Coon Rapids man teaches art of decoy carving to kids

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.


For the past four years, a Coon Rapids man has volunteered his time to teach kids the art of carving decoys used by hunters or homeowners looking for some northwoods home decor.

Coon Rapids resident David Jacobs started teaching kids the art of carving decoys four years ago. His next class starts Oct. 11 and happens every Tuesday evening until the end of October. Photo by Eric Hagen
Coon Rapids resident David Jacobs started teaching kids the art of carving decoys four years ago. His next class starts Oct. 11 and happens every Tuesday evening until the end of October. Photo by Eric Hagen

David Jacobs tried band and sports when he was a kid but found his true talent in art. He was disappointed when he heard five years ago that the Minnesota Decoy Collectors Association was going to be discontinuing a Youth Waterfowl Decoy Carving Contest. The contest came back this past February, but in the meantime Jacobs has been leading about 10 students a year in a local class where there is no cost to participate.

“I saw it as an opportunity lost to not have the kids be able to do this,” Jacobs said.

Cross Point Church, 10936 Foley Blvd. NW, Coon Rapids, opens up a room every Tuesday night from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The first class will be on Oct. 11 and classes will happen each week until the end of January. Jacobs said a student could probably start in early November and still catch up, if they cannot be there for the first few classes.

There is no cost for students participating in this because the Minnesota Decoy Collectors Association and Jacobs pay for material costs. The students carve lighter weight cork material for the body of the duck but the head is wood. The parents who come to the class and want to craft their own decoy can use cedar wood that will be provided. Jacobs puts a nail in the beak of each of his decoys ever since the one time he accidently stepped on a beak and snapped it off.

Students can enter their artwork into the Minnesota Decoy Collectors Association Youth Waterfowl Decoy Contest that is happening in February in Bloomington at the Marriott near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The classes are for ages 10 to 18, but some exceptions can be made depending on the artist. Jacobs shoots for around one dozen students, but said he could take in more students if there are more adults to help with the students.

Coon Rapids resident Todd Daly has been one of the other adults helping out for a few years. His son Brian Daly was one of the students in the first class that was held in his garage in the fall of 2012. David Jacobs’ sons Ben and Nick were also in that class. The two families knew each other through their Cub Scouts pack.

“Every class, I hear the word ‘Dave’ about 100 times,” Todd Daly said. “He has time for every (student). He’s so patient.”

Students will have different skill levels. And while some will be comfortable working with carving knives and chisels, others will prefer rotary tools. Jacobs works with every student no matter what they prefer. One tool resembles a zester, used in the kitchen to shave lemon and lime peels. It also comes in handy for carving wood.

It may seem intimidating to see a finished product and think about the work that needs to happen, but Jacobs said his biggest message for any amateur carver is to focus in on a specific area and make little cuts while continuing to check for symmetry so one side does not begin to look lopsided. A fellow wood carver named Tom Flemming sketches the patterns of the decoys that are used as reference points. A ruler with the zero in the middle instead of at the end is a handy tool to check the symmetry of the decoy.

Although these decoys could be used by waterfowl hunters, these classes can be interested to non-hunters as well. Jacobs has a “Dave Cave” in the basement of his Coon Rapids home where he displays the different decoys he has made over the years.

In the four years he has hosted these classes, he can only think of three students that he knew hunted.

“I haven’t been duck hunting in four years. Does that count?” Jacobs asked.

“Once a duck hunter, always a duck hunter,” Daly said.

Personally, his interest in substituting wooden decoys in for the plastic decoys when he was hunting in high school is what drew Jacobs into wood carving in the first place. After starting this hobby during his junior year in high school, he visited the library to pick up books on wood carving. He learned to carve song birds but found he liked the sturdiness of the decoys over the more fragile “decorative” carvings.

An added bonus for decoys is Jacobs feels these are easier for young carvers to start out in. But Jacobs believes the toughest task to master in making these decoys is the painting.

“I always come in with the idea that if it ends up on somebody’s shelf, I want them to look decent,” he said.