which brought cargo to Norfolk but caught light. The piece of timber was dug out at Blakeney Quay by traditional boatbuilder Charlie Ward and Mr Barton turned it into a bench with a carving of the boat.
As well as attending shows with other chainsaw carvers, father and son Paul and Cam Kelly, Shayne Whiting – known as Shayne the hobbit – and Ben Loughrill, he also does speed-carving demonstrations where he can create an owl in 15 minutes.
The carvings he sells take much longer – a big totem pole or his Old Man of Felbrigg Woods, which won the Royal Norfolk Show carving competition last year, can take two or three days, including intricate carvings of birds, nests and hedgehogs, scorching with a blow torch to add tone and character and treating with wood oil for a glossy, protective finish.
Smaller ones take from an hour after years of experience and, looking to create something different, these now include tractors, Volkswagen Beetles and Land Rovers.
'It's just practise and practise. I visualise the piece of wood in my head. I did a commission for a lion and, every night before doing it, I looked at pictures and worked out now to do it.
'Then you have to work that commission into the piece of wood. It is not like a clay sculpture where you can put in another piece of clay on if it goes wrong.'
He uses durable woods – including oak, sweet chestnut, cedar, Douglas fir, larch and even leylandii – which will last more than 30 years if retreated with oil to prevent small cracks, part of the character, getting worse.
His carvings range from £60 to a couple of thousand. Some local businesses have bought them as focal points and people associate the business with the sculpture.
'It is that talking point that is really good – good for the business and good for me.'
He sources much wood from Ben Dixon, of Woodpecker Tree Services, who cuts it to size. Sometimes, a tree trunk is left in situ for a customer to commission Mr Barton to carve it.
He and friend Ollie Brunton, a green wood worker, also collect bog wood, which can be around 7,000 years old, ploughed up in the Fens.
'It's a nuisance to the farmer and we bring it back to life,' he said.
One spectacular example is the Fenland Wood Spirit – a big bog yew root into which he has carved the face of the green man, a symbol of rebirth and the cycle of growth each spring, surrounded by leaves, then enclosed in a lattice of twisted roots – appropriate as he sees his work as recycling, saving timber from becoming wood chips or firewood.
He also protects the environment, using low-emission Aspen fuel and biodegradable oil to lubricate the blades of his chainsaws, ranging from eight-inch to four-foot bars. Starting with big ones, smaller ones are then for intricate finishing touches and carving of small animals.
At 31, he knows chainsaw carving is a young man's job – moving heavy pieces of wood and wielding a chainsaw take their toll. There will come a time when his mind is willing but his body says no so his aim is to focus on big arty pieces and have his own sculpture trail.
'It's hard on your whole body, especially your hands. You get home at the end of the day and you are still vibrating,' he added.
Arnie Barton works from the layby at Lion's Mouth, near Felbrigg, on the A148 Cromer to Holt road. Visit his website at www.chainsawcarvingsroadside.com