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Willy, Diane,
Murphy McDonald
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Mallard Head Carving 101

Starting with a square block of head stock draw in a center line and locate the top view of the pattern on the centerline and placing the end of the of the bill at the very end of the block. Make sure that the block is slightly wider than the widest part of the top view pattern.


Next locate the eye line on the top view and using a Square, extend the eye line down the side of the block. Once this is located place the side view of the pattern on the side of the block by aligning the eye on the eye line (push pin) and rotate the pattern until the end of the bill touches the outside edge of the block.

Special Note:
This cutout method will only be successful if you are using an accurate pattern that features matching side and top views. You can usually check a pattern with a T Square to see if the views match.

Draw around both the top and side views of the pattern making sure to locate the eye on the side view.

Next using a drill press I locate and drill the eye hole through the entire block making sure that my drill press is at a right angle or 90 degrees.

At this point I should reiterate that it is crucial to make sure you start with a squared block of wood and your bandsaw and drill press must be set up to cut accurately at a right angle.

With everything squared up we're ready for the first cut. With a band saw, cut out the top view first by making a continuous cut from front to back as seen in the illustration below.

Now its time to cut out the side view by putting the three pieces back together forming a square block again. I like to use a touch of hot glue to hold the block together keeping in mind that a very small drop of glue will do the job. Next cut out the head side view with the band saw.

Side view cutout

Discard the scrap and you have a head cutout with two views of the pattern locked in and you are ready to proceed to locating the carving guidelines.

Start the guidelines by drawing a center line on the top and bottom of the cutout.

Also draw in the end of the bill shape on the bottom of the bill. I like to use Vernier Calipers for transferring measurements from pattern to head. The two points will give you the same measurement as the distance between the large blades.

Next, referring to your pattern, locate and draw in the eye channel and cheek lines on the side view of the cutout. The circle with an X represents the high spot of the cheek or the widest part of the head which is cheek to cheek.

Next, using the top view of the pattern, locate and transfer the width of the crown.

Next using the side view of the head pattern locate and transfer the bill guidelines.

Make special note of the “U” shape at the lower corner of the bill. It is very easy to locate and transfer this measurement by putting the points of the Vernier calipers on the end of the bill and corner of the bill on the pattern and transferring this measurement to the same area on your head cutout. Repeat for the top of the bill to locate the horns.

Lastly I establish the round neck guidelines by drawing a circle and X on the bottom of the neck. The X helps to get equal parts.

I start the carving process by locking in the bill. The first cut is at the corner of the bill and I use a half round gouge to make this cut. You could use a small cylinder cutter if you are using a power carver to make this cut. The corner of the bill is now the same width as the rest of the bill and the corner is locked in place.

Next I lock in the horns of the bill with a right angle /90 degree cut. A knife or cylinder cutter will work perfect in this area. Make sure that you do not cut below the horn guidelines on the side view of the bill otherwise you have cut away the top of the bill.

Next I continue the right angle cut using the Eye Channel guideline on the side view and the Crown guideline on the top view. This cut will lock in the width of the crown. Again it is very important to make sue that this is a 90 degree cut. See illustration below.

Finalized Cut

Next step is to start the neck rounding process by making a groove cut following the illustration. This can be done with a round rasp, round rotary rasp, or round gouge.

When making this cut remember the final shape of the neck is round so avoid a flat cut. Guidelines on the neck bottom will help visualize the proper rounding.

Now it's time to round the neck.

Rounding the crown is the next step. Round from the centerline on the top of the head down to the eye channel.

Now you can round from the eye channel down to the cheek line.


Now you can continue the rounding process by rounding from the cheek line into the neck area. Remember the Circle X is the high spot of the cheek or the widest part.

Next is rounding and shaping the bill. First draw in the shape of the bill on the bottom. The red area will be removed. Make sure that you are looking at the bottom of the bill when making the cut and cut with the grain to avoid splitting the bill end.

It's important to note that the widest part of the Ducks bill is at the bottom and a warning line is located to preserve the bills shape.

Now we can focus on rounding and final shape of the top of the bill.

Step 1

Step 2


Step 4

Step 5

Time to sand the entire head.....It is now safe to remove your guidelines being careful to just smooth the surface and remove fuzz and high spots.

Step 6

Once you are finished sanding you can re-draw in the bill guidelines and you are ready to set the eyes.

Using the pilot hole as a guide open the eye hole to the proper size either using a half round gouge or an eye hole drill. Mallard eye size is 10mm.

Make sure you make the hole slightly larger than glass eye and deep enough to allow for setting the eye to the proper depth. Fill the eye socket with either Plasticwood or Apoxie Sculpt and press in the glass eye. Eyes should be set deep enough so the they are not “bug-eyed” or sticking on the outside of the head. Some of the Plasticwood or Apoxie will ooze around the eye and can be smoothed out with a small flat brush. If you are using plastic wood use acetone to smooth out, and water if you are using the Apoxie.

At this point you can sand around the eye being very careful not to hit the glass eye as it will scratch.

Next, it's time to delineate the bill guidelines. To do this you can use a variety of tools as demonstrated in the pictures below...

Make a "V" cut using a hook blade and then sand back into the bill leaving defining the separation of bill and head feathers. This will leave the feather area higher than the bill. That edge can also be rounded over to the bill if you prefer a tighter look.

The same procedure can be done with power tools also. I prefer using a small cylinder shape diamond cutter for this task. As stated above the object is to delineate the separation and then sand smooth back into the bill.

Some carvers like to use a woodburner for this task. Simply trace the line with the burning pen which defines the two areas. This is a simple way to go and makes painting easier. Even simpler is to just paint in the bill without any delineation. Remember this is a head for a hunting decoy and the incoming waterfowl will not know which method you used but they will be impressed with your head shape.

I suggest carving several heads in order to solidify the carving process and learn the various steps. Once you feel you have mastered the steps then you can apply the steps to other species. Questions regarding this demo or various tools used can be answered by contacting The Duck Blind at 1-800-852-7352 or email

Click below to continue to...

Mallard Body Carving Tutorial
Mallard Painting Tutorial
Cyber Classroom Tutorial List

Willy McDonald



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