The Wood Spirit You Know

Carver’s work represents inaugural festival

Faces Going Places
Chris Carroll carves wood spirits, furniture, signs, and complicated walking sticks.
Photo by Erin Fowler

Chris Carroll looks at a just-fallen tree and sees a second chance. Maybe there’s a wood spirit in there, or a kitchen table. Whatever it is, he wants to bring it out.

Residents in Columbus, NC — pop. 999 — know the woodworker as the maker of the mascot “Cole Lumbus,” which he donated several years ago as “something to represent our little town.” 

By day, Carroll runs Mill on Wheels, milling wood on his clients’ property and stacking it to dry. He then returns to build commissioned furniture or to use the wood for finishes on site. In his free time, he turns bowls and carves faces and walking sticks.

His artwork graces the poster and postcards for the first annual Woodcarvers & Whittlers Festival in Columbus. 

Bold Life: Your work runs the gamut from primitive to useful to fine art. How did you come to do so many things with wood? 

Chris Carroll: When I was a kid, my dad and my uncle would carry me around and we would saw firewood in the wintertime or tear down old buildings to build with. I grew up to build houses. I met a good friend of mine who had a sawmill. We would build houses through the week and do sawmilling on the weekends. I learned how to take the trees out of the forest and let them dry, and then I could turn around and build furniture for people — one-of-a-kind pieces. Over time, it went from a creative hobby to a full-blown business. 

How does it work? 

If you have a hundred-year-old oak tree on your property that has to come down, we actually take that tree and build you a piece of furniture. [Every tree] has a story behind it, so that’s what really interests me. There’s a table I made from a tree that fell down in a storm in Charlotte. … That table turned out to be a beautiful piece, and it’ll probably go down in the family for generations.

For pieces like Cole Lumbus, you often use wood that’s already fallen. How do you find these trees?

I’m constantly in the woods. Sometimes I’ll find stumps that fell over and I’ll pull those up and bring them back and make carvings or turn bowls. … I have to sit down and look at it for a while, and maybe I’ll get pictures in my head of what it will make. Sometimes a piece of wood will fall over and Mother Nature will take over and something happens called “spalting.” It leaves all kinds of beautiful colors through the wood. 

One of my favorite pieces is a snake going up a walking stick. That was a very, very hard piece to do. I worked with a sawmill, with a chainsaw, and I ended up with my hand tools, carving each scale. 

There must be a lot of woodcarvers in the region to warrant a festival…

We have several wonderful teachers in the area, and we all work together with each other. And some people have more time than others, so I can pass work off to them. 

The Woodcarvers and Whittlers Festival happens Saturday, Oct. 19, 10am-3pm, in downtown Columbus on the courthouse lawn. For more information, call 828-894-8236 or visit discovercolumbusnc.com. See millonwheels.com or chriscarroll.co to learn more about Chris Carroll’s work.

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