The rural intersection of Ohio 235 and 103, located east of Bluffton, is consistently loud during the day. Loud not just because so many semis and motorcycles and muffler-less pickups roll up to the four-way stop, brakes screeching and engines roaring, but also because John Guagenti is often there too, plying his trade.
On a recent muggy morning, he stepped out of the former one-room schoolhouse that he’s renting, fired up a chainsaw and began methodically slicing into a log he had vertically positioned outside. After some angled chops here and chunks cut from there, it quickly began to resemble an eagle.
On Track Carvings, LLC is the name of Guagenti’s two-year-old business. The University of Findlay alumnus is a one-man show, but his work is quickly gaining a regional reputation. Some pieces have travelled as far as California and Florida.
Chainsaw carver isn’t exactly what the Bluffton native envisioned he’d be when he grew up. In 2012 he earned a bachelor’s degree in business and human resources management, and in 2013 he earned a Master of Business Administration in Organizational Leadership degree.
A catfish proved to be the game-changer. His roommate expressed an interest in wanting one carved out of wood, he said.
“So I figured, hey, my dad has a chainsaw, I’ll try to do this,” said Guagenti. “And I went out to the barn, grabbed my saw and tried it about 10, 15, 20 times, and it eventually turned out. My mom wanted something, and then my uncle wanted something, and then I posted it on Facebook and the next thing you know I got a bunch of orders. So I decided to start a business.”
Watch him work:
Guagenti took one art class at UF. Other than that, his success is derived from sheer natural talent. His made-to-order pieces include everything from athletic logos to benches. He recently made a statue of the Virgin Mary for St. Augustine Catholic Church in Minster. He has also been commissioned to carve stumps at homes and businesses. In Lima’s Gesthemani Cemetery, he transformed one stump into an angel; A time-lapsed video of that project can be accessed here: http://tinyurl.com/oz2lwdg
“Anything that a customer comes to me for, I give it a shot,” he said. He works within each customer’s budget to create a product that they can afford.
Nearby farmers donate much of the wood he works with, and for trade he’ll carve them something, he said. He favors Catalpa wood for its soft, fibrous and lightweight qualities; these striking trees feature large, heart-shaped leaves, showy white blooms and long fruit that resembles bean pods.
Guagenti applies a weatherproofing sealer to his products, and says if customers reapply it their pieces can last for decades, even when remaining outside through Ohio’s harsh winters.
The work can be lonely, Guagenti admitted, but he combats that with music and play breaks with his nine-month-old dog, named, of course, Catalpa. Customers and friends also stop by from time to time to check out his latest project.
Demand is high. He now has a waiting list through the fall.
“Making something… that people can enjoy for a long time to come is really nice,” Guagenti said.