From a distance, it looks alive.

The tiny eyes glisten, seeminglywary of your approach. The delicate body tenses, ready to launch into frenzied flight across the room.

The scene is a room in American Legion Post No. 175 in Arnold, the Wednesday meeting place of the Arundel Carvers Club. The creature is an intricately crafted wooden Bufflehead Drake recently completed by one of the club's members. Other members are using the carving -- as well as a stuffed and mounted duck -- as references while crafting their own Buffleheads.

Twice a week, on Wednesday mornings at the American Legion and Thursdays Thursday evenings at the Annapolis Police Department headquarters, members meet to carve, grind, paint and sand their detailed waterfowl reproductions.

With approximately 90 members, the club has blossomed since its genesis as an informal meeting of 30 people at the Arnold Senior Center. The club was officiallyformed in 1986 and began meeting at the police headquarters, with the help of carver Wayne Everd, an Annapolis Police officer.

Treasurer Robert L. Culver Jr. describes the group as a cross section of professions. "It's not a thing for men only," he says. "We have women, school teachers, dentists -- a whole bunch of different people."

The club enters about eight East Coast competitions annually, includingthe international competition in Ocean City, which draws enthusiastsfrom as far away as Australia and Japan.

This year, the Arundel Carvers won 13 ribbons at the Ocean City competition in April, another36 ribbons at the May Havre de Grace Wildfowl festival in Harford County.

Carving a prize-winning waterfowl can take as long four months, but adept carvers can create a decoy from a block of basswood or tupelo in as little as three weeks. The results are astounding. A wild duck could be excused for succumbing to the charms of these hardwood replicas.

The process starts with a block of wood. Following a drawn pattern and referring to a mounted specimen, the carver does thepreliminary carving with a wood knife, hollowing out and adding weight so it will float. Then a grinding tool is used to round off the rough edges.

Seemingly endless hours of sanding follow; later, the intricate feather details are burned on with a wood-burning tool. Finally, the avian replica is completed with an exquisitely detailed paint job.

Although a single prize-winning carving can fetch thousandsof dollars from collectors, none of the carvers are getting rich. Hobbyists can spend thousands of dollars to equip themselves with wood burners, grinders and bits, wood knives, paint brushes and other tools and materials.

The club provides an opportunity to learn the craft from fellow enthusiasts. And by renting and buying mounts and patterns, the club tries to reduce the cost of the hobby for novices. It also lets them use the club's carving tools.

Club President Gene Makowski remembers trying to teach himself out of books.

"There wasjargon (in the books that) only a carver would know. 'Feather flicking' didn't mean a darn thing to me. You have to have experienced carvers to tell you 'This is what this means.' "

For information or tojoin, call Robert Culver Jr. at 255-0904.

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