Sculpting with chain saw, Shaver Lake man turns logs into bears (video)

The Fresno BeeJune 14, 2014 

Put a chain saw in the hands of Shaver Lake carpenter Bill Beighey and his creative juices start flowing. Chips fly from cedar logs — and out come bears.

Bears with grins.

Bears with big paws to hold signs with words expressing what they're thinking: "Stay away" or "Gone Fishing."

Even one with thick eyebrows like "Ted," the movie teddy bear.

"Everyone likes a bear," Beighey says simply.

Beighey, 58, has a full-time job, working as a carpenter with the Fresno Unified School District.

Life changed in December when he received a Stihl MS 250 chain saw for Christmas and ventured into bear carvings as a hobby. It quickly escalated into a side business, Bear Necessities.

Beighey's creations will be displayed for sale at a Trade Day event from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Cressman's General Store and Gas Station, 36088 Tollhouse Road, near Shaver Lake. Beighey lives on Lower Cressman Road near the store.

Trade Day events feature about 10 vendors who are craftsmen, woodworkers and antique dealers as well as people with yard sale items. The events are held on the fourth Saturdays of the month, May through October.

Beighey joins a small group of bear-carvers who work in the foothill communities along Highway 41 and Highway 168.

Keith Davis, owner of Cressman's, says Beighey's bear creations stand out in the pack.

"They look happy," he says. "People smile when they see them. It's also something that is hand-crafted, something you don't always find these days — and hand-crafted by someone locally who lives on Cressman Road.

"It brings people here who wouldn't normally stop because they are interested in the bears. They are eye-catchers as you are driving by."

Mountain man

Raised in the Bass Lake area, Beighey attended Sierra High School in Tollhouse, where he took a craftsman's class in which students built a home.

And he got hooked on carpentry.

He also met Vicki in high school, and they married. This year, they will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary.

Beighey went on to attend Fresno City College, earn his apprenticeship and land a job at Balsam on Highway 168 about four miles past Shaver Lake Dam.

"I've built outhouses to powerhouses," he says.

At that time, he commuted, Fresno to Balsam. But that didn't last long.

The couple moved to a home at the top of the four-lane of Highway 168, where they have lived for more than 30 years.

Since 1996, Beighey has worked on and off for Fresno Unified, where he has a reputation for detailed work. He has been full time for the past three years in the mobile maintenance unit, which serves just 26 schools in the district, performing major painting, electrical, plumbing and carpentry jobs. The unit recently worked at Greenberg Elementary in southeast Fresno.

He commutes with Vicki, who is assistant kitchen manager at Hoover High School.

He says he relishes everything about mountain living, clean air to panoramic vistas: "Been in the mountains all my life — wouldn't have it any other way."

Creations that please

Beighey also has a passion for wildlife — the reason he carves bears.

He wants his creations to brighten people's lives, so he fashions them with looks that cause you to grin.

"They're kind of cartoonish," he says.

Like his carpentry work, Beighey gives much attention to the detail in his bears. All the "hair" requires a stroke of the chain saw.

Smaller bears take three to four hours to complete. Larger ones require six to 12 hours' work. Prices range from $50 to several hundred dollars.

Beighey, who is 5 feet, 11 inches tall, stood on a stump, balancing himself, to create a bear standing about 6 feet tall and holding a sign that reads: "Welcome."

Turn the sign over and there's another message: "Go away."

"That's in case you want to have a quiet weekend," he says.

Vicki Beighey helps name each bear.

A bear holding spatulas and a spoon and wearing an apron is Betty Baking Bear. A bear sticking out a round belly is Bruno Bear.

Bill Beighey insists he is still experimenting with his chain saw. "Someday, I might get there, if I keep practicing," he says. "So much to do. It's endless."

Jaime Ross says she is pleased her father has found a new passion — and in the mountains.

"It makes him happy and he is able to express himself creatively, which is something he has always done," she says. "It's something he is passionate about. He loves wildlife, living in the mountains."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6304, rorozco@fresnobee.com or @ronorozco_bee on Twitter.

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