Arts and Entertainment

Tapping into our timber roots: Old Mill Days is Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 | Kitsap Week

Old Mill Days is Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 in Port Gamble. Events include chainsaw carving, lumberjack competitions and the search for the Kitsap Toughest Timberman. - File photo
Old Mill Days is Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 in Port Gamble. Events include chainsaw carving, lumberjack competitions and the search for the Kitsap Toughest Timberman.
— image credit: File photo

If you enjoy carrying heavy logs on your shoulders, or excel at tossing eight-foot-long logs like javelins, Old Mill Days in Port Gamble is your time to shine.

Among other timber-themed competitions during the three-day festival next weekend is the first annual search for the Kitsap Toughest Timberman.

“In this amateur competition, strong men will have to use their brute strength,” said Johnathan Miller, Old Mill Days founder and organizer. “They will compete in old-school lumberjack sports like they used to do back in the day.”

Other competitions at Old Mill Days include lumberjack shows and chainsaw carving.

The literal buzz around chainsaw carving has become so loud that a major cable network will be filming the competition for a new television show called “Saw Dogs.” (Contract rules wouldn't allow Miller to name the network, but he did hint it is a very popular channel.)

Professional chainsaw carver Steve Backus has transformed logs into works of art for 36 years and helps organize the chainsaw carving competitions at Old Mill Days. (You may have seen Backus’ handiwork in the PEMCO Insurance commercial, “The Roadside Chainsaw Woodcarver.” That’s Backus who sculpts a log into a bear —epitomizing part of the Northwest culture.)

“The carvers create a sculpture, but it's performance art as well. People enjoy watching the carving in action,” Backus said. “You have to really know your stuff if you are going to take a chainsaw and start whacking away at a log. It’s tremendously easy to make a wrong cut.”

Professional carvers are given a cedar log measuring eight feet long by three feet in diameter. Over the course of the weekend, the carvers complete their sculpture, which will be judged (the pieces will not be auctioned off, as reported in the print version of this story). This year, the theme for the competition is “emotion.” The competitors are challenged to evoke feelings in their art such as humor or anger.

Professional carvers from across the country are scheduled to compete, such as Dave Tremko who performed on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and carved Leno’s face out of wood. Up-and-coming young artist Ryan Anderson is known for his speed and will be the main focus for “Saw Dogs.”  Poulsbo carver Dave Whitbeck, who works for Puget Sound Energy, competes across the country.

When asked how he felt about competing against the young superstar,  Whitbeck said, “Aww, I'll beat him.”

Along with the weekend-long carving competition, there will be shorter quick-rounds where carvers compete to create art in a short amount of time. Those pieces will be auctioned off as well.

Backus admits that using a dangerous tool, like a chainsaw, is part of the draw for the audience.

"When you work with a tool that can turn bone and flesh into a fine, red mist, you get pretty careful," Backus said. "It's such a gruesome-awesome tool. It's a juxtaposition because this tool represents destruction, but also makes fine art."

Old Mill Days isn't all about competitions. The weekend includes carnival rides, a car show, exhibits on forestry rejuvenation and vendors. Throughout the weekend, the main stage will entertain with live music, comedy and dancers.

But the setting in historic Port Gamble, with its long history of milling, (the mill operated from 1853 to 1995) lends itself to events that would make Paul Bunyan's jaw drop.

Hot Saws and Hot Saws Unlimited take place on Saturday and Sunday. For those not familiar with the concept, Hot Saws are jacked up chainsaws that use motorcycle or snowmobile engines to cut through thick logs. Hot Saws Unlimited use V-6 or V-8 engines, though the festival has put the kibosh on allowing fuel additives. One year a saw caught on fire and burned the competitor.

“There is no doubt about it that there is danger in these sports,” Miller said. “That's why we have medics on-site at all times. We don't want people to get hurt. That's not our goal.”



The three day event is Sept. 30- Oct. 2 in Port Gamble.

Friday: 3 -10 p.m., with a fireworks show at 9 p.m.

Saturday: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Sunday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Admission is free for the skateboard competition on Friday and Saturday,  the car show on Saturday and carnival all three days, though the rides require tickets.

General admission to the mill-themed events is: $8 for adults, $5 for youth and free for children younger than 5.

Specials: Friday is free from 3-5 p.m., Sunday is half-off for active military, reserves, dependents and retired military (ID required) and seniors 63 and older.

For a complete scheudle of events and to register for the Kitsap Toughest Timberman event, visit






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