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  Antique Style Duck Decoys

By Tom Matus

Reviewed by Mike Bloomquist


 Serendipity that's what it is.  Serendipity.  Neat word don't you think?  I like it, although I probably don't use it quite correctly.  According to a quick scan of on-line dictionaries it's a happy, accidental discovery of something that you weren't really looking for. I tend to think of serendipity as a series of happy accidental discoveries and occurrences that, when taken together, smack of fortuitous fate.  Fate sounds too deep, serious, and philosophical, so I prefer to misuse the more playful word, serendipity. 

Psssst!  For you readers who are still with me, Thank You.  You must realize that the deep, serious, and philosophical  readers have, by now, skipped ahead a couple paragraphs to where they know (from experience) the actual book review starts.  Ahem!  Anyway, my brother-in-law has been hounding me to carve him a wood duck since he discovered I could carve.  You realize this is not a regular commission.  I'm supposed to carve this purely out of gratitude for him being my brother-in-law.  I'm sure most of you have had one of these inside-the-family commissions.  It can't be that unusual.  So along comes this this book review assignment, and the book is all about carving and painting a wood duck decoy.  Then, not long after that, I win a raffle item at the Erie Canal Woodcarver's annual picnic.  And the raffle item is?... a full size wood duck blank.  Serendipity for sure.  I guess it's time to carve a wood duck. 


This won't be the first.  My first wood duck was also an inside-the-family job that my mother promised her cousin I would carve for her.  This was a different situation.  When I was young, my family would spend at least one week each summer camping at my uncle's picnic area outside Emporium, Pa.  The only kid in the family that was my age was the son of this cousin of my mother.  I got to spend over-nighters at his place and together we raised a little.... well, sometimes we got into small amounts of.... ummmm, I owed this woman a wood duck, at least.  In the end, she was very thrilled with it, which, at that point in my carving experience, made me extremely relieved.  So, even though bird carving is not my forte, I'm somewhat better qualified to review this bird carving book then most. 

The Highlights:

This book was serious, but it wasn't.  It was serious about reproducing an antique duck decoy, but not serious about the duck being biologically correct on a microscopic level.  This means there was no wood burning, texturing, or fine detailing of the more subtle feather groups, but a lot of attention was paid to painting techniques.  Let's face it, a decoy is meant to lure a particular breed of duck into shooting range, not leave a ornithologist glassy eyed and short of breath.  Also staying with the purpose of the book was the serious collection of "distressing" techniques,  torching, beating with chains, dropping the finished carving on gravel, wrapping it with decoy lines and further beatings with a ball peen hammer, all meant to simulate the age marks a decoy would exhibit after several seasons of hunting and storage.  There was a great section on carving wooden eyes and another section on the various glass eyes that were available.  The photography and layout in all areas of the book was phenomenal.  The step-by-steps were clear and in synch with the text and supportive of the text, and there are a couple of very artistic still-life hunting scenes.  Finally, there was my favorite part of the book, the painting schedule and instruction.  It seems very detailed, complete, and unambiguous.  Several years ago, when I carved and painted my first wood duck, I paid more than the price of this book for a booklet on just painting the wood duck.  That guide was not even half as well done as the painting schedule in "Antique Style Duck Decoys".

A brief tour:

About the Author



Chapter 1: Getting Started

Chapter 2: Carving the Decoy

Chapter 3: Aging the Wood

Chapter 4: Painting

Chapter 5: Antiquing



Nit Picks:

Two minor ones.  First, the layout and photography (Tom is actually one of the photographers as well as the author) credits are not prominent enough.  Second, there is no discussion of alternative holding devices other than a brief mention of a horse head clamp which had no description, picture, or source.


This is a four thumber with one major qualifier.  Many of the sections are very applicable to other carvings of antique decoys, but if you never intend to carve at least one wood duck, you have immediately lost 60% or more of this book.   The gallery has a nice sampling of the art, sections on carving a wooden eye and distressing would map easily to other projects, but the reference photos of live birds and most of the painting instructions are 100% wood duck.

OK Gang, keep them edges keen, the chips piled high, and your feathers well oiled.  Mean while, I need to start carving a wood duck because he is a pretty good brother-in-law.


Keep on Carvin'
-Mike Bloomquist->

Mike's mugMike Bloomquist is a carver and carving teacher, and a regular contributor to WOM.

You may visit Mike's web site, Wooden Dreams Woodcarving HERE or email him at m.bloomquistATverizonDOTnet.