Monday 9 July 2018
The object of this project is to carve an antique style shorebird decoy that has a worn and used appearance, but nonetheless exhibits the years of care it may have received in the hands of collectors.
The subject is a whimbrel – a close relative of the curlew which is found in the very north of Scotland, on the Orkneys and Shetland isles in particular. Also found in America, it is known as the Hudsonian curlew due to its once large numbers in the Hudson Bay.
One of the best things about old hunting lures is that they were often carved out of whatever wood was available, usually cedars or pines, and you could cut the body and head for this carving out of a standard 100 x 100mm (4 x 4in) cedar (Cedrus spp) fence post from a DIY store, or as here, a piece of reclaimed pine (Pinus spp).
Using the templates
Draw around the body pattern and cut out the side and top profile on a bandsaw. With the table tilted at 45 degrees, remove the bulk waste – this will save you a lot of carving time, however don't be tempted to remove too much as you can't stick it back on again if you take off too much
Carving the body and wing
Work the body into the round using a rotary carbide cutter in a flexi-drive, or use whatever hand tools you are most comfortable with
In the final carving one wing will be lowered, leaving only one group of primary feathers to be seen raised in profile. Remove half of this area and undercut with a small chisel to form one set of raised primaries. Next, sand the whole body with 80grit abrasive
Cut the wing from 50 x 150mm planking and draw onto the wood, with the grain running top to bottom to provide strength for this thinner piece of the carving. In side profile, the line should form a curve through the depth of the wood – thinner at the wingtip then thickening and steeper in the curve towards the top
Next, cut the wing in the side and top profile before shaping the front with the same cutter as before, changing to a ball nosed cutter for the inside curve
Decide on the position of the exposed wing – 30mm (1 1/8in) of the way down the body from the centreline. Draw onto the wood around the exact shape of the upper wing. Use this line to create a stop cut up to which you can carve the recess to receive the wing, with a small chisel. Glue the wing in place and sand to the contour of the body
Carving the head and neck
Draw around the side profile of the head and neck, using the same wood as the body, ensuring the pattern runs with the grain. With the side profile cut out, transfer the front view to the wood, marking up very clear centrelines for the neck and head. Notice how the head is cocked to one side to allow for the preening position
Round up the head and neck and using a utility knife, undercut the lower cheeks to complete the roundness of the head as it tucks up to the neck. Sand the whole area ready to receive the eyes
Access to the front of the face where the bill will be inserted is tight because of its angle to the neck, and the hole must be prepared now to help with eye placement. As access is restricted, drill from the back
Carve in the eye groove a third of the way down the head from the centreline. This will create the upper cheeks of the face, define the crown and provide the eye channel. Visualise the bird looking down the eye groove and along the line of the upper bill
With coarse sandpaper, round the cheeks and crown into the eye groove. About a third of the way back along each groove, prepare a hole for 7mm black, round glass eyes – the holes should be slightly bigger than the eye. Fill the hole with two-part plastic wood and press the eye home. Allow to set, and trim off the excess
A dowel joint can be prepared and glued up to join this section to the body. When set, the final shaping can be done. Sand the whole bird to ensure a smooth flow from head to tail
Burning for ageing techniques
The concept for this piece is that it has been an old working decoy and as such, will have had some pretty rough treatment. It would have been thrown in a bag and taken to the shoreline, stuck into the sand, battered by the sea, and shot over in all types of weather. We, however, have a much shorter time to try and create this look and the first thing we can do is make the wood appear older than it is. The harsh conditions will have made the wood swell in wet conditions and dry out again in the warm sun, leaving the harder growth rings and knots raised, and the softer growth sunken, whilst in other sections the wood will have split and cracked.
Burn the wood with a propane/butane torch. Do this in a safe environment
Remove the burnt wood with a wire brush. Notice how the softer growth has burnt away and the harder growth rings remain raised above them. Sand the bird with 240grit abrasive to remove scratches
The paints available to the old time decoy makers were restricted, and so I have limited the choice to burnt umber (brown), black, white and the shades that can be made by mixing them.
The paint is at first block painted into basic areas. The back is a mix of brown and black; the sides and chest are brown and white; and the uppermost section of the wing is stippled with a slightly darker blend of the brown and white mix – this last area will be the background colour for the upper wing markings
To soften the edges of the block painting, stipple the edges into each other back and forth a few times, using both mixes of paint
Continue with this stippling technique on the upper wing, using both of the main mixes. Leave some of the background colour to show through
With a finer brush, add the body markings to the back, rump and tail. Move forward to the head, neck and chest and, using two or three tonal changes, add the markings in a random way – close together on the head and upper neck, and less so as you move down the chest, stopping at the lower chest
Fitting the bill
The bill is made from a 6mm (1/4in) steel rod, cut to 160mm (6 1/4in), and shaped in a simple former made from scrap wood. Hammer back and forth until a smooth curve is achieved. Finish off by rounding one end and painting the whole bill black. To help with adhesion, mix a little bit of Super Glue into the paint and apply with an old brush
Insert the bill through the pre-drilled hole and glue into place. Fill any gaps with plastic wood and clean up the area with a knife and sandpaper
The final stage
Having already aged the wood beneath the painting, it is time to start rubbing your hard work off again with fine grade sandpaper or wire wool.
At this stage the carving and the paint still look a little fresh, so it needs to get dirty, resembling 90 or so years of being oiled, polished and handled, or to put it another way, a patina.
Use an antiquing wax, rubbed well into the paint and wood â€“ dark oak or antique pine make a good choice. Leave some wax in the hard to get to places as it would build up there anyway over time, and polish the rest off.
All that remains is to present the piece for viewing on a suitable base. I have used an old herring net float and a shell, however, driftwood or a plain black base would be suitable, and you will have a decoy carving that in another 100 years, will be an antique in its own right.