Jarrett Dahl and his brother Jordan, who have locations in Deadwood and Hill City, love art. Their art doesn’t involve a paintbrush or clay, though. And if used incorrectly, it could be deadly. What is it? Chainsaws.
Owner and chainsaw artist at Dahl’s Chainsaw Art, it’s hard to miss Jarrett and his team, as the sculpture garden is on the side of the road in Keystone with booming wooden sculptures, including a giant wooden yeti. Passerby can experience the award-winning 25-foot sculptures and see some made with daily live demos. 605 chatted with Jarrett about what inspires him, how long his craft takes, and what he would be doing if he wasn’t creating custom pieces in the Black Hills.
I got my first chainsaw… when I was 18 years old.
I first got into art when… a fishing trip up to Alaska turned into my lifelong career of chainsaw art through a friend in the family.
You may have seen my work… at Cabela’s stores around the Midwest, art galleries located around the town of Aspen, through features in a few movies, TV shows, and magazines around the world. I’ve also had the opportunity to perform live carving shows in the Minnesota State Fair, and competed in multiple carving competitions across the country. One of my sculptures, a large eagle motorcycle, is featured at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum in Baltimore, Md.
My favorite thing to create out of wood is… eagles in many different poses, such as eagles in flight.
The best wood to work with is… when focusing on production work, Ponderosa Pine is preferred. However, when focusing on more intricate work, Maple, Elm, and Black Walnut Wood are preferred.
The one thing I haven’t made that I want to is… focusing on sculpting of human figure, because it is much more challenging. Also, I would like to focus on some safari wildlife.
The best part of living in the Black Hills is… the privilege of driving into work every day with the beautiful scenery. Also, the weather out here is great carving weather year round, which makes it easier to carve. Living in the Black Hills also provides me with the unlimited access of wood to carve with.
My go-to for food in South Dakota is… the Powder House and the Grizzly Creek restaurant located here in Keystone. These are restaurants I love treating my employees to after a hard day’s work.
What I love about meeting visitors from outside of the state is… meeting tourists from all over the world, and to hear their own experiences with wood carving they have done themselves.
Chainsaw art is different than other sculptural art because… there are many risk factors involved, and it is a lot less forgiving since you’re taking away from the sculptures rather than adding more.
Working outside is great because… the fresh air, and my office has a 360-view of the beautiful Black Hills.
Working outside is crazy because… the unpredictable weather Keystone has. One minute it can be very sunny and clear skies, and the next minute, it could be hailing with 50 mph wind.
The most ‘out-there’ thing I’ve ever carved is… portrait sculptures of [J.C.] “Pappy” and Pearl Hoel, the original founders of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which is located in a large stump in Sturgis.
My brother and I do this because… the art of creating a wood sculpture with a chainsaw in such a short amount of time is thrilling and exciting. It was a privilege to be able to pass this form of art down to my brother, as well. It is also very heartwarming to see the smiles on people’s faces when they get to take home a sculpture from the Black Hills as a souvenir.
The longest I’ve ever worked on a piece is… a 25-foot tall warrior that took me 21 days.
A piece typically takes me… anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, but it all depends on the piece I am working on.
If I wasn’t carving wood, I would be… building homes.
I get my inspiration from… being able to bring life back into a lifeless stump.
When I’m not working on sculptures, I’m… playing sports and enjoying spending time with my family.
My favorite outdoor activity in South Dakota is… hiking and enjoying the many views that the Black Hills has to offer.
One thing most people don’t know about chainsaw art is… sometimes the smaller-scale sculptures can be more difficult than some of the larger-scale sculptures, because a chainsaw is a very large and aggressive tool to use when removing wood.
For more information, visit dahlschainsawartkeystone.com.