Chainsaw carving competitors make their mark in a new show

A Cut Above, which airs on Discovery, features “unexpected twists,” says judge Ryan Cook.


Imagine someone holding a chainsaw aloft, ready to get to work. That person is likely to be a utilitarian woodcutter or someone with much more sinister intentions. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies come to mind.


But in Discovery’s new competition series A Cut Above, chainsaws are instruments of art and those who wield them are creative masters. The show, which debuted Monday, puts 12 chainsaw carvers through a series of challenges as they compete for a $50,000 prize. Actor Adam Beach is the host, while the judges are award-winning chainsaw carver Ryan Cook and British sculptor Katharine Dowson.

“This show is about artists exposing themselves to the world through sculpture and storytelling… You will see a lot of fun stuff, a lot of emotion, quite a few tears, maybe a few accidents here and there, and some unexpected twists that even surprised me” Cook says.

Judging A Cut Above marks a full-circle moment for the Vancouver-based carver, who got his start 12 years ago on Discovery Velocity’s Saw Dogs series. In that show, a look into the world of commissioned woodcarving, he was a rookie hired to be, as he puts it, “the butt of all the jokes.”

After Saw Dogs ended, carving out series veterans helped Cook hone his craft and five years later he landed on a Saw Dogs-like series, HGTV’s Carver Kings, but this time he was a pro. Along the way, he also placed first in chainsaw carving competitions around the world and started his own business, Saw Valley Carvings Inc.

The competitors in A Cut Above
The competitors in A Cut Above photo by discovery

“It’s not about making art for myself, it’s about making someone else happy,” says Cook. “A lot of the carvings I make mean something to the person who commissioned me to do it. Whether it’s a memorial piece for someone they’ve lost, a dog, a cat, a lizard or anything, it’s a great adventure in art.”


That said, carving with a chainsaw is obviously dangerous. It is noisy and physically exhausting work. In addition, carvers also work with power tools, which can sometimes be even more dangerous.

“Electric tools have been the ones that have caught me the worst. I’ve lost a few nails over the years, a couple of burns here and there, but you have to be very vigilant,” says Cook. “It’s not as dangerous as people think, but in a competition where carvers are going as fast as they can, they don’t have time to think and accidents can definitely happen.”

Still, for Cook, it’s a risk worth taking. He hopes A Cut Above will inspire would-be carvers to explore the craft and broaden the idea of ​​who can practice it.

“Look at Sylvia Itzen, who is on our show. She’s not a big woman, but, my God, will she ever be able to handle a chainsaw, she says. “And the same with Brigette Lochhead from Vancouver.”

Cook also wants viewers to realize how complex and diverse chainsaw art can be.

“When people see this, they’re not just going to see the clichés of bears, eagles and owls that they see from carvers on the side of the road or at competitions… This is just going to uncover the cliché of what you think is the carved with a chainsaw and how it is growing.”

A Cut Above debuts Monday, August 8 on Discovery

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