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Wooden Fishing Lures


Wooden Fishing Lures

Turning the body is only half the fun.

By Alan "Hook" Lacer


When I picked up Dudley Murphy and Rick Edmisten's Fishing Lure Collectibles (see Sources, below), my interests in fishing, antiques and wood turning met head-on: Now I’m hooked on making wooden fishing lures. I know this passion is somewhat irrational, because plastic lures are abundant and economical—and they catch fish. I make my own wooden lures because it’s fun. I love recreating old patterns as much as I love to explore my own theories on catching fish. I enjoy testing unusual shapes and unique finishes. And I can report first-hand that catching a fish with a lure I’ve made myself is delightful. You should try it yourself.

I like to fish for bass, musky and pike, which are all known to feed at the surface, so most of the lures that I make are designed to skip across the water. These “top water” lures can be made from almost any wood that holds screws well. (There’s nothing worse than having a trophy fish escape because it was able to rip out the screw that anchored the hook to the lure!) I usually work with poplar and start with 1-1/2" to 1-3/4" square blocks. My bass lures range from 2" to 5" in length, while my musky and pike lures tend to be 5" to 11" long.



Use your imagination

Usually, turning a wooden lure is basic spindle work, but the shapes you can experiment with are almost endless. Mimic a minnow or a small fish, a crawfish, a frog, a mouse, a bug, or a bird. Sometimes the turning doesn’t resemble anything specific from nature.

Most lure shapes are turned between centers with basic tools (Photos 1 and 2). If you’re adept with a skew chisel, you can complete most of the work using it alone. Use the skew or a 1/2" round-nose scraper to create a detail that gives the lure more “action” (Photo 3). Use a 3/8" detail/ spindle gouge and turn from two different centers to create a lure with an unusual face (Photo 4).

Refer to old lure shapes you find appealing, or use your imagination to dream up your own shapes (Photo 5). Whatever the shape, it'll take only minutes to complete, so you might as well turn several at a time (Photo 6).

To eliminate any chance of a fish ripping out the hook, attach the hook to a length of stainless steel wire (.030"—.040") that runs all the way through the lure (Photo 7). Drill a 1/8" hole and glue in 1/8" aluminum tubing to house the wire. Then insert the wire and use pliers to create loops at both ends for tying on the lure and for mounting the hook. This through wire also creates a nice foundation for adding propellers, beads and other details.



What fish want

To attract fish, wooden lures are usually painted, and they almost always have eyes—as far as I can tell, fish just don’t appreciate plain wood.

Historically, lures were brushpainted, dipped, marbled or sprayed. Red was often used as the primary color, or for details, in the belief that predator fish would view it as blood, a sign of injury. Examples decorated with real frog skin have also been documented. All of these options are open to the contemporary lure maker (except, perhaps, the frog skin option). I usually use a variation of the brushpainting method to apply paint while the lure is still on the lathe (Photos 8 and 9). Epoxy paints are the most durable, but they take a long time to dry, which makes applying multiple
colors a lengthy process. I often use
acrylic paints for the color coats, followed
several days later by a coat of clear epoxy paint, for durability.

Another option is to carve or sand the turned body, before or after painting, to make the lure attract more piscean attention as it moves across the water. Carving the head end of a lure will make it wobble or dive, much like hollowing on the lathe. A bit of sanding can dramatically change a turned lure’s appearance (Photo 10). Viewing historical examples is a great way to get ideas for additional shaping (see Sources).

Eyes really do make a difference— just ask anyone who casts a lure. Eyes can be painted on or dotted, or they can be small tacks or nails that are driven in and then painted. You can also buy eyes made of glass or plastic, adhesive backed or with stems for gluing into a hole—or even doll eyes with loose pupils, for that "come hither" look that may help you hook the big one.



Please the consumer

An almost endless array of options exists for mounting hooks and adding the final touches that make a piece of wood irresistible to fish (Photo 11). You can buy hardware (see Sources), strip it from an old lure, or make it yourself from metal or plastic. You can keep it simple or go for broke by installing hooks wrapped with fur or feathers, eyelets, diving lips, spinners, propellers, fins, collars, glass and metal beads, wire, spacers, cup washers, weights and split rings. The bottom line during the entire lure-making process is to think like a hungry fish, because ultimately, hungry fish will be your greatest critics.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Most lures are simply shaped, so they’re easy to turn with a skew chisel or detail/ spindle gouge. Cylinders and elliptical shapes like this one are typical. Sizes vary, depending on the type of fish you want to catch.

2. Embellish the basic shape to create variations. Adding a head and unique details, such as lips and a necklace show individuality that’s not always found on factory-made lures.

3. Add a hollowed-out collar to create additional sound and surface disturbance. The hollow shape makes the lure chug and pop as it’s pulled across the water. To hollow the collar, cut in with a skew chisel, long point down.

4. Create a lure with an offset snout by turning on two different centers. Turn the body with the blank centered between the ends. Then offset the blank’s mounting point at the tailstock end to turn the snout.

5. Create your own designs. I call this one the "Leapin' Lacer." The turning is just a squat-shaped ellipse with hollowed collars at both ends. But to a largemouth bass, the completed lure will look like a tasty frog (Photo 10).

6. Most lures take ten minutes or less to turn, so it makes sense to turn multiples, whether they’re unique or all the same. Leave the waste attached for now—it makes painting much easier.

7. To strengthen any lure, drill all the way through and mount the hook on stainless steel wire. Install the lure in a scroll chuck and drill from the tailstock end, using a long bit and a Jacobs-type chuck.

8. Here’s the lazy man’s painting method—just hold the brush and let the lathe do all the work. Run the lathe very slowly and thin the paint so that it flows evenly onto the lure.

9. Turn down the waste material at both ends, after the paint has dried. Then part off. This step shortens the time it takes to produce finished surfaces on the ends.

10. Flattening one side on a sanding disc transforms the turned body of the "Leapin' Lacer" into a frog—especially from a largemouth’s viewpoint. Adding hardware (and occasionally lead weights) ensures that the lure will orient correctly in the water.

11. Attach eyes, hooks, weights and other hardware to complete each lure. Outsmarting fish isn’t always easy, so use both your experience and imagination. And don’t hesitate to change hardware that doesn’t seem to work.


Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.

Barlow’s Tackle Express,, 972-231-5982, Dudley Murphy and Rick Edmisten, Fishing Lure Collectibles: An Identification and Value Guide to the Most Collectible Antique Fishing Lures Vol. I (2nd Ed), Collector Books, 2001.

Jann’s Netcraft,, 800-346-6590.

Moore's Lures,, 715-356-6834.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June/July 2010, issue #148.

June/July 2010, issue #148

Purchase this back issue.