I would like to extend a big thanks to Tom Matus for his allowing me to show his techniques. Tom is a world-class carver and his ability to teach carving in simple terms and explanations is exemplary. His devotion to his art and work is evident in the care and look each of his carvings undertake. Tom has authored and published an excellent book on carving a mallard decoy step-by-step available at his website along with a forum for questions and answers.
Select stock, transfer pattern, and drill eye reference
After you have chosen a pattern to cut, measure the dimensions and select your stock. It is very important to select a piece of wood that has enough “meat” to achieve your pattern and have about 3/16” on each side. After you have chosen your stock you must square the block to achieve symmetry. In these pictures Tom has transferred the pattern to the blank and is cutting the blank to size.
The next step is to drill the eyehole for reference, as shown in the right photo.
Cut head profiles
The next step is to cut the head on the bandsaw. The first cut is to the top profile leaving “stop cuts” at the cheek area. The pieces will not fall off the blank if cut correctly. The second cut is to the side profile. Again, you have several “stop cuts” on the bill area where the lower mandible meets the upper, where the culmen area is, and where the lower bill meets the head. At this point you finish connecting all the cuts to release the scrap.
Define head shape
After the head is cut out start to define the width at the eyes and shape the head to the lines drawn. For this step we used a die grinder with a foot petal and Kutzall bit to remove the large amount of wood.
At this point the head is rough cut to size and shape and has no detail. Take your measurements from the pattern with a pair of calipers and leave 4mm more for final carving and sanding. You should define the eye pocket, head width, bill width and shape, and neck. Generally the shape will round and the major anatomical features defined. Do not touch the cheek area with the tools, only define and shape.
Cut body profile
The next step in the carving process is the body of the bird. Basically, you follow the same process as with the head in transferring the pattern to the block. Add your centering lines and cut the top profile with the “stop cuts” and safe cuts.
Flip the bird on edge and cut the side profile.
Complete the thru cuts and you have a fairly good rough bird. To save time and wear on tools the next process should be to remove extra wood on the angle from the side pockets up to the primaries. This is done by tilting the bandsaw table at a 45 degree angle and removing along the same profile lines as the side profile. Be careful to not remove too much and use your lines from the pattern. As stated “you can’t draw too much on a bird to get the idea.” Now if you wanted a real simple gunner you could just round this shape out and paint the detail on.
Blend head to body
Attach the head temporarily with a long screw and blend the head to the body in the neck area.
Cut side pockets
Then round the hard lines from the saw starting on the top and working towards the sides. Keep checking for symmetry and work to the lines drawn.
Then cut the side pocket lines in up to the rear near the area that the leg will be. This is sort of a long lazy “s” cut. This is also a deep cut to define the areas. Use your pattern for dimensions. Now blend the hard lines down and smooth out. Then remove the wood from the rump and tail areas and smooth out. This is what it should look like with just a little sanding.
The final carving steps are some finish sanding, hollowing, inserting the eyes, and sealing for paint.