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Duck Decoy Carving Should Be Your Next Eccentric Hobby

Carving duck decoys has evolved beyond a hunting device and become a woodworking obsession for a select few who consider it an art form.

Beak, Bird, Ducks, geese and swans, Neck, Water bird, Waterfowl, Teal, Liver, Wing, Seaduck,
Timothy Dahl

Duck decoys are considered an important form of North American Folk Art, and have been revered and collected for more than a century. If you've got an interest in wildlife art and woodworking, carving duck decoys could be the perfect pastime. 


Native Americans knew that birds attract other birds, and for more than 1,000 years they made decoys adorned with feathers, brush, and mud for hunting purposes. Early colonists took note and began carving wood duck decoys from white pine and white cedar which were both durable and buoyant. By the mid 19th-century, around the time of the Civil War, carving duck decoys had evolved into an art form and hunters were carving them as decorative pieces to be displayed in their homes.

Peter Miller - Flickr CC 2.0/Wikimedia

The highest value for a duck decoy sold is $1.13 million

Duck decoy collecting has become serious business, with a Christie's auction sale of one decoy fetching a record $856,000 in 2007. That same year, the highest value for a duck decoy sold reached $1.13 million apiece in a private sale of an A. Elmer Crowell carved pintail drake and Canada goose. 

Getting Started

Duck carving provides a great opportunity for wildlife and bird watching enthusiasts to make their own favorite ducks. Start by researching the species and breeds of waterfowl you want to carve by browsing books or online sources. If you have access to a taxidermy mount, that's the most ideal model to begin carving from. You can best see the composition of the head and neck, the flare of the tail, and the size,  spacing, and color of the feathers.

The next step is to assemble the tools and materials you will need to start carving and painting your duck.


According to Willy McDonald, a carving educator and waterfowl expert who operates selling carving and art supplies, you don't need vast experience using woodworking tools to begin carving duck decoys. However, a beginner should be comfortable with the tools and know how to use them safely before they start. 

The key is learning where to remove the wood.

The traditional way to carve a duck decoy is to use only hand tools such as a basic knife, chisel, and rasp, but power tools can make the process go much faster. Dremel tools and powered sanders are commonly used, but each carver will find a set of tools that suits them best. As long as the tool removes wood based on your direction, then you're set. The key is learning where to remove the wood.

Duck carving enthusiast Richard Gubler uses a bandsaw and a Rotozip rotary tool to carve his ducks. He's an avid hunter/outdoorsman, and duck decoy carving provides him with a great outlet to explore his creative side and maintain his connection with nature.


For hunting purposes, plastic and foam decoys are the preferred material, but some traditionalist also use cork. Decorative wood decoys are carved from softwoods such as basswood and can be ordered as a single block of wood that is suitable to begin carving.

Or, you can make a block of wood that is large enough for carving by layering three boards together. Pick up a 2 inch X 10 inch X 8 foot long board from a lumber yard or home center. Make sure it's as straight as possible. Then cut three pieces of 2 inch x 10 inch x 16 inches and glue them together using epoxy. Bam, you're ready to carve.


Oil-based prime sealer keeps the sap in, covers the knots, and makes a good surface for paint to adhere to, so use that first. Then, as you are painting, always refer to your duck photos as a guide for color and blending. Apply your paints using brushes of various sizes; you can mix in a sponge to show texture.

Get Competitive

Once your duck is complete, you can display it in your home, or enter it into numerous duck decoy competitions around the country. These competitions are highly competitive, and most carvers have years of experience, so don't worry if you don't win first prize on your first go-round.

Flickr - Harrison Group CC 2.0/Wikimedia

McDonald has seen the evolution of decoy styles through the years. When he started carving in the late 70's early 80's it was all about decorative carving for the shelf. But then, slowly, things swung back to carvers making working decoys, and right now it's the gunners (hunters) who dominate the contests.

How To Learn To Carve

Check your local hunting and sporting goods store for information regarding duck decoy carving classes. If you have none in your area, there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube that can help you get started. This hobby can be a great art project to be enjoyed by all members of the family. The video below is the first in a great series from Factory Field.

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