Introduction: Homemade Wooden Duck Call

This is a project that I have long wanted to do. I was born in the midwest and as such grew up hunting and fishing. Unfortunately when I moved away to Florida at a young age there was no more hunting though I do get to fish still. My father paid me a surprise visit during a festival I put together and we got to talking. I asked if he could send me an old duck call so I could use it as a template to make my own from scratch. Many turners buy kits and just make the mouthpiece and buy the soundboard insert. I wanted to make mine completely from scratch including the hard part which is the insert. So if you too would like to make your own call lets get started.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

I am going to describe this project as a wood turning project. I would like to point out though that not having a lathe doesn't mean you can't make this project. If you have a way to drill holes and shape wood you could make this call in another way and while I am not going to describe that this instructable should give you enough information to allow you to replicate it without the expensive of a lathe and related tools.


  1. 2" x 6" turning stock (I used walnut you could use any hardwood you like or even plastics)
  2. 3/4" x 5" pen blank (doesn't have to be the same kind of wood and again could be plastic could also be a larger piece if you want to get fancier than I did with the sound insert)
  3. Sand paper (I would go up to at least 400 but could go higher as this is something you are putting on your mouth and holding in your hand often so a nice smooth finish is important)
  4. Boiled Linseed Oil
  5. Finish (you could use poly, tung oil, various waxes or friction polishes this is really just a personal choice)
  6. Tape of some kind (I used painters really doesn't matter just used to mark a drill bit)
  7. Flat firm but flexible plastic of some sort for the reed (I used the packaging from batteries you could also use metal or wood for a reed anything that is firm but flexible and thin really)


  1. Lathe
  2. Small spindle gouge and/or a skew
  3. Jacobs chuck (of course you could use a drill press instead)
  4. 60 degree live center
  5. Chuck with jaws that can hold 2" spindle stock and spigot/pin jaws that can fit in a 1/2" hole and that can hold a pen blank.
  6. 1/2" Forstner bit
  7. 5/16" Drill bit (preferably not a brad point)
  8. Scissors (or tin snips if you make your reed out of metal instead)
  9. A thin kerf saw (I used a jewelers saw but a coping saw, band saw, dovetail saw, scroll saw would work too)
  10. Pencil

Step 2: Understanding the Parts of a Duck Call

A duck call is basically a reed instrument like a clarinet or saxophone. The difference is that you don't actually put your mouth on the reed like you would a musical instrument. So lets first take a look at the parts.

The Barrel:

This is the mouthpiece. It is what you blow into and is basically a tube no matter how fancy you make the outside at the end of the day a piece of pvc pipe with the same internal diameter could basically fit the bill. Most (like the one I made here) also have beading to accommodate a lanyard so you can wear the call around your neck. Since it's the biggest most visible part this is what usually is the most decorated (carving, coloring, beading etc)

The Keg:

The keg is the whole smaller assembly that fits into the barrel. It is often refered to as the "insert" or "soundboard insert" (see the longer small piece in the photo above) This part gets trickier as there are more than one type. It is also the most important part of a good call as it is the part that actually produces the sound (which is the whole object of the exercise right?). You can have single reed, double reed, the way the reed is seated and held in place can vary etc. I won't get into all the various options and you can actually just buy these (many turners do) in plastic and only make a fancy barrel. That isn't the point of this instructable as we want to make the whole thing. So I will list the other parts of the specific call we are making (a single reed mallard call) which comprise the insert.

The Voice Through:

This is the hole that goes through the end of the keg and and onto the soundboard.

The Reed:

This is the bit that makes it all happen. It is a small thin material (as mentioned earlier can be plastic, metal, wood etc) which is stiff but flexible. The air blows over it causing it to vibrate (the white piece in the photo above is an example).

The Wedge:

In this design it is a piece we will cut out after turning the keg. It will wedge into the barrel and hold the reed in place. (see the small wooden piece on the right in the picture above).

Reed Dogs:

These are the raised edges that the wedge pushes down on and to hold the reed in place.

So when this is all assembled you blow in the barrel, air travels over the reed seated in the the keg. That vibrates the reed and allows it to pass through the voice through and produce the sound.

A number of things can affect the sound like

  1. The length of the reed
  2. The position of the end of the reed to the start of the voice through channel
  3. The diameter of the voice through channel
  4. The thickness and flexibility of the reed
  5. The length of the voice through channel
  6. The curvature of the reed dogs as they approach the voice through channel

To name a few... ultimately there are a number of parts that work together to make the sound and some adjustment is often required to get it right.

So if I haven't bored you to death with the details lets get started building this thing.

Step 3: Making the Barrel (or Mouthpiece)

Now if you are going to buy an insert you only have to make this part and if you are doing that then you will need to follow the instructions for the right diameter to fit the insert you are going to make. For us though we are making it all and we are going to start with a piece of 2" turning stock. I use 6" length but we will be making the call about 3 1/2" long so you could get away with a smaller length. So lets go through the steps (if you're an experience turner and want to do things different feel free but here is how I go about it without requiring some special mandrel)

  1. Mount your 2" turning stock in your jaws
  2. Rough turn your blank to round
  3. Install your jacobs chuck with a 1/2" forstner bit and drill in at least 3 1/2" inches (if your bit wont reach that far, you don't have an extension have no fear drill as far as you can, part your blank far enough down you can fit the other side (now true) into your jaws remount in that direction and drill from the other side as long as you haven't reallllyyyyy flubbed it up somehow you should get a nice true hole to join up and being perfect here isn't critical anyway)
  4. Swap back to your 60 degree push up into the hole
  5. Mark out your 3 1/2" inches and start shaping your call. Go crazy do what you like. I personally stuck with a traditional tapered shape. I prefer to use a skew for this work but do what you like.
  6. Back out your 60 degree pull your rest around and taper your fatter end that the insert will slide into (not a lot just make it so your wedge will (being tapered in the opposite direction) seat easier with more surface area contact.
  7. Sand it up, start finishing it (I used a dowel with paper wrapped around it VERY CAREFULLY to sand the inside)
  8. Now part at your 3 1/2" mark
  9. Throw on your spigot/pin jaws put your now hollow blank the opposite way and expand your jaws so you can finish the other side.
  10. Boom done

You may want to do a burn in like I did. When shaping cut your bead where you want the lanyard then take a thin piece of wood (bit thicker than normal veneer I have small cut offs I use) and place in the groove from below and apply pressure (I use the bed as a brace to help) til it starts to burn. Others make strings or wire they use but be careful on a lathe with that approach fingers can be lost/damaged that way.

Step 4: Making the Keg (or Soundboard Insert)

Ok this is the most import part of the call as it will be what will produce the sound (well with the addition of the reed from the next step). As I mentioned in materials I just used a 3/4" pen blank you can use something bigger if you want to make a flared end or make a more bulbous shape. What really matters is the hole we will be drilling and the taper that will allow it to be fit into the barrel while holding the wedge in place.

  1. Mount your blank
  2. Turn to round
  3. Square off your end facing the tail stock
  4. Take your pencil and mark the following starting from the tail stock
    1. 1 1/4" This will be the bulbous part sticking out the end of your call you can shape this how you like
    2. From that mark 5/8" this will be the mark for the wedge
    3. 1 1/2" from that mark this will be where you part it and the end of the insert
  5. Now start to shape your insert so that it will wedge into your barrel and the 5/8" mark is what will be wedged the most. Look at the pics above with the yellow piece of plastic that will make it more visually clear. Using some calipers will help here.
  6. Get your shape start finishing (not completely yet but get it sanded to where you want it etc
  7. Time to drill. I like to lay my bit out on the turning rather than add up all the measurements. I take a piece of tape to mark on the drill so I know how far to extend the quill. You want to leave about 1/4" or so from the end of the turning (where you marked to part it) as we don't want to drill all the way on this. Also as mentioned earlier we don't want to use a brad point for this. Now drill to that depth.
  8. Finish the piece including any sanding on the drilling
  9. Part the piece off

Now we want to get our wedge and make our soundboard

  1. Depending on what you are going to use to saw this (remember small kerf here) make a cut just off center straight down the blank to the first mark we made on the lathe.
  2. Next make a cut perpendicular into the smaller side of the off center cut at the second mark we made. Discard the cut off (see above if this the explanation is confusing)
  3. Next make another cut perpendicular on the small side. This will be your wedge save this piece it's important.
  4. Now we want to shape our sound board. We will do this with sandpaper (or a file and sandpaper if your impatient). We want a curve bending up from where the insert goes into the barrel which slopes toward the wedge. Please look at the pictures above to help illustrate this. You want the reed to be able to seat like the pictures. (see next section on making the reed and have one handy when you are doing this bit)
  5. Before you apply a finish to this section you will want to insert your reed, assemble your call, and make adjustments as needed. Remember the length of the reed, the position of it relative to the channel, the slope of the channel etc all play a role so I can't tell you a magic trick just try to get your reed looking like above and adjust it slightly til you get the sound you want before you finish this section.

Step 5: Making the Reed

So we have our call built and all sorts of sexy right? Well it's not the least bit useful without this little bit. The reed is what vibrates and creates our sound. The material I used was the clear plastic from a package of batteries (doesn't photo so well so used the one my dad sent me with the photo). It's 1 7/8" long (though depending on how good your measuring/cutting was it needs to be able to seat so yours may be shorter). This one is 5/8" wide at the flat of the back but this needs to seat between your rails and doesn't have to be exact just has to be able to be seated. it tapers to 3/8" and a rounded edge on the front. You can see in the pictures above. Remember for this the stiffness, length, and material can all matter. Be creative. Once you have it try moving it forward or back to get the sound you want and ensure it's firmly pressed in place by the wedge.

Step 6: In Conclusion

So I was very happy to have finally made a call and for it to be as successful as it was out of the gate. I hope you are as successful and experiment and make something fun even if you aren't a hunter being able to call birds is pretty cool. Please throw me a vote (man I could use that lathe since mine just died on me) if you found this instructable useful. Also if you do make one please remember to come back and hit "I made it" I love seeing when someone was inspired and love seeing what they come up with. If you have hints or advice for people making one that I failed to cover here please chime in with comments. Til next time Happy Making.

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