|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
LEARN THE BASICS
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.
THE FIRST STEPS
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
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
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
wider than the top view of your pattern. The side
view can be the exact height and length.
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
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.
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.
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
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
can use this method to locate the end of the upper
and lower tail coverts.
can also lock in a reference point to help you
locate the notch on the top of the bill.
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.
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.
the process on the head block, cutting out the top
view first and then, as illustrated, the side
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