Some people might call doing what you love for a living lucky.
Heath and Hillary Bender, of Hillsgrove, the couple behind HB Chainsaw Sculptures, know that making a vocation pay takes years of hard work.
Heath made his first piece in 1991, following after his father, who began carving chain saw sculptures in 1988. But it wasn't until 2003 that Heath could make the craft pay full-time. In the meantime, he worked full-time in timber framing.
Heath and Hillary married in 2005 and opened a basement shop in LaPorte. Then, in 2008, they opened a store on Route 220 in Muncy Valley, near Heath's childhood home.
When Heath's father first started carving and displaying his wares in the front yard along the highway, curiosity in the then-rare artform was high.
"It was all us kids could do to keep up with the cars coming in," said Heath, a Sullivan County High School graduate. "They were parked a quarter mile up and down the road."
Since that time, people have become more accustomed to seeing the work of chain saw carvers alongside the road and don't always stop to investigate.
"Now they drive by and its like 'another bear carver,' " Hillary said. "When you know carving, it's easy to tell who has one year of experience, and who's been doing it 20 years - there's square bears and there's realistic bears."
Given the declining value of retail frontage and the damage sustained by the Benders' shop in last fall's flooding, this spring they decided to run their business from home.
"I haven't really carved for stock for two years now anyway," Heath said.
The couple sell sculptures on their website and take lots of custom orders. With a 5-year-old and an 8-month-old, not keeping a storefront allows more flexibility so that Heath can travel for on-site jobs. He's carved tree trunks everywhere from Connecticut to Kentucky to Georgia, and traveled to several competitions, where carvers test their skills against the clock.
"We try and bundle trips together," he said. "It seems whenever we get an order, there's another that comes in within a half hour away within a week. You can just pack up your chain saw and go. We spent a summer out west at a KOA campground and worked off the rental of the site with some artwork."
Just about any type of wood can be carved into about anything - if the budget is available-but Heath says he won't work on trunks that will immediately deteriorate, like basswood and beech. Most carvers in the east use lots of white pine.
"We get white pine up here (in Hillsgrove) with limb structures that are just nature's masterpiece," says Heath. "Everyone and their brother here along 87 has some white pine to come down."
Heath is self-taught; he went to college for a semester and a half before realizing he wasn't going to learn anything he could use, and the skills he accumulated over a decade of timber framing are useful on larger projects.
"You need some joinery to make the big ones, like the full-size horses," he said. "In the body the grain needs to run horizontal, and you want the grain in the legs to go vertically for strength."
Nowadays, there are more carvers than ever before, with four schools dedicated to learning the art and plenty of people looking to find a carver for an apprenticeship. There also is a burgeoning carving community that is resulting in intermarriages among practitioners of the craft.
That group includes the Benders, who met because their respective parents knew each other through carving events.
"We kind of shied away from the sort of wedding where everyone holds up their chain saw and the couple walks under them," said Hillary.
Heath and Hillary know of at least seven or eight other carvers working in the area, but they believe themselves to be the only ones working full-time.
"It sure beats punching a clock," Heath said.
For more about the Benders go to Hbchainsawsculptures.com