- Written by Jason J. Tabor Jason J. Tabor
At 52, Paul Waclo radiates an energy and creativity men half his age would be lucky to possess.
Coupled with the business savvy and charm cultivated by a career in design and sales and a general dissatisfaction with working for someone else for a living, Waclo was well equipped to take the plunge and start his own business in 2012. The story of how he “carved” his own path to a better life is an inspiring one.
“Getting pushed to do things that are out of your comfort zone is always how you grow,” says Waclo, the owner of chainsaw sculpture business Chainsaw Carving by Paul.
Waclo now tours the country leaving a trail of sawdust in his wake, creating custom wooden sculptures of animals, people, furniture, tree houses, or whatever creations his artistic impulses lead him to. His sculptures are whimsical and unique; they seem to be imbued with Waclo’s sunny disposition.
He carves downed trees that would otherwise be heading to mulch or firewood piles as well as onsite memorials to loved ones from trees on his customers’ properties.
A native of Altoona, Pennsylvania, Waclo has lived in central Pennsylvania for the past 13 years with his wife, Lori, and their three daughters. The son of a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, Waclo was diagnosed with Perthes disease, a childhood disorder that affects the hips and legs, at just 6 years old.
“I was bedridden, basically, for about four years of my childhood,” he says. “I spent a lot of time in traction in hospital beds, and at one point my doctor told me I’d probably never walk again.”
While bedridden, he began drawing and sketching to pass the time. He carried this passion for art into adulthood, long after treatments at Hershey Medical Center alleviated the effects of the Perthes disease and got him out of the hospital rooms that had confined him for much of his childhood.
“I was always outside, being active, doing motorsports, hiking and skiing and building things. All things that I still enjoy today. As a young person, I was very aware that I’d been given a second chance at life.”
After high school, Waclo studied engineering and design at Penn State. He started his own business after graduating, designing apparel for BMW North America and doing mechanical drafting and design for other clients as well.
His businesses ended up floundering due to his “not having the life skills at 22 to really know how to make it a success.” Eventually, he settled into a successful career in sales, although he sometimes thought of how he might go into business for himself once more.
Waclo’s interest in chainsaw art stemmed from an unconventional source: a TV show called Saw Dogs that his daughter was a fan of and insisted he needed to watch. The show profiles the trials and travails of a team of chainsaw carvers as they are commissioned to complete a series of complex art projects for high-end clients.
After watching just one episode, he was hooked. Soon, he’d purchased a chainsaw and was beginning to attempt his own small carvings on blocks of wood in his driveway.
“Something about it just spoke to me and I wanted to try it. I’d never used a chainsaw before, never even picked one up,” laughs Waclo.
“When I was first learning to sculpt, my main focus was using the saw without killing myself! Much of sculpting involves using the tip of the saw, which can cause a lot of bounce-back. It’s really quite dangerous when you’re first learning.”
After taming the saw, Waclo’s sculpting skills began to grow by leaps and bounds. He credits his engineering experience, and its reliance on being able to visualize structures in three dimensions, for his rapid progress.
“In order to do what I do, and know where to make the first cut and the second cut, and so on, it’s essential to be able to see these objects in my head and rotate them around. Carving is really just the process of ‘removing’; there may be an eagle or a horse hidden in a block of wood, and it’s my job to carve away everything else that’s there,” he explains.
What began as a hobby in his driveway soon grew into a business as passersby started to notice the artwork he was making and made offers to buy them. He carved a custom bench, which included two friendly, welcoming bears and decorative script, for Brown’s Orchard & Market in Loganville, and suddenly his work was gaining notice and wide visibility.
“If it hadn’t been for Brown’s, this probably would’ve remained a part-time job,” he says. “Things started taking off, and I had to start working faster in order to deal with all of the commissions that began coming my way.”
After 25 years in a successful career, Waclo left the corporate world to strike out on his own, and he hasn’t looked back since. He now works full time to fulfill all of the commissions from art collectors and property owners who want to adorn their yards with Waclo’s unique vision.
“Each morning I sort through all of the Facebook messages, emails, and phone calls I receive from prospective customers,” he explains. “Then I head to my shop … or hit the road with my mobile workshop if I’m working on site.”
He also incorporates a workout routine and nutrition plan into his daily regimen.
“This isn’t like sitting in an office — you need to be in shape to do this kind of work, and I see myself doing it when I’m 75 or 80.”
He maintains a small inventory of sculptures for sale, but most of his work is done on spec after consulting with a potential buyer. His sculptures range from small pieces he can complete in a day to works like the Old Man of the Sea, which had to be positioned by crane at Mariner Point Park in Maryland.
As a chainsaw carver, Waclo has joined a small but passionate group of woodworkers referred to as “The Brotherhood of the Saw,” which has allowed him to forge relationships with fellow carvers and customers all around the world.
“I’ve truly become friends with many of my customers. It’s humbling to be invited into someone’s home and be put up as a guest when you’re creating art on their property.”
He recalls being “treated like a rock star” during a tour of the Stihl Chainsaw manufacturing plant in Germany and, when not carving, gives presentations and seminars on small business around the country.
He’s even become friends with the carvers he saw on TV who inspired him in the first place.
“I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but if you’re able to find something you’re passionate about and make a living doing it, you’ll never have to work. I’m 52 and every day I’ve got a smile on my face, I’ve never felt better, and I feel like my road in life, starting a business at this age, brought me to what I was always meant to do.”
For more information, visit www.chainsawcarvingbypaul.com.