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Today is December 6, 2022

Carving his niche

Self-taught in many skills, Mike Hobgood has a soft spot for woodworking

By Debbie Stringer

Carving his niche

Using a chainsaw, Hobgood carved this mountain lion and cave from a single log. Carving a horizontal composition like this one presents unique challenges, but Hobgood is motivated by challenge.

    Mike Hobgood makes his living fabricating industrial metal products, but his heart is rooted in wood.
    “I could devote all my time to my business and make a heck of a lot more money but not be as happy. I love woodworking,” he said.
    Since boyhood, Hobgood has been intrigued with wood and has strived to learn all he can about both native and exotic species. He plants trees, saws logs, collects wood, carves wood, turns wood, builds furniture and crafts gunstocks.
    “I’m a wood nut,” he said. “There’s not a man alive who appreciates more than I do the sound of the wind whispering through the trees and the beauty in the grain of the wood.”
    Hobgood, a member of Magnolia Electric Power Association, lives in Walthall County in the 3,000-square-foot exposed-beam house he built some 15 years ago.
    He constructed most of the exterior from a 90-foot cypress log he pulled out of the Amite River. “It was 52 inches in diameter and had almost 7,000 board feet of lumber in that one log,” he said.
    Nearby stands the large metal building he built to house Hawas Inc., his industrial metal fabrication company. There he designs and builds such custom equipment as giant augers, a log washer, conveyors thousands of feet long and barge loaders for customers across the country.
    Farther down a path, past a small pond, is Hobgood’s “playground,” equipped with wood sheds, a large workshop and a wood kiln, all of which he built.
    The sheds and the workshop house Hobgood’s huge stash of boards, logs, roots, stump wood, burls, limbs and woody vines. It seems nearly every species of wood is represented, both native and exotic.
    “People ask me what I’m going to do with all that wood. I don’t know,” he said.
    Hobgood appreciates the unique patterns, colors and textures of the woods, as if each piece were a work of art from nature’s gallery.    
    Spalted hickory is a favorite. “It is absolutely beautiful,” he said.

    Hobgood grew up with three brothers and two sisters on his family’s farm in Walthall County, where his dad raised hogs, planted row crops and helped operate a dairy.
    In the early mornings before school, he roamed the woods with a flashlight, hunting squirrels and listening to the night sounds. To him, the forest was a wondrous place to explore.
    He was an intensely curious child eager to learn and unafraid to try his hand at new skills. “Whatever I had an interest in, I wanted to learn more about it,” he said.
   On visits to his maternal grandparent’s house in Sandy Hook, Hobgood would stop to admire the finely crafted wire and picket fences built by his grandfather, a wagon maker who had little more than his hands and his pride to work with. Young Hobgood took a lesson from those fences: “Take a little pride in what you do. That was an inspiration to me,” he said.
    When he was 9, Hobgood chopped down some small trees and “actually halfway constructed a log cabin.”
    He and his brothers were “tinkerers” who learned to fix things themselves, like bicycle brakes and chains, rather than rely on replacements.
    As a young teen, he learned to trap animals and stretch hides. Once when his animal traps needed repairs, Hobgood sneaked into his dad’s farm shop to weld them himself. It was his first attempt the fundamental skill that would help shape his future.
    Not every new attempt was successful. At age 11 he felled a large tree that crushed his dad’s chainsaw “simply because of my lack of knowledge,” he said.
    “That gave me a determination to do things and an ambition to want to learn,” he said.
    Inspired by watching wood ducks in a swamp, Hobgood tried carving a duck from a block of cedar with a pocketknife. His mother gave him paints and a local taxidermist donated a pair of duck “eyes” to the project. All he needed was a paint brush, “so I took a flat toothpick and chewed the end of it to make it like a brush.”
    At around age 12, Hobgood decided to build a gunstock from a piece of a large black walnut log lying in a brush pile. “I live to learn every day, so I asked my mom to take me to the library. I wanted to research black walnut trees.”
    Despite being told black walnut was too hard to cut, Hobgood enlisted the help of a visiting logging foreman to prove the naysayers wrong. “When I saw him cut it, I said nothing is impossible. If he can do it, I can do it,” he said.

   The gunstock project opened a new world of woodworking skills and knowledge to him, Hobgood said, including the proper way to dry wood to prevent warping. He has since built several more gunstocks, each one distinguished by carved designs, inlay and striking combinations of woods—including black walnut.
    He also became a prolific wood turner, producing bowls, vases, rolling pins and shakers on his lathes—one of which he built at age 17. Many of his woodturning projects are inspired by the forms of Native American pottery. Their intricate construction may feature staves, inlays and woods of contrasting colors and patterns.
    A few years ago Hobgood picked up his chainsaw not to cut a tree but to revisit chainsaw carving, a craft he briefly explored 20 years earlier. Now it is one of his favorite pursuits.
    “I love it,” he said. “It’s my therapy.”
    Displayed on his front lawn are several chainsaw carvings, including his first large-scale piece: a spear-wielding Indian standing more than 10 feet tall. Using a chainsaw with a 48-inch bar, Hobgood carved the figure from a single log of yellow poplar 4 feet in diameter.
   Nearby is a mountain lion crouched in a cave, a challenging horizontal composition Hobgood carved from a log 5 feet in diameter.
    “I’m always in search of a gigantic log to carve, which is so hard to find,” he said.

    Throughout the country are others, men and women, who share Hobgood’s thirst for tough challenges involving wood, from carving to timber cutting. Seven years ago, he conceived an event to bring some of the best of them to Mississippi.
    He envisioned a competitive showcase that would attract world champion lumberjacks, nationally recognized chainsaw carvers and pole climbers. It would be the first event of its kind in the state.
    The result is Sawdust and Splinters, set for Oct. 31 - Nov. 1 (details below). For three days, the sounds of chainsaws and axes tearing into wood will fill a pasture near the Bogue Chitto River, west of Tylertown.    
    Hobgood is busy with preparations to make Sawdust and Splinters an event to be remembered. From crafting the awards in beautiful woods to building an outdoor arena with 90-foot poles for climbing, he is devoting immense time and effort to ensuring the success of what he hopes will become an annual event.
    After the dust settles and the competitors head home with their trophies, maybe Hobgood can return to his real love: working with wood.

 

Champions to compete at Sawdust and Splinters

    With the help of volunteers, sponsors and the community, Mike Hobgood is setting the stage for a three-day event that is creating a lot of buzz among lumberjacks and chainsaw artists across the country.
    Sawdust and Splinters is set for Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, rain or shine, at Shirard Gray Estates, located off Highway 48 between Magnolia and Tylertown.
    Logging sport competitions include axe throwing, double buck sawing, a men’s underhand block chop, Jack & Jill team bucking, a standing block chop, hot saw, speed climbing, tree topping and more.
    Competitors will include Mike Sullivan, six-time hot saw world champion and holder of more than 200 overall lumberjack titles, and Nancy Zalewski, who holds the world record in the women’s underhand chop.
    Nationally recognized chainsaw artists will show off their skills in a speed carving event.
    Food and arts/crafts vendors will set up booths, and there will be activities for children.
    Attendees should bring lawn chairs but no food or beverages.
    Tickets may be purchased in advance or at the gate. For complete information, call Saw-Axe-Spur Production Co. at 601-876-9635 or visit the website at sdsfest.com.

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