What do I need to turn a duck call?
“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish." -John Q. Adams
What do I need to turn a duck call? A loaded and frequently asked question. First you must answer a couple questions of yourself. Why do I want to start making calls? How many calls do I want to turn? Am I going to turn and make my own inserts or buy pre-made inserts? Is this going to be a business or a hobby?
Once you have those nailed down the first place you should start is a lathe because after all it's the main tool you will put hours onto. A wood lathe will get you started and do everything you need to build a call. You can research about lathe brands and sizes for hours but their are a few brands many custom call makers prefer. The obvious name is Jet and that is a solid starting point not leaving much of a reason to upgrade in the future. If you don't feel like putting down a grand just yet you can get a grizzly or even a harbor freight wood lathe for a much more affordable price. You might snicker at the thought of a HF lathe but quite a few call makers making calls for a living have one or a few in their shops.
Next you need a way of drilling. This can be accomplished by a drill press and blank-holding jig or you can purchase a jacob's chuck for your tail stock and drill on your lathe. The latter is a great inexpensive way to drill but can be dangerous if careful attention is not given to the tool. Remember if it cuts wood or acrylic or wood think what it would do to flesh. A good sharp drill bit is also a must. You will need a 5/8" for barrels and 1/4" for your toneboard. A brad point is just fine but some suppliers offer special acrylic bits for call turning. If you plan on drilling on the lathe a 3 or 4 jaw chuck is a must to hold work pieces in the lathe. Most will run you $100-$125. A collet chuck and mandrel are going to make life much easier on you and will set you back $125-150 for the set.
Next you will need a way to cut, both toneboards and blanks to size. A bandsaw will save you time and sweat in the long run and table top band saws are pretty affordable at any hardware store. You will also need turning tools to cut and shape material. Most stores sell simple HSS turning tools and many call makers prefer them, downside is they require frequent sharpening and sharpening systems. Another option is replaceable tip carbide tools, they stay sharp and cut like a hot knife through butter. Downside to them is expense and carbide can be fragile so a chip in them essentially ruins them.
Now the most important part, toneboards. My recommendation to all is to purchase a good quality flat jig. This will give you a blank canvas to work with. You can take away material and shape your call as you see fit. This step will teach you more about call making than anything else and will earn you much greater respect in the call making world. You will also need cork and reeds which a few suppliers can provide for a reasonable price.
Last but not least, learn patience and learn to do research. Ask questions to call makers you respect, most are more than willing to offer advice. The more people building quality calls the more trust customers have going with a custom call maker versus a big box store brand. Very few makers live on call making alone so remain patient and humble. Build a quality product and don't worry about how many you sell but how many quality calls leave your shop. If you do this, your business will grow naturally.