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
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
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
they’re unique or all
the same. Leave the
waste attached for
now—it makes painting
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
from a largemouth’s
hardware (and occasionally
ensures that the lure
will orient correctly in
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.