Tyler Welfing has always known how to make a living working with wood. Only now, instead of building cabinets like he did for 20 years, he fires up his chainsaw and creates spectacular works of art.
“When I look at a piece of wood, it’s not just a piece of wood. There’s something inside,” he says.
It’s a career change the Vernon man has accomplished in a remarkably short time. Three years ago, he’d hardly touched a chainsaw in his life. But after a chance opportunity during the Vernon Winter Carnival left him with a block of ice and a vision of what that ice could become, Welfing came to realize he had some special skills that were calling out to be developed.
“I completely just fell into it,” the 39-year-old said.
It started in 2020 when he reached out to the Carnival organizers about their annual ice sculpture competitions in which artists use chainsaws and other tools to make beautiful and detailed sculptures. He had no ice sculpting experience, but he wanted to give it a try.
When he was told Carnival had already hired professionals to do the ice carving, he offered to run a skid steer to load and stack the blocks of ice. He got the job. On his third day of moving ice blocks, he got a call telling him he’d been in contact with someone who had contracted COVID-19 and had to go home.
“So I wasn’t there for any part of the actual sculpting, but the guy felt bad for me so they left me a seven block stack to carve after they left,” he said.
“I had no experience, virtually no tools, no nothing, and I created a piece, a horse rearing up.”
The piece turned out “pretty well,” Welfing said.
“And that was just the turning point, going ‘man, I can’t not do this.’”
Welfing has since competed in the snow sculpture competition at Silver Star the last two years, placing second each time.
After he’d tried his hand at ice sculpting, Welfing thought, “why not try wood?”
He bought his first couple chainsaws and was off to the races.
He started entering competitions, beginning with one in Hope in 2021.
“The only reason I got into that one was because of COVID and there was a lot of travel restrictions, so they didn’t allow some of the bigger names to come up from the States,” he explained.
“I finagled my way in there by knowing a couple of people, and I placed second and won people’s choice in amateur class.”
The immediate success had Welfing thinking he might be on to something, and so he kept pushing himself.
Last year he went to the Canadian Chainsaw Championships in Ontario and placed fifth out of 16 as the newest carver there.
Returning to the Hope competition this past August, Welfing was back to the place where his journey of competitive carving began, and he wanted to prove just how far he had come in two short years.
“I kind of felt that it was a little bit of redemption for me because that first competition I had only been carving a couple of months, I really didn’t know what I was doing, I was very under-tooled and did some eagles that even though they placed, I was never happy with,” he said.
This time, Welfing carved a soaring eagle with a seven-foot wingspan looking down on some salmon spawning in a river. He called the piece The Circle of Life. He cut a nine foot by three foot log into 14 pieces and rebuilt it into the majestic nature scene.
Welfing’s piece took home first place in the competition.
The weekend before, he’d placed third in his third professional carving competition at the Manitou Beach (Sask.) Chainsaw Carving Festival, where he created an 11-foot-tall fire-breathing dragon attacking a castle in three and a half days. He took home a $1,000 prize for his efforts.
Welfing has officially made it. Between competition prizes and the money he earns doing commissions, he’s able to provide for his family comfortably.
He says his favourite part of his new career is being able to use his creativity to create something beautiful — and he has a new appreciation for wood.
“I will touch a piece of wood if I’ve got a project in mind … I’ll walk through the yard and just run my hands across pieces and go ‘what are you going to be?’
About half of his work is commissions, and the biggest project he’s done to date is a 16-foot-long bench at Cools Pond in Vernon for the Regional District of North Okanagan. Recently he created a life-sized black bear for SilverStar Mountain Resort, to be placed at a trail around Brewer’s Pond.
He’s working on a website for his carving business and already has the domain name. For now, Carvewel Creations can be found on Instagram.