Would you let your 13-year-old run a chainsaw? From Kootenay Mountain Culture‘s 20th anniversary issue, here is our story about hew kid on the block Eli Volp. Words and photo by Jeff Pew.
Eli Volp is running a Stihl MS 170 chainsaw in his front yard. The 13-year-old from Kimberley, British Columbia, is trimming the beak on a two-foot-high eagle sculpture carved in a chunk of cedar. Dressed in chainsaw chaps, a thick jacket, earmuffs, and safety glasses, he pauses, takes a few steps back, tilts his head to one side, then approaches it again, carving away more bits of wood. There isn’t a parent in sight.
Most moms would be nervous about their kids operating a chainsaw, but not Jodie Smith-Hodgson. “He’s been doing this for over a year now,” she says, referring to his animal-sculpture business. “He’s been using power tools forever. It’s always been his thing.” At age two, he’d walk around the grocery store with earmuffs and a plastic Stihl chainsaw, his lips trilling to mimic a two-stroke engine.
“I got to use my first chainsaw at nine,” he says, “then bought my own at eleven. I’d clear bush for hiking trails and hunting. Then I noticed these chainsaw wood sculptures in small Kootenay towns we’d drive through. One day in the woods, I rolled a chunk of wood over and tried to carve a bear out of it. You could tell what it was, but it wasn’t anything special.” Since then, he’s been studying fellow carvers online and, when he can, in person. “I’m getting better at it,” he says. “I work my way along.”
It seems his parents have always listened to hints of who Volp is, like when he tied flies in grade four with the high-school fly-tying club or talked about the grain of ash and how it’s a nice hardwood for cutting boards. When Volp was three years old, his mom took him to a dance class with some friends. “Afterward, he said something,” Smith-Hodgson recalls. “I bent down to hear him. ‘I’m not the kid who dances, Mom,’ he said. ‘I work.’”