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Willy, Diane,
Murphy McDonald
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Mallard Body Carving Tutorial

Tool & Material List: Click on links for product descriptions and pricing
Duck Blind Decoy Cork, Flexible Ruler, Duck Blind Work Station, Large Rasp, Draw Knife
Bow Sander, Calipers, Large Rasp, Round Saburr Tooth Cutter, Foredom 44T Handpiece, Sandpaper, Apoxie Sculpt, & Traditions Cork Sealer

Start guidelines by drawing in a centerline. Be sure to include the breast and underneath the tail. Also note that I have highlighted a reference saw-cut.

Next locate the waterline on the pattern and transfer that measurement to the blank. Again two saw-cut reference lines are also noted.

Using the saw-cut reference lines and matching pattern, locate and draw in the upper and lower rump. Make note of the curve to the rump lines.

Next step is to draw in the top of the wing line by locating the saw cut on the head platform area.  Divide this line into four equal parts and make a two marks. Then draw a line from those marks to the center line at the end of the tail, (see photos below). 

With the guide lines complete for this phase in the process it is now time to make the first cuts and lock in the tail and rump section. This will be done by making right angle (90 degree) cuts and removing the material marked in red in the photos. Start with the top and then progress to the bottom. Once complete you will have locked in the tail and the upper and lower rump.

The tail area finished top and bottom.

Now the body rounding process can begin. Round from the top of wing line down to the water line,  (see red arrows in pictures below). Note that the side pockets have been drawn in to give you a reference to the area and saw cuts, and will be removed with the rounding process. I like to use a push-pull knife and rasp for this process and finish with a bow sander. Proceed slowly making sure that you are rounding and not making a flat cut. Work on both sides at the same time to bring in symmetrically. Also notice the red rounding line that extends from the tail, past the side pocket to the water line.

The rounding finished

Tools used for rounding


Side pocket high point

Side pocket low point





Using a knife, rasp, or cylinder shaped rotary cutter cut in the side pockets using a right angle cut.

Make sure you cut outside the side pocket guide line to keep the side pocket shape. The depth of the cut is approximately 3/8 of an inch deep but it does taper off to nothing at the back and front of the side pocket, (see the illustrations below).

Next increase the size of the head platform by removing the area with the red X's

In this step I create an indentation down the middle of the back approximately inch deep. Several tools can be used for this step. A hand or rotary rasp work great, but this cut can be made with a knife making a V cut and then final sanding to round out the cut. Make special note that the indent does not go all the way to the tail and tapers up to nothing as you approach the upper rump area. Note the stop line in example below.

Now it is time to round. Start by rounding from the center line up to the top of the wing line. Remember that you are rounding and not making a flat spot and above all round from one guideline to another. I like to use a rotary rasp but you certainly can use a hand rasp also. We will final sand later so this step is just to establish the roundness.

Next round from the top of the wing line down to the side pocket line.

The side pockets are next. Round to the waterline and make sure you round from the top of the side pocket down to the waterline. Don't just round over the edges.

You can see a slight ridge in this photo that will disappear with final sanding. The body is really taking shape at this time. Now it is time to focus on the bottom of the decoy.


Follow the illustration and draw a guideline that is about 3/8 inch in from the outside edge. I'm giving you two views to help locate this guideline properly. Once finished you can round from the waterline to the line on the bottom. Make sure this is round.

After rounding

Now the focus is on the rump and tail section. The red lines show the directions for rounding. Round from the center line to the edge.

The tail will appear thin but it will be sturdy and durable Refer to the picture below for final look..

Now it's time for final sanding. In this process you will knock off any high spots and ridges. I will usually will start with 80 grit and finish with 150 grit. Take your time and you will end up with a very smooth finish that will have very few voids.

Next it's time to attach the head and shape the breast area to the neck. First I drill a pilot hole from the neck platform to the bottom of the decoy.

The pilot hole on the bottom will allow for long deck screw to be driven into the neck area and anchor the head.

With the pilot hole drilled it's time to glue on the head. I personally like to use hot glue for head attachments as it has a quick set time and I have found it to be very strong. Use a good glue stick that is rated for wood use. Once the glue sets I drive the screw up into the neck. Go slow and don't try and drive the screw to far into the neck as you could split the head. Just anchor the head. If  you  would prefer to not to use hot glue then any good carpenter glue can be used. You can clamp the head onto the body until dry or you can use the screw to tighten the head down and clamp in place. Some carvers like to use a fender washer for the screw backing for maximum strength.

I like to do an additional step when anchoring the head to the body to prevent twisting of the head. Even though you have glued the head the screw up into the neck creates an swivel point if the glue joint should weaken slightly and will eventually lead to failure. To guard against this possibility I use a Brad Air Nail Gun and drive a couple of nails into the side of the neck to prevent twisting. Another take on this process would be to drill a couple of small holes and drive finish nails into the holes. This is an ounce of prevention which works well.

With the head secured it's time to shape the breast area to the neck. Look at reference pictures to help get a natural look to the neck/breast transition

Once you are finished then you can fill any cracks and cover up the neck joint with Plastic Wood or Apoxie Sculpt. Let it dry thoroughly and then sand to blend the transition.

At this point I final sand the entire decoy and get ready for sealing and painting.

Reflecting a bit, the most important part of the carving process is starting with a good pattern and a good accurate bandsawed cutout, based on that pattern. Just as important are clean and accurate guidelines that are located properly on the decoy blank. Carving is truly the easiest part of the process. Rounding is also crucial and takes a little practice. Use your hands and not your eyes to search for flat spots and keep your rounding between your guidelines. Once you have it close then you can soften the entire decoy and blend each area of  anatomy for softness and a nice flow. My goal with this tutorial is to give you a logical and easy to understand progression of steps to follow each time you carve. Although this tutorial deals with a drake mallard the steps will apply to any waterfowl species that you would like to carve. Follow the same steps each time and carve, carve, carve. AND never be afraid to make a mistake.......that's how we learn.

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Willy McDonald



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