Shiver me timbers! Carver turns tree into pirate

Story and photos by Casey Lessard

When Deb and Jim McCann bought a lakefront cottage last year, it came complete with a dead tree. Of course, they thought what anyone would: make a pirate.
“It’s an elm tree that was hit by lightning about four years ago,” Deb says. “The bark flew off it one winter and we got it cut down last fall. We left the stump, and Jim thought a pirate would look good looking out to sea.”
They asked around if anyone knew a carver, and the Wilhelms of Exeter suggested Paul Frenette, who had carved one of their trees. Frenette, of Kitchener, has been carving for five years.
“I carve all kinds of stuff, but my favourite to do is stump carving,” Frenette says. “Bring a tree back to life and give it a second life. I’ll do pretty much anything they ask, but if it’s up to me I do something mythical, like spirit faces, dragons, or gargoyles.”
For this project, he took his inspiration from the Wexford shipwreck off the Lake Huron coast, and from popular culture.
“I like pirates, so the Pirates of the Caribbean movie was the ultimate resource. I did a clay model of what I wanted to do, and I do that for complex jobs. Otherwise I carve what feels good.”
Neighbour Daphne Johnston is impressed.
“It’s terrific. I think it’s a very creative way to use a dead tree stump rather than cutting it up. It’s neat to have pirates guarding our little section of Elmwood.”
The pirate took several visits to complete, and is all freehand carving using a variety of tools.
“It’s about 99 per cent chainsaw, so I have five chainsaws of different sizes, and when I get to the details, I use chisels for eye balls and fine details I can’t get into with the chainsaw.”
With proper care, the carving can last a long time.
“I’ll use a wood hardener because it’s already been dead for four years. I’ll treat it and finish it. This should last 15 to 20 years if they take care of it. Ideally you would cut it off at the bottom, seal it and reattach it. Then it would last forever because water’s not getting into from the bottom.”
Frenette’s clients include homeowners like the McCanns and several Kitchener area golf courses. For more information, visit or call 519-744-9544.