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Making custom foam decoys

Discussion in 'Decoy Forum' started by Woodduck31, Nov 25, 2021.

  1. Woodduck31

    Woodduck31 Elite Refuge Member

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    It's becoming a lost art. I think it would probably have been about 1968 that I was shaping and sanding on some of my dad's molded foam decoys. He was a professor in the Industrial Education Dept at what was then called Kansas State Teachers College. He and a couple of the teachers in his department made molds to make their own beaded foam decoys. It wasn't long before I figured they needed to represent species other than mallards.

    While there are a lot of foam decoy molders still, there aren't very many of us that still custom carve decoys. I really have no clue how many decoys I've carved out of foam, but I'm finishing up a couple dozen crane decoys now that will put me over 600 crane decoys over the past 8 or 9 years. By the way, crane decoys used to be fun, but not so much anymore. One thing I like about carving foam is being able to do so many different things with it.

    I've made quite a few hollow wood decoys, cork decoys, and foam decoys. I would rate the complexity this way. Cork would be the simplest and easiest. Hollow wood is pretty straight forward, takes a lot more time depending on the details, and foam is probably both the easiest and the hardest because of the number of steps involved. I think of it this way, you are shaping a wood or cork decoy, you are building a foam decoy. My first love in sculpting is wood carving, except for making decoys. I've been hunting over foam decoys since 1967 and making custom foam decoys since 2003. The first ones weren't great for sure, but figuring out how to make things more durable and more effective is always the goal. Although Caleb still does a little painting, neither of my boys make decoys. My plan is to create a thread here of the various processes I use to make foam decoys. I'm starting here with the process of making the decoy up to the point of flocking and painting. Later as time and health allows I'll create one on flocking/painting and one on some more advanced methods that I use to make mold ready originals. I'm going to have another 6 posts or so before I complete this part of the foamer process, so hang on a bit before posting any questions or comments.


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  2. Woodduck31

    Woodduck31 Elite Refuge Member

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    I used to make a lot of my bills out of apoxie sculpt, but decided to start molding them. It gave me a much stronger bill as well as the ability to have a lot of accurate custom made species. These photos show how the bills are installed and then begin to show how I position the head with gorilla glue to make special poses. Most of the photos in this series are of a shoveler.


    bills.jpg heads.jpg spoon7.jpg spoon1.jpg spoon2.jpg
     
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  3. joecitrano

    joecitrano Elite Refuge Member

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    so glad to see you back here! i learned a lot from your old posts!
     
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  4. Woodduck31

    Woodduck31 Elite Refuge Member

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    I do most of my carving with a 40 year old fillet knife that I used to clean grayling with, it still holds a sharp edge and has carved enough foam to fill a garage with chips. I used a lot of chips as filler when I shipped decoys. Once things are fairly roughed in I'll clean the decoy up with a rotary file and Kutzall.


    carvedfoam.jpg spoon 3.jpg spoon4.jpg spoon5.jpg spoon6.jpg
     
  5. Woodduck31

    Woodduck31 Elite Refuge Member

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    Did I say I hate burlapping. I start with a cutout for the head and a bigger one for the body. I prefer loose weave, but others like tight weave. I get my burlap from Home Depot as well as the acrylpro tile adhesive.


    gettingstarted.jpg bodyburlap.jpg adhesivehead.jpg headsplit.jpg slidingthesplit.jpg
     
  6. Woodduck31

    Woodduck31 Elite Refuge Member

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    Continuing with the burlap process. Smooth the topcoat with a wet brush trying to fill as much of the weave with tile adhesive as you can, but also squeegee out as much from under the burlap as possible to help it dry quicker and not leave pockets of tile adhesive under the burlap that take FOREVER to dry. Set the decoy in front of the fan for a day or two until dry and then sand the seams and any irregularities. Find yourself a place that you aren't going to light anything on fire and lightly run a torch over the frayed burlap and rub it till it's smooth. Be careful on the torching around the exposed foam at the bill connection, it will melt in a hurry.


    topsidefirstcoat.jpg barebottom.jpg icingbottom.jpg bottomspread.jpg
     

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  7. Woodduck31

    Woodduck31 Elite Refuge Member

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    Smooth the bottom in the same way, making sure to squeegee out the tile adhesive under the burlap. Lots of folks run into drying problems just because they leave pockets of tile adhesive under the burlap. It's about the same as putting the lid back on the bucket. Once the first coat is dry, a second thin coat of tile adhesive is applied and allowed to dry for a few days, then lightly sanded. Thin layers, thin layers, thin layers. I do couple of kinds of keels, the swim keel is just a 1/4 inch piece of composite fence slat, 3"x5" with the leading edge 3.5 inches behind the chest of a 16"x8" decoy. The swim keel decoys work best in what I call a bull front end and a decoy that size or bigger. Standard keels are composite decking, and you can also go with no keels at all and just install something in the bottom to tie your cord to. Keels are glued in with gorilla glue. The eyes, tails and bills are done with apoxie sculpt, even on the non burlapped light weight decoys. This colored apoxie shows it a little better.


    bottomfinish.jpg secondcoatfinish.jpg keelslot.jpg swimkeel.jpg apoxyeyes.jpg
     
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  8. Woodduck31

    Woodduck31 Elite Refuge Member

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    That kind of gets you through the basics, but I'm sure some things aren't that clear. Feel free to ask questions. Here is the final shoveler after flocking and paint. I have lots of finishing options that I'll try to get photos organized and posted up. I lost a lot of photos to photo bucket and to a computer melt down.


    spoonneck.jpg
     
  9. reddogge

    reddogge Elite Refuge Member

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  10. Woodduck31

    Woodduck31 Elite Refuge Member

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    I've been flocking a few decoys today and figured I might as well keep the process going. I use nylon flocking from Flockit.com.
    I only use four colors, black, feather brown, goose grey and on rare occasion, white.

    I have used the glue sold by a couple of flocking outlets and don't like either. I use rustoleum oil based enamels. I usually buy from Lowes because they are cheaper by the gallon than Home Depot. I only use gloss for flocking glue, flat doesn't stay wet long enough and also is not as durable. You can also use gloss for mixing airbrush paints with 100% mineral spirits. Painting over flocking with gloss will not be glossy allowing you to mix a wide range of colors. The gloss rustoleum is also the sealer for my decoys.

    I apply flocking with a simple kitchen sieve. I've used the air assist, the ketchup bottles and there just isn't a more efficient way than the kitchen sieve. I have large tubs to reclaim the material that sifts off and I also use an exhaust system to draw floating particles out of the air, but don't work in an area where there is a breeze. I wear a respirator, (not a dust mask or covid mask-they don't do anything). You will notice the difference when you realize the lack of paint odor while you are working.

    Put your paint on thick, almost to the point of running. I work from the tail to the head so that the paint will be the most wet on the head when flocking is applied. You tend to have paint run into the eyes or onto the bill if you start with the head.
     
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