How to Carve a Duck Head

Written by jonah morrissey
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How to Carve a Duck Head
The head is a defining feature on wood carvings such as this duck. (duck decoy image by Julianna Olah from

Carving a duck head is part of the process of carving a duck decoy. The head is attached to the body of a decoy carving. Each kind of duck has a specific head profile. The shape of the head, eye positioning and bill shape are the defining elements of a duck's head. The head should be carved from the same type of wood as the body of the duck. Cedar is the standard wood used for most duck decoy carving. It is easy to carve and is naturally rot resistant.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 2-by-3-by-5-inch cedar block
  • Pencil
  • Band saw
  • Carving knife
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Wood finish
  • Finish applicator

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  1. 1

    Draw the side profile of the duck's head on one 3-by-5-inch surface of the cedar block. Pay particular attention to the shape of the head and bill and the positioning of the eye.

    Draw the top profile of the duck's head on the top 2-by-5-inch surface of the block, using the side profile as a guide to where the top of the head would be. The top profile should roughly depict the shape of the head as seen from an overhead angle, as if looking downward at the duck.

  2. 2

    Cut out the side profile on a band saw. Slowly feed the block through the saw as you guide it along the pencil lines. Cut out the top profile in the same manner.

  3. 3

    Cut small chips from the roughed-out head with a carving knife. Gradually define the round edges of the head and bill until you are satisfied with the overall shape. Carving small chips will result in a more smooth and detailed carving.

  4. 4

    Carve the details into the head. Although manufactured eyes are sometimes inserted into carvings, the eyes were traditionally carved directly into the wood. Make a shallow cut around the outline of the eye. Carve out a recess around the eye by cutting small slices away. The eye will now be raised. Cut at a slight angle around the edge of the raised part of the eye to round it out.

  5. 5

    Carve the details on the bill. Cut a small sliver of wood along the opening of the duck bill for the mouth. Carve out slender oval-shaped chips from the top of the bill where the nostrils are located.

  6. 6

    Sand the duck head with fine-grit sandpaper. Sand in the same direction as the wood grain.

  7. 7

    Apply a wood finish to the duck head. Allow the finish to dry prior to handling.

Tips and warnings

  • Achieve a smooth head-to-decoy body transition by drawing the entire body and cutting the head off the drawing to use as a carving template.
  • Wear eye protection when working with wood. Follow manufacturers' safety precautions when using power tools and woodworking equipment.

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