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Bandsawing Made Simple - Part One
The basics of choosing wood, transferring a pattern, and bandsawing the blank
by Willy McDonald Photos by Tom Krum

During my first attempts at carving decoys, three facts came to light. First, I did not have a logical and consistent progression of steps to give me a good foundation on which to perfect my carving skills. Second, I did not know one duck from another, let alone a side-pocket from a tertial feather group. Third was the nagging questions, did I need a lot of "talent" or "artistic ability" to carve and paint decoys?

After many years of teaching decoy carving, it became evident that most beginning carvers shared the same questions and anxieties. This article is for the novice carver who the very beginning and establish a solid carving foundation. In this issue I'll cover bandsawing and the steps leading up to it. In the Summer issue, I'll address locating reference points on your blank.

I'm a firm believer that carving is an acquired skill. If you are blessed with some degree of "artistic talent," so much the better, but anyone can learn to carve. I've found that anyone can dig a hole in the yard, but some people are just a little better at it. This is where talent kicks in.

A consistent progression of steps will point out basic anatomy along the way as well as, establish a good carving foundation. I encourage my students to carve several decoys in a row to drive home the basics. Too often, in this age of competition, a student attends class, carves one bird, and then runs to the nearest show to see if he can win a ribbon. As Dick LeMaster once said, "Learn the basics. If you want a ribbon, here's 3 bucks; go buy one." I certainly subscribe to that philosophy. A solid understanding of the basics will lead you to a carving style that is your own and many ribbons if you choose to compete.

With all this in mind, let's start with the selection of a pattern that will bring together the basic shape of a duck along with the different anatomical parts that make up that shape. Today's beginning carver has his choice of good patterns that provide a wealth of anatomical knowledge and insight into the personality and traits of each bird.

Matching views are especially critical for the transfer of the pattern to a block of wood. When transferred properly, the net result is a decoy blank that is anatomically in the ball park. To check a pattern for matching views, place a carpenter's square on the top of the pattern and see if the views match from top to side. (Key points include the start of breast and bill, eye position, end of side pocket, and the start of tail.)

Next, choose your wood. Although there are many factors that come into play when selecting wood, my recommendation is to start with basswood. Basswood (Linden tree) is readily available in most sizes and is fairly consistent from one piece to the next. Most realistic decorative decoys are carved out of basswood, tupelo gum, or jelutong. Each wood has unique pros and cons. (See "Choosing Wood" WC Magazine Fall 1987 for more details.) You will discover what their traits are with carving experience, and settle on your favorite.

Look for matching views when selecting patterns. The vertical lines drawn on this teal pattern by Pat Godin illustrate a good match between the top and side views.
Make sure the blocks of wood used for both the body and the head are perfectly square and big enough for your pattern. Each block should be at least 1/2" inch wider than the top view of your pattern. The side view can be the exact height and length.
To properly align the pattern on your block, make sure that the end grain on your head and body blocks has the annual rings at the top (rainbow shape) and that the grain is running the length of the decoy.
Next, using a carpenter's square, draw a line parallel to the end of the block and extend the line over the side. Also locate a centerline, perpendicular to the squared off line and running lengthways across the top. Do this on both the head and the body blocks. Using the breast and parallel line as a starting point, place the top view on the block, matching the centerline of the block with the centerline of the pattern. Make sure there is at least 1/4" inch or more extra wood on either side of the top view.

Transferring the pattern to the block of wood can be done several ways. Many carvers like to paste a copy of the pattern onto a cardboard or Mylar sheet, making it easy to trace around the pattern. My favorite way is to paste the pattern copy, right on the block of wood using a glue stick or push pins. The side view is transferred by placing the breast on the squared off line and the bottom of the pattern on the bottom of the block.
The top view of the head pattern is transferred the same way. Match the centerline of the top view with the centerline on the block and place the tip of the bill on the parallel line. Draw a line through the eyes on the top view and extend the line over the side. Transfer the side view of the head pattern by lining up the end of the bill with the parallel line and the eye with the eye line. I will quite often use a push pin to locate the eye and the eye line and then rotate the pattern until the bill hits the bill line.

With this method you may find slight variations in the pattern views that require an occasional adjustment to the length of the bill or the back of the head. The next step is to use the band saw. You'll want to lock the reference points. I'll show you how to do this important procedure in photos 6-10, which follw next.
I learned that by making a small cut with the saw at certain reference points, anatomical features can be locked into the blank for future reference. Using the top view of the body pattern as an example, locate the indentation that marks the end of the side pocket feathers and the indentation that marks where the tail feathers come out of the body.

By bringing the band saw blade up to these points and backing up about an 1/8" inch and starting the cut again, you will find a small notch on the side of the blank that will help you locate the reference points later.

You can use this method to locate the end of the upper and lower tail coverts.

You can also lock in a reference point to help you locate the notch on the top of the bill.
Bandsaw the top view of the blank first. Start at the front of the breast and make one continuous cut to the rear, stopping along the way to cut in special reference points (see steps 6 and 7). Make the same cut on the other side of the top view.
Once your top view is completely bandsawed, put the block back together so that you can cut out the side view. I like to use a hot glue gun to temporarily glue the block back together. Some carvers use nails, tape and even drops of Tuf-Carv for this purpose. Now you can bandsaw the side view, locating and cutting in the special reference points (see steps 6 and 8) and discard all unwanted wood.
Repeat the process on the head block, cutting out the top view first and then, as illustrated, the side view.
You now have an accurate representation of the pattern transferred to wood, bandsawed and ready for guidelines. In part two of this article, I will show you how to mark guidelines on the blank and locate the different feather groups, using the reference points locked in during the bandsaw process.

Spring 1992 Wildfowl Carving Magazine

Part Two

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