How to Carve a Hunting Decoy
Before starting a
"true" hunting decoy project, it is necessary to, if you will
excuse the pun, get your ducks in a row. Not only do you have to decide
on what species you plan to carve, but you must also develop a decoy
pattern that combines the durability and flotation requirements of a
hunting decoy with the likeness of the species. The pattern should also
allow for portrayal of different attitudes with minimal changes. For
instance, a higher head position shows an active bird and a lower head
demonstrates a quiet posture. Both attitudes can be achieved utilizing
the same body shape. Developing decoy patterns from photos and other
reference material is a relatively easy task for the experienced carver,
but many novices need a place to begin.
By Willy McDonald
Hunting Decoy - Part Two
There are a host of
patterns commercially available to the carver today. Most are designed
for the realistic decoy carver, and a wide variety of attitudes are
portrayed. These patterns provide a great starting point for the
beginner carver, requiring only minor changes to convert the design from
fragile to durable without sacrificing realism. The design changes
usually involve the elimination of fragile wing tips and/or skinny
necks, and the addition of more wood to the tail for durability.
Widening the body to assist proper hunting decoy flotation may be
necessary with some patterns. In my estimation, working with existing
patterns is the best way for the inexperienced carver to achieve the
skills needed to develop his or her own patterns from various reference
The next step in the
process is to decide on the carving materials suitable for a real, true
hunting decoy-a decoy that can stand up to the trauma of everyday
hunting, float naturally, and still portray realism simply. The
challenge of building durability and good flotation into a hunting decoy
is achieved with the selection of carving materials that match those
needs. Needless to say, any wood floats, but may not be conducive to the
design because of weight or stability in water and weather. In the case
of weight, many decoys are hollowed, but they are then subject to
sinking if they crack, or are accidentally shot. I prefer the security
of a solid body block, and carve my decoys out of cork or balsa wood.
Cork is my first choice
because it takes simple detail, holds paint well, and floats naturally.
Density is a factor that must be considered when choosing cork. The
density is represented by a number that specifies the number of pounds
of cork per cubic foot. The higher the number, the denser the cork.
Lower numbers (below 10) have a tendency to crumble and are hard to
seal. I prefer the 12 to 15 pound range for ease of carving and
durability. Weight can be a problem with cork if you are carving a big
spread of decoys. When weight is a concern, I turn to balsa wood. Like
cork, balsa is available in different densities, and, contrary to
popular belief, is very durable, especially in the denser blocks. Cedar
and basswood are my choices of woods for heads. For this demonstration,
I will be carving a canvasback out of cork and basswood, and will follow
a fairly rudimentary carving format in order to accommodate both the
novice and experienced carver.
a body pattern that has matching top and profile views to a square block
of cork. Make sure both views start from a squared off line at the end
of the block, and match up the centerlines on the top view. Make sure
the cork block is slightly wider than the pattern top view.
a band saw, cut out the top view of the body block, making a continuous
cut from one end of the block to the other. With a couple of drops of
hot glue, the body block can be reassembled to make for easy cutting of
the side view.
out the side view and break away the excess from the sides. The body
block is now ready for guidelines, and hen carving.
matching views of the head pattern using the end of the bill as a
starting point from the squared off line, and lining up the eye lines of
both views. Notice that the profile view has several cutoff points on
the neck for portraying different attitudes. At this point, I drill the
eye hole with a drill press prior to bandsawing.
the top view of the head using a continuous cut from the bill to the
back of the head. Reassemble the block back to square with a couple of
drops of hot glue for side view cutting.
the side view after choosing which neck line to cut for a high, medium
or low head. Break away the excess from the sides. The head is now ready
the carving guidelines from the pattern to the body blank:
B. Top of wing
D. Upper rump
E. Head platform
tools for carving cork include: large and small rasps, regular and
push-pull knife, and 80- to 100-grit sandpaper. If you prefer power
carving, a variety of rotary rasps and sanding drums work well in a
flexible shaft grinder.
out the head platform (E) so that the head can sit flat and turn.
in the tail and rump area using a right angle cut and remove the
checkered section shown in the photo. I normally use a knife for this
process, but a cylindrically shaped rotary rasp will work as well. This
will leave the tail quite thick and sturdy.
the body from the top of the wing guideline (B) to the waterline (C). I
start with a push-pull knife to remove large areas, and finish with a
large rasp and then sandpaper.
from the waterline to the bottom of the decoy is optional, and is
usually done for cosmetic reasons more than functional ones. A squared
bottom tends to keep the decoy from unnaturally rolling from side to
side in choppy water. The extra width built into the decoy body will
help accomplish the same thing.
the top of the tail, leaving it thick and stable. Remember, incoming
birds will be approaching your decoys from above, and will not be
concerned with tail thickness. However, you will be happy with the
stability of the tails after your dog jumps on your decoys a few times.
in the side pockets using your pattern as reference.
in the side pockets and indentation in the middle of the back using a
small round rasp or rotary tool.
the rounding process by rounding from point A to B, B to C, and C to D,
as shown in the photo. A hand or power rasp and sandpaper are the tools
of choice for this process.
decoy body is now ready for head installation and painting. Careful
attention in planning and construction, combined with a little common
sense, will yield a decoy body that is durable, multi-functional for
various attitude presentations, floats properly, and is still faithful
to species shape. It is amazing how much realism can be built into a
true hunting decoy without sacrificing durability in design and
simplicity in paint. In the next issue, I will demonstrate head carving,
keel design, and anchor line attachment.
Willy McDonald has
been decoy carving for years. At the 1998 ODCCA Show, he won first best
of show in the Wildfowler's Shootin' Stool Contest. He is the owner and
operator, with his wife Diane, of The Duck Blind, a woodcarving supply
store. In Part Three of "The Hunting Decoy," McDonald will
demonstrate head carving, keel design and weighting.
Spring 2000 Wildfowl Carving
One | Part Three |