Wood Carving Fish Decoys

cat food fish decoyIce fishing decoys are a great beginner’s wood carving project, and even more fun for the advanced wood carver.   The classic decoy was created as a spear fishing lure and although some were carved by professionals, most were hand-made at home with what ever supplies were on hand.

You only need a good quality steel short-bladed bench knife, a small and large round gouge, several basswood blocks, and some 16-gauge copper wire.  The fin material can be anything from copper sheet, cat food can lids, scrap leather, and even chip board.  So, let’s have some fun!

The white and yellow Cat Food Can Decoy is our working project sample.

For more wood carving fish decoy ideas, please visit our Fish Decoy Gallery!

ice fishing decoySupplies:

bench knife or chip carving knife
1″ x 2″ x 2″ block of basswood
round gouge
yellow wood glue
2 – aluminum cat food can lids

Historically, these decoys were working tools, meant to bring meat to the table and not meant as works of art.  As your browse the net for more examples you will discover their folk art form, shape, and coloring.  As you work your first decoy, remember that an original decoy has rough cuts, ragged edges, and often shows the cut planes made from the carver’s knife.  You do not need to be a perfect wood carver to create wonderful fish decoys.

Once your decoy is carved there is a variety of options to how you want to finish the decoy.  In the samples below the simple ice fishing decoy can become the bases for a Celtic knot carving, pyrography work, scrapbook paper decoupage, and even an American Indian line carving.  This is an art form where you can create “outside the box” of realistic bodies and detailed scale patterns.

Celtic Knot Fish Decoy Pyrography Fish Decoy
Scrapbook fish decoy  Indian Fish Decoy


create the fish decoy body pattern

Safety First!

This fish decoy project is worked on a very small basswood block which means that your holding hand will always be within the range of your knife blade.  I strongly suggest that during the carving you use either a Kevlar carving glove or heavy terry cloth towel to protect your hand and fingers. 

Because both gloves and terry cloth towels cover so much of a carving, during my photography I remove both to give you a clear picture of the cut in progress.  Please see Step 10 to see how I work with a towel as protection from cuts.

Step 1

Basswood practice blocks vary widely in dimensions.  any rectangular block will do nicely for this free project.

Using a pencil, draw a simple body shape on the side of your basswood block.  Make the top edge of your body pattern into a long, low arch.  The bottom edge is a tighter arch the has a belly area at the mid-point of the length of the block.  The mouth area of the face should be placed above the center point of the height of the block – a fish decoy has more body below the mouth area than above it.  The base of the tail should be approximately 1/2″ wide at this stage to allow room for the tail fin.

Learn more about wood carving – Transferring your Pattern

carve the basic shape of the bodyStep 2

Begin by honing the edge of your bench knife to insecure you have a sharp edge.  For protection during the carving use a thumb guard, Kevlar carving glove, or hold your wood in a thick terry cloth towel.

Using the bench knife, shape the body along the pencil pattern lines, cutting along the narrow sides of the block.

Learn more about wood carving – Sharpening your Knives

Shaping the body of a wood carved fish decoyStep 3

This first cutting stroke is called a paring cut, done exactly as you would pare the skin of a potato. Hold the knife low to the wood to create long, thin cutting strokes.




cutting the basic body of a fish decoyStep 4

Carve the bottom edge of the basswood blank to create the general profile of the fish decoy’s belly.  Use the same low angled paring cut with your bench knife.




1 thought on “Wood Carving Fish Decoys”

  1. Pingback: Wood Carving Techniques | LSIrish.com

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