Newbie advice

Willy Boy

New member

I have been duck hunting for about 3 seasons in the Texas public marshes near Freeport area. I am in my mid-twenties and have some free time for hobbies so I am trying to learn what I can about carving my own decoys this off season. I primarily hunt over 1-3 dozen teal, pintail, and mallard hen plastic decoys that are old with chipped paint (they were passed down to me for free). They work fine but I would enjoy the pride of hunting with my own decoys. I normally only see pintail, teal, shovelers, and the occasion gadwall in the public marshes I hunt. I enjoy the work of public marshes and cannot afford guided/lease fees. I think it would be incredibly rewarding and satisfying to hunt over decoys that I make myself.

I have a limited budget for this new hobby and plan to buy a coping saw, rasp, sandpaper, and maybe a chisel to carve (I may buy a Dremel too if I can find an affordable one) trying to keep my tools at around or below $100 before I buy materials. I already have some whittling knifes and whittling experience. I am not doing this to save money, but will be budget restricted on my tools and materials. I am hoping to carve 1-2 decoys a month starting in Feb, in hopes that I have about 2 dozen to hunt over next season. I live in an apartment with a small patio where I plan to carve so I also dont have room for large equipment such a band saw.

Any advice on wood vs cork? I know the opinion is split, but as far as a beginner with hands tools, which would work best for carving serviceable decoys that will need to be able to survive being in brackish water, being loaded into a plastic sled for transport, and occasion windy days? I dont expect my decoys to win any awards, but looking decent enough to decoy birds and sturdy enough to hold up to the elements is my main goal.

I will probably focus on carving teal and shovelers at first.
With a rasp, you can fairly easily and quickly shape a cork body. If I were looking to keep the tool budget down initially, I think I would start with cork because that is (IMO) easier to begin learning how to shape birds with. Plus, you can get away with using a rasp and perhaps some knives or gouges that you might already have. I can't think of why you might need a chisel for carving bodies but that's because I don't use a chisel for heads or bodies. Heads you can use knives and gouges quite handily. Sandpaper you will likely want regardless of wood or cork bodies.

One thing you might consider is buying blanks of heads and bodies. You wouldn't really need a coping saw if you used cork blanks. You could just use your rasp. I'm not sure if there is a big price difference between buying sheets of cork or blanks. There probably is but it's been a while since I've bought blanks vs cork.

If you have friends with a bandsaw you might be able to go over and learn to use it and cut your own heads and bodies. Another thing you might look into is if there is a local carving club near you. Or a Woodcraft. Many times carvers at the clubs are very happy to share knowledge and tools so you might be able to cut your blanks that way. I would imagine that at least one person would have a bandsaw in their garage. My Woodcraft in Jacksonville used to allow people to use their big shop equipment for a fee, but I can't recall how it worked. If there is one local to you, they might have a similar policy.

If there is a local carving club, you will really benefit from it. I know that I got to use a lot of different hand tools because people in the club were happy to let me try out a new gouge or knife or chisel or V tool. Then I could decide whether to get one of my own. Plus, my skills improved vastly working with people who have been carving a long time versus just trying it out on my own. Also, it kept me motivated when I was getting frustrated with something.

Welcome to the site!!!


Welcome to the DHBP!
Always wanted to hunt the Texas coast, I hear the open water over there is great for redheads and scaup too. I hunted Trinity Bay east of Houston a couple of times with a buddy, mostly teal.
The only decoys I ever carved have been foam, followed by a coating of burlap and tile mastic. Very easy to carve and a great way to learn.
Good luck on your new hobby. Post this on the main forum too, you might get more responses.
Hand tools are great. A foredom tools is a big step up. Check out the local carving clubs and DU, good source for wood, tools and carvers. Look for carving competitions, try to take a carving class and watch utube videos. Try to find floatsom foam and rasp out some bodies for practice.
it is a matter of availability of materils! If cedar or sugar pine are cheaper, use them Problem with cork is availability of the material, so shipping doesnt kill you!