How I got started is my brother and I decided to run my dad’s chain saw. We thought we were going to get away with it, because we put the saw back exactly where it had been. Our dad came home and looked at the sawdust and said, “You guys have been playing with that chain saw.” And boy, I’ll tell you, he blistered our bottoms. But he turned right back around and showed us how to run a saw and how to be a little bit safe with it.
It was 1952 that I started the art — I was 10 years old at the time. When I was a teenager, I tried to enter a piece in a woodcarving exhibition. They wouldn’t let me in because the tool I was using was a non-carving tool. I’ve gotten proficient at doing my detail 100 percent with a chain saw, and I can do it just as good as most guys do with carving tools.
The thing that made me famous is, in 1979, I sawed the alphabet onto a pencil. There have been probably 150 people that have tried to do that. They will never be able to accomplish that until they’ve run a chain saw for about 30 years.
In my live show, I have about 100 different feats I can choose from. I’m able to saw a crescent wrench that works. And I’ve sawed something like 66,900 sculptures. My goal is to get to 75,000 before I retire. This may be my last year doing this. I’m not sure my old back is going to stand up for another year.
In 1988, I was doing a show for Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, and I sawed a chair in 10 seconds. But I’m getting old now — it takes me about 12 seconds.
(Interview has been edited and condensed.)
SEE HIM On Tuesday, Murphy restarts his nightly chain-saw performances for the season. Show time is 7 p.m. at 742 US Route 1, Hancock, Maine. Tickets are $10 at the door. 207-460-5905; thechainsawsawyerartist.com