Norfolk man picks up chainsaw art as hobby
Chainsaw art is not your typical hobby.
But Levi Dotson, who has enjoyed drawing and creative since he was a child, seems to enjoy it nonetheless.
About six years ago, Dotson, who lives in Norfolk with his wife and children, was asked by his cousin to design a gunstock on a rifle. “So I started with my Dremel and grew from that,” he said.
Soon after, Dotson decided it was time to try a chainsaw.
“I’d actually never seen it done. I just decided to start doing it,” Dotson said. “I started with little name signs with a Dremel and tried it out with a chainsaw.”
Three years ago, Dotson said he started doing more logs and decided to officially name his hobby Carvings by Levi. His first larger project was a log sign for his grandmother, which was a lot of hammer and chisel work, he said.
“Then I did a Browning logo with a deer head. That was my first chainsaw piece,” Dotson said.
Dotson said he gets his wood from people who have downed trees. Completely self-taught, Dotson said he does a lot of work free hand — both 2-D and 3-D — and follows his lines with his chainsaw that is outfitted with a dime-tip carving bar.
“A lot of it is, with the name signs, a lot of layout work and measuring and detail on that,” Dotson said. “I have an idea in my head and take the saw to it and bring it out.”
After he’s done carving, which can take anywhere from a day to a month, depending on the size of the project, Dotson uses a grass burner to get rid of burs and to add some color.
He then will take a wire brush to it to remove any remaining burs and soot from the piece. Dotson may then paint it or coat it with a teak oil or linseed oil, or leave it raw, depending on what the customer wants.
Since making chainsaw art his hobby, Dotson has completed numerous projects, including benches, an entertainment center, name signs, eagles, bears, an alligator, turtles, a wolf, an elk and a corncob, as well as several donation pieces for benefit auctions.
“It gets kind of busy with the customer work. They have a certain project they want to do, so that’s taken quite a bit of my time,” Dotson said. “There are a lot of projects I would like to do for myself and I haven’t gotten around to it.”
The creative process is not without its hiccups, though.
“One of my first ones, it got a little narrow. It was a plant stand, so I scrapped that one. Then I did a wildcat for the school. The arms got kind of skinny so I had to cut the arms off, attach a couple pieces and reform the arms,” Dotson said with a smile. “Other than that, I haven’t had too many major blowouts.”
And although his chainsaw art isn’t a big money maker, Dotson said it’s something he and his son, Garrett, 6, enjoy doing together. Garrett hauls wood and uses a pretend chainsaw to “cut” wood.
“And he’ll come along, when I take a break, he’ll pretend to carve on the piece I’m working on. And he helps paint. He’s helped paint quite a few,” Dotson said, adding that he hopes Garrett will pick the hobby up when he’s older. “I never grew up with a family business. I just want to give something to pass on to him, some kind of knowledge or opportunity.”
In addition to his son, Dotson said his art brings enjoyment to others.
“There’s a lot of intrigue behind creating something like that with a chainsaw. People get drawing or painting, but people seem to be amazed by creating something with a chainsaw,” Dotson said. “I’m able to serve God and to serve people.”