Chainsaw wizard: Frye makes creations come alive

Rappahannock resident’s hobby has turned into a business

A log sits in Jim Frye’s front yard. At first glance, it’s an ordinary log. That is, until Frye gets hold of it.

The chainsaw roars as it comes to life, a gleam comes into Frye’s eye and he begins to work. Within minutes, what was once an ordinary log has taken on a shape and life of its own.

Jey Say wielding his tool of choice. Photo by Ian Chini

Welcome to Peckerwood Chainsaw Creations, nestled over the Rappahannock County line just outside of Boston. Frye’s creations are unique, full of personality and becoming quickly sought after.

It’s all amazing to him, because he picked up the hobby on a whim.

“We’d go to Tennessee and the beach a lot and we’d see the carvings,” Frye said. “So I decided to make a tiki pole, and then I made a bear and next thing I know we’re selling the tikis and it just bloomed.”

Frye started his hobby four years ago while still working on the night shift at Giant. He retired last year after 36 years there.

“It’s a hobby, but it’s kind of full time,” Frye said with a laugh.

His garage workshop is filled on one side with his woodland pals, all meticulously carved and painted. A smiling bear holds a banjo next to a high-flying eagle while a wise old owl looks on his perch on a tree.

A few select works by the artist. Photo by Ian Chini

“I just enjoyed making them come to life slowly,” he said.

Frye, who has dabbled in cartooning and graphics for years, gives each of his creatures a different personality. He does it through multiple ways, either in the expressions he carves into them or on the paint he uses to finish them. Unlike many other wood carvers, he puts a healthy splash of color into his carvings.

“A lot of people carve them and don’t paint them,” Frye said. “I think that’s what people like about ours, we carve and paint them. And we kind of do surf and turf.”

A quick look at his garage gives that away. Beside the bears, owls and eagles — his mountain setting — are tikis, parrots, fish, wizards and dragons.

“I try to do a lot of realism, and realism is good, but it seems to always turn cartoony,” Frye said. “People seem to like that as it gives it some character.”

Working with mostly cedar and pine, Frye finds his logs through locals who have wood to sell or give away and through a couple of saw mills. Once he gets started, he can carve three or four bears in a day. The painting takes a little longer, but he admits that with creatures like the bears, he’s figured out the color patterns so it moves a bit quicker.

Flanked by his faithful canine companion Elsa, Frye will go out in the morning with a cup of coffee and sometimes just starts carving what comes to him. Other times, he has a list of ever growing requests from customers who have heard about his talents.

The artist with a few of his works and faithful canine companion, Elsa. Photo by Ian Chini

Knowledge about his craft has spread through word of mouth, mostly after he has sold his creations at craft shows in Sperryville, Culpeper, Madison and Warrenton.

“We go to a lot of craft venues,” Frye said. “We have a few who are more like collectors. I have one guy who has probably more than 20 in his yard.”

He guesses he’s made more than 500 critters already, with about 100 on hand in his garage. He admits his supply is constantly in flux, as customers have been visiting his home more often.

His favorite animal to make are the bears, but he’s created just about everything. Bears, owls, eagles, hawks, fish, beavers, turtles, ghosts, gnomes, wizards, tikis, dragons and buzzards line the one side of his workshop.

“There’s always someone who wants something different,” Frye said. “You go to a show and they want a flamingo or something. We like to do special orders for people. It’s always a first.”

One of his more intricate and realistic designs came with the request for a cigar store Indian. It measured about five feet tall, but wasn’t nearly as large as the two eight-foot bears he sold recently.

Animals aren’t the only carvings he does. End tables, shelves and benches also adorn his workshop. On his porch sits a beautiful stained bench, part of his personal collection.

“My wife has a tendency to steal my good stuff,” Frye said with a laugh.

On the floor of his garage sits his tools of the trade — a large chainsaw flanked by a small handheld model, grinders and torches.

“The chainsaw is scary anyways,” Frye said. “I use a really small one for most of my work.”

His prices range as low as $40 to upwards of $300, depending on the size of the creation.

Most of his medium sized bears average around $150.

“I just like to see customers happy,” Frye said. “Usually if they end up buying one, they’ll buy two. I just enjoy people being happy with them.”

Sometimes, Frye said, he’ll start working on what he thinks is a bear and it quickly changes.

“A lot of times when I’m starting out it’s hard to get going in the morning,” Frye said. “But once you start getting into it, and I do three or four at a time so I can look back and get the different angles on them. It gives you a different perspective.”

He’s had several unique requests, including a woman who had him make a llama with a welcome sign for a llama farm. He added homemade eyelashes to give it more character and make it look like it’s big brothers at the farm.

His ideas for designs can come at any time, so he carries a piece of paper, draws out his ideas, then returns to carve them into the wood. Once the carvings are done, that’s when he moves onto his favorite part.

“I go crazy with the spray cans,” Frye said. “I love the painting part. I’d say that’s my favorite part because that’s when they start coming to life.”

Frye and his wife Valerie have been regulars on the local craft show circuit, and recently signed up for the Graves Mountain Apple Festival again this fall. Every year that he’s gone to Graves Mountain, he’s sold a welcome sign Yoda from Star Wars that says “Welcome are you.”

“Every year it sells out,” he said with a laugh. “When you set up at one of the festivals, we’re different. You’ll see everyone stop and take pictures.”

His creations are one of a kind, each one having a different personality or a little quirk. It’s a conscious decision to do so.

“My wife will always say we should make one that looks like that, but you have to stop because you want them to be different,” Frye said. “But it’s good because then they’re one of a kind.”

His creations have ended up all over the East Coast, with people from North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other states buying his carvings.

“The biggest thing is just the thrill of people enjoying it,” Frye said. “It’s a good feeling knowing that you made it and somewhere someone is enjoying it.”

Visit Peckerwood Chainsaw Creations on Facebook or call 540-937-9863