Making Duck Calls

David Schneider

Making Duck Calls is a fairly easy project and moderately inexpensive as far as materials go. The hard part is tuning the call to sound like it should. (Hopefully your call will sound like a Duck or Goose rather than a sick cow.)

A word of caution: More time can be spent on tuning your call than the time it took to make it. I became interested in Duck calls at Christmas of 1998. I had given several wood turned Christmas presents when one of my nephews asked if I could turn Duck calls. I asked him what they looked like (I am not a hunter) and he got out several that he, his brothers and Dad use for duck hunting. One was made of Cocobolo and was missing the insert (dropped in the water when hunting.) By looking at the pieces it was obvious that turning was not a problem, but little did I know that the tuning would make up for that. This was also an excellent opportunity for me to get my 3 nephews interested in woodturning, so we decided that that was going to be a project for all of us.

The first thing I noticed was that the calls were similar but not exactly the same. ( I should mention that these were all commercially sold calls, not handmade.) One of the major differences was how the Insert was constructed. As I was to learn in this process, they were either "3 piece inserts" or "4 piece inserts". Lets take a look at a finished call and learn the terminology.

There are many types of calls but the Duck Calls we will be discussing are of two major pieces called the "Barrel" and the "Insert" with the insert being either a "3 piece insert" or a "4 piece insert" and a Single Reed. The upper picture shows a Rosewood Call I made with the insert in the barrel ready for calling. The Rosewood Insert picture shows a "4 piece insert" which we will be referring to for the rest of the article:

  • Insert
  • Sound Board
  • Reed
  • Wedge

A "3 piece insert" has the Insert and the Sound Board as a single integral part. The first calls I made were of this type but I found that when doing the shaping on the sound board, which is critical, if you did not get it right, you had to throw the whole piece away. After 2 or 3 of these experiences I started looking for a better way of making the sound board. I first tried wood, which worked Okay, but then I thought about the commercial versions and how they had their parts molded. As we are not going to mass produce calls but still want them to be as functional in the field as the commercial calls, why not use plastic. I went to a plastic dealer in town and ended up buying a 3 foot length of 1/2" Outside diameter acrylic with a 1/4" Inside diameter. After experimenting with different cuts, I ended up with a sound board which we will be discussing in the construction of the call.

Materials List:

  • Dense hardwoods Walnut, Maple Cherry, Cocobolo, Rosewood, Ebony…etc, 1 3/4" sq x 4" (Preferably Cocobolo, Ebony, Rosewood because of the density of the wood and its characteristics of taking on less moisture in a short period of time as compared to less dense woods.)
  • A strip of cork 1" x 1" (For the Wedge)
  • A length of 1/2" Acrylic tubing or turn a piece of wood to 1/2" O.D. x 1/4" I.D.
  • A strip of mylar for the reed 3/4" x 2 1/2" - (.010"/.25mm thick) to fit the Sound board
  • Home made Mandrel or Pen Mandrel (Tapered plugs for 3/8" and 5/8" bores)
  • Home made dowel holders for 5/8" and 3/8"

The barrel pieces are cut to 1 ½ x 4 inches with a 5/8 inch hole bored in the middle. The inserts are cut to 1 1/4" x 4 inches and bored in a two step process: 1. Drill a 1/2" hole 1/2" deep. (This is to hold the sound board in place) 2. Drill a 3/8" hole all the way through the insert from the 1/2" inset side (This is the tone channel).

Attach a barrel blank to the mandrel on the lathe with the tapered plugs in each end.

Rough and shape the barrel to a graceful shape that is pleasing to you

Sand the barrel while it is on the lathe with 100, 150, 240, 320, 400, 600 grit. After you are done sanding, remove the barrel from the Mandrel and place it on a dowel that is 5/8" in diameter and so the dowel will not protrude through to the other end. (I use a OneWay Chuck and chuck the dowel, than put the barrel on it.) If the barrel is to loose, wrap the dowel with a thickness of toilet tissue to keep the barrel from spinning. Finish turn one end of the barrel, reverse the barrel and finish turn the other end. Your Barrel is now done except for a finish.

The insert is a bit more complicated. First , the insert blank is turned on the lathe much like the barrel was, with 3/8" tapered plugs, only this piece has a straight taper on the sound board end so it will fit tightly into the barrel. Place it on a dowel so the Bell end is facing towards you and finish the Bell end. Do Not do anything with the sound board end

 Sound Board End View Now comes the tricky part. A 3" length of the Acrylic tube is held in hand screw or Quick Clamp and then cut on a bandsaw a little over two inches long, lengthwise and offset so that 60% of the diameter ends up on one side. Then crosscut the piece so that it is 2" long. This is our sound board and we now have to put the radius on the. "The radius is the most important part of the call, because the reed must lay properly on the sounding board." There is no magical formula that I have come up with to create the radius but this is how I start out. I mark out 3/8" back from one end and then by eye round off the end on a 1"x42" belt sander. When I feel it is right, then comes the hard part of tuning.

After the sounding board is shaped, we will cut a piece of mylar for the reed and a small piece of cork that holds the reed in place. (Start with the mylar is about 2 inches long and 3/8 inch wide, with the top two corners snipped off just a little at 45 degree angles. The cork should be cut to fill the area above the sound board and reed so that it will effectively seal the tone chamber and hold the reed and sound board in place. Once the reed and cork are in place, we will begin the process of tuning the call. (Press here for the accompanying article for tuning your call.)

After tuning, I usually use a lacquer finish and put a lanyard on both ends to hold and prevent losing either of the major parts.

If you have any comments or questions I can be reached at:

David Schneider
Quiet Elegance Woodturning
16777 Thatcher Rd
Eden Prairie, MN 55347

Walnut Duck Call below by David Schneider
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