The Art of “Tree-Fiti”

By ANNA ILIFF / Originally posted in the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

At the intersection of power tools and passion, an Orange County man found his calling in the hum of a chainsaw.

Meet John Mahoney, who has worked a slew of odd jobs, from women’s shoe salesman to camp counselor before settling into the title of resident chainsaw artist at Woodhill Firewood in Irvine.

John Mahoney of Laguna Beach works on a sequoia tree statue made from Redwood logs he gets from Woodhill Firewood recycling center in Irvine. The wood is recycled logs collected by West Coast Arborists, who clear and trim city trees from three states. “It’s a Carisma Tree until December,” says the 25-year old chainsaw artist. “In December they become Christmas trees'” he adds. Photo – Ken Steinhardt.

Behind the 20-ft tall piles of wood stacked methodically throughout the 15-acre lumber yard located on Bake Parkway, Mahoney creates elaborate sculptures out of recycled wood wielding just a chainsaw, a blow torch and a couple of small power tools.

“I’m just a tree honky bucking trees in the urban forest and creating some tree-fiti,” said Mahoney, a 25-year-old Laguna Beach resident who goes by “Big John” or “Bunyan.” At 6-feet, 4-inches tall and 300 pounds, Mahoney may not be as large as legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan, but what he lacks in stature he makes up in charisma.

Mahoney is the youngest child of Patrick Mahoney, owner of West Coast Arborists, which trims and clears trees for cities in California, Arizona and Nevada. Woodhill is a unit of West Coast.

Although Mahoney says he grew up with an appreciation for trees and the outdoors, his stint as a wood carver didn’t begin until a customer stole a truck-full of lumber from Woodhill and offered his expertise as plea for forgiveness. The thief was a Tiki carver.

Three years later, Mahoney can be found transforming logs into larger-than-life sculptures and beautiful furniture.

“I’m not an insane artist,” said Mahoney. “It was all kind of random. I’ve always thought it was cool, but I had never seen a live chainsaw carver before I did it myself. I’m just a goofball with a chainsaw dancing away.”

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Before each carving, Mahoney draws a pattern with chalk directly onto the log which he edits and adjusts as he goes along. He then uses a chainsaw to create a rough shape of his project before switching to a small carving saw for precision and added detail. For finishing touches, he uses a right-angle grinder and stains each piece to perfection.

Each sculpture varies in the amount of time required to complete. Mahoney said it takes about 30 minutes to carve a small bear and about two days to make a 7-ft tall Tiki. His pieces range in price to $700.

Earlier this year, Mahoney was commissioned by Temple City to carve the city’s seal into a historic tree stump at Temple City Park.

“It’s beautiful,” said Cathy Burroughs, director of Parks and Recreation for Temple City. “We’ve had so many compliments on it. Just about every day you’ll see people standing in front of it taking pictures. It’s wonderful.”

His latest project includes creating wooden eight-panel hats using trompe l’oeil, an art technique that attempts to create an optical illusion to fool the viewer into believing it is the object itself.

“I like to make whimsical stuff,” said Mahoney. “I’m trying not to be a standard chainsaw carver. I want to do funky, freaky Tikis and big furniture pieces. I’m trying to hone my craft so I can be a great tree-fiti artist.”

Mahoney will hold his first art show in conjunction with Raw Artists at the Shark Club in Costa Mesa on August 18.

Contact the writer:


If you go

When:6-10 p.m. August 18

Where:Shark Club, 841 Baker Street, Costa Mesa

Age restriction:21 and up

Cost:$15 pre-sale, $20 at the door


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One Response to The Art of “Tree-Fiti”

  1. K. Paxton says:

    We are looking for an artist to carve a mountain lion out of redwood, which we will provide. We would then like to display the piece in our Los Gatos, CA health club. Contact info below. Thank you.

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