Little did he know that when he began cutting trees to make money on the side, it would lead to an entirely different career: As he cleared pine beetle kill, homeowners kept asking him if they knew someone who could carve the stumps, so he tried his hand at it – and discovered he was quite skilled.
For the last four years, people have been hiring Mahorney to create sculptures from the dead pine trees in their yards. Right now, he has about 12 months of stump carving lined up.
He envisions his sculptures in terms of grids, blocking designs out, breaking them down into smaller and smaller chunks, then cutting away at tree trunks with a chain saw before carving the fine details of foxes, owls, hawks, squirrels, totem poles, Vikings, cowboys, bears and other characters with knives and chisels.
Mahorney's interest in carving stems from whittling with his grandfather, who lived in the Ozarks and carved for 30 years.
"I always drew and whittled, but I never took it seriously," Mahorney says.
However, his grandfather fashioned hundreds of pieces — though they usually measured less than about a foot tall. But Mahorney didn't find it very difficult to translate the task into gigantic proportions.
"It's the same, just the tools are larger," he says. "And the wood is not always ideal. It's round, and you can't draw a picture on it; you have to visualize it ... other than that, you just go with it and live with whatever the tree wants."
His pieces range from $400 to $2,000 and up, depending on size and detail. Last summer, he made such sculptures as an 8-foot goat, which he painted, and two cowboys in a shoot-out. And, he's still brainstorming ideas.
"I try to come up with original designs," he says. "I haven't carved the same thing twice."
His largest work so far, at a Blue River home, is a 20-foot totem, which depicts the ecosystem, including an eagle and fish on top, with a tumbling stream — complete with trout — and other animals frolicking throughout the trunk.
To preserve his work, he installs rods in the tree bases to wick fungicides up the trunks, to prevent them from rotting, then coats the pieces with linseed oil and a final coat of log-home sealer.
And these days, his artistic leanings are prompting him to take his carving skills further, by making log banister pedestals, relief carvings, ranch gateways and high-end furniture — as soon as he finishes the backlog of beetle kill people want him to transform.