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How to Make Wooden Duck Decoys

by Angela Baird
Choosing the proper species for your decoy determines the effectiveness of your hunt.

Choosing the proper species for your decoy determines the effectiveness of your hunt.

There are a number of things to consider when choosing your pattern, colors and wood for carving and painting a wooden duck decoy. The purpose of the decoy is to fool a certain species of duck, whichever species you are interested in hunting, to land near your blind. Ducks recognize and are attracted to their own species through color recognition. The way your decoy floats and sits in the water is also important. Head position also factors in; ducks are more likely to land if they perceive a relaxed duck on the water, one that is sleeping, preening or feeding.

Preparation

Choose your medium. Cork wood of high density is a good choice due to its weight, durability and ease of carving. If you are in need of a lighter-weight wood that will not crumble like the low-density cork has a tendency to do, balsa wood is a good choice. Cork works well for beginners in decoy carving.

Choose your pattern according to the species of duck you are hunting. If you are trying to attract mallard ducks, choose a pattern for mallard. Patterns are commercially available and the best option unless you are an accomplished artist and able to create your own. The pattern should be life-sized or slightly larger.

Place your paper pattern on a cube of cork wood, both top and side views, with the pattern being only slightly smaller than the wood on the top. The side view should line up with the top view, that is, be centered, with the top edge of the pattern flush with the top edge of the wood. Tack it in place to hold it.

Cut out the the pattern using a band saw. Do the top first. Turn the cut piece on the cut broadside, attach the side view portion of the pattern with tacks and cut out the top and sides with the band saw.

Follow the same procedure for the decoy's head, but choose a wood that is heavier than cork, such as cedar or basswood.

Body Carving

Draw the carving guidelines onto both the body and head of the duck, using your pattern as a guide. Use solid lines and crosshatching for areas to be removed, such as for shaping and rounding the decoy's outline, and dotted lines for detail notching, such as nostrils, mouth, eye line, feathers, etc. The basics are to include the centerline, wings, upper rump and waterline, and flat area for attaching the head on the body, and the centerline, eye channel and cheek and bill on the head.

Notch out your crosshatched areas, such as to shape the rump and tail using your knives. Use the rasps, large or small, for the appropriate areas for finishing and shaping. Using a small rasp on the top wing line works well for producing the desired detail. Flatten the set area for the head mount in such a way that the finished head can be turned without catching. This allows for customization of the decoy's position and attitude.

Round the body appropriately around the breast and wings of the decoy with the push-pull knife. For finer detail, apply your rasps and finish with sandpaper. Be sure not to completely sand out any details you may have etched in. Do the same for the top of the tail, leaving extra wood at the tail for more durability during use.

Cut in the topline, or centerline, and the tops of the wings, or sidepockets, with the small rasp. Finish off all rounding of the body at this point, carefully following your pattern. Rasps or sandpaper are suited for this element of the body carving.

Head Carving

Remove the crosshatched areas to block out the basic head and neck shape. The top of the decoy's head is narrower than the cheek, which begins at the eye channel. Round the head with a small carving knife and drill the holes for the eyes. Work carefully and follow your pattern to preserve detail.

Cut in the throat groove and complete the rounding of the cheeks on both sides. Round the neck according to your pattern.

Shape the duck's bill according to your pattern with a small knife. Be sure to leave the very top of the bill between the nostrils flat.

Install the eyes with a dab of glue in the drilled eye hole, and pop in the glass bead. Sand the head until you have achieved your desired shape and smoothness. Deepen the eye channel, if necessary.

Assembly and Finishing

Cut a small strip of leather, 2 or 3 inches in length, and form a loop. Use a galvanized deck screw that is long enough to pass through the body of the decoy, securing the loop on the bottom and the decoy's head on the top of the body.

Countersink the holes for the screws to hold the keel to keep from damaging the decoy's body. Center and attach the keel behind the loop, using two deck screws.

Texture the decoy by painting it with diluted carpenter's glue and sprinkling it with sawdust. Do the entire decoy at once and work swiftly. Allow the glue to dry, and blow off the excess sawdust. This provides a realistic texture. Dilute the glue with water until you have a consistency that is easily applied with a paint brush.

Paint the decoy using latex house paint for best results. Do a base coat in the appropriate colors, leaving the white areas large and bright. Do details and color shading as desired with acrylic artist paints. Use a darker shade in a small amount on a dry brush to barely cover darker areas; this allows the base coat to show through and gives realistic highs and lows. Paint according to the species of duck you are decoying.

Items you will need

  • Cork wood block
  • Basswood or cedar block
  • Pattern
  • Tacks
  • Pencil
  • Band saw
  • Large and small rasps
  • Carving knife
  • Push-pull knife
  • 80-100 grit sandpaper
  • Drill
  • Glass eyes
  • Glue
  • Screws
  • Leather strap
  • Paint
  • Sawdust
  • Brushes
  • Carpenter's glue

Tips

  • Choose your keel material and design. It may be made of wood or lead, or anything else, so long as it serves the purpose of stabilizing the decoy in the water and gives a place to attach your anchor line. A hardwood keel should be about 2 inches wide and three-quarters of the length of the decoy body. Drill a hole in the back of a hardwood keel for attaching the anchor line.
  • Use lead for a smaller, heavier keel.
  • Choose no keel for small-scale hunting on calm, small bodies of water.
  • Having a good photograph the duck you are decoying to reference is extremely helpful, especially when painting.

Warnings

  • Use sharp tools with caution to keep from injuring yourself.
  • Work with paints and solvents in a well-ventilated area, and use a face mask as an added precaution.

About the Author

Angela Baird has been writing professionally since 1995. She has a wide range of life experiences from work with abused animals with the Humane Society, to more than 20 years of hands-on experience in the culinary arts. In addition, she keeps horses and does her own home improvements and home gardening.

Photo Credits