The Complete Book of Rod Building and Tackle Making

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  • Edition: Revised
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  • Copyright: 2013-01-15
  • Publisher: Lyons Press
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The ultimate referencenow revised and updated, with 800+ illustrations In its first edition, published in 1993, The Complete Book of Tackle Makingbecame the reference of choice for builders of fine tackle and casual craftsmen alike. It saved countless anglers thousands of dollars, and now, with this new editionrevised, updated, and expanded to accommodate the many developments in tackle making methods, equipment, and materials made since thenit can continue to do so for years to come. Twenty-seven chapters and helpful appendixes include everything readers need to know about tools, spinners, bucktails, jigs, sinkers, plastic lures and plugs, wire leaders, painting and finishing methods, basic and advanced rod building, basic and decorative wraps, necessary knots and splices, tackle care and repair, suppliers and manufacturers, and much more. With more than eight hundred photographs and clear, step-by-step instruction throughout, this book is the ultimate reference for the tackle tinkerer.

Author Biography

C. Boyd Pfeiffer is an award-winning outdoor journalist known for his expertise in fresh and salt water fishing, tackle, fly tying, fly fishing, and outdoor photography. He has authored twenty-three books, served as outdoor editor of the Washington Post, and served as a consultant to the fishing tackle industry. He lives in Phoenix, Maryland.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v Introduction vii 1 Tools and Materials 2 Substitute Tools and Tools to Make 3 Spinners 4 Bucktails and Jigs 5 Sinkers and Tin Squids 6 Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits 7 Soft-Plastic Lures 8 Spoons 9 Wood Plugs 10 Plastic Plugs 11 Offshore Lures 12 Miscellaneous Lures 13 Wire Leaders and Rigging 14 Tackle Accessories 15 Painting and Finishing 16 Making Molds for Lead and Soft-Plastic Lures 17 Rod Blanks and Rod Parts 18 Basic Rod-Building 19 Building Specific Rod Styles 20 Handle and Grip Assembly 21 Guide and Part Spacing 22 Guide Wrappings and Variations 23 Simple Butt Wraps and Decorative Wraps 24 Complex Butt Wraps and Decorative Wraps 25 Finishing Touches and Finishing Rods 26 Chopping Blanks and Making Ferrules 27 Rod Variations Appendix A: Rod and Tackle Care Appendix B: Sales of Tackle Appendix C: Conversion Tables Appendix D: Sizing Charts Appendix E: Knots, Splices, and Snells Appendix F: List of Suppliers and Manufacturers Glossary Selected Bibliography and More Information Index


Tools and Materials

Introduction • Safety Equipment • Bench or Worktable • Vise • Lighting • Hammers • Hand Saws • Electric Saws • Drills • Drill Presses • Twist Drill Bits • Pliers • Metal Snips • Files • Soldering Iron • Pop-Style Riveter • Electric Grinder • Electric Sander • Lathe • Wire Formers • Reamers • Dividers • Rule • Anvil • Gate Cutter • Leader-Crimping Pliers • Fly-Tying Tools • Rod-Wrapping Tools • Thread Tension Devices • Curing Motor • Handle Seater • Tapered Reamer • Tip-Top Gauge • Burnisher • Torch • Scalpel • Diamond Wrap Tools • Masking Tape • Safety Equipment (Goggles, gloves, shop apron)


Proper tools are the secret to doing any job well. A repairman who comes to your house to fix a dishwasher, TV, oven, or hot water heater always has a well-equipped tool box. A carpenter or cabinetmaker could not begin construction of anything without the proper woodworking tools. By the same token, the tackle tinkerer must have the proper tools to construct the many types of fishing tackle. Fortunately, the basic tools needed for making most fishing tackle are not expensive or hard to get. In all likelihood, you will already have a number of the required tools, or can improvise others.

Many can be made, as outlined in Chapter 2. And it is important to realize early on that much tackle crafting requires a minimum of tools, materials, and skills to make.

It is not necessary to collect or buy all the tools listed before you begin making fishing tackle and lures. You may be interested only in two or three types of lures or accessories and will never need the tools required for making other lures. Each chapter lists both the minimally required tools and those tools that are not required but that will make the job easier—or perhaps be required for major jobs or larger-scale operations.

If you plan to make all of the tackle covered in this book, you will ultimately need or want most or all of thebasictools listed. You may in time wish to get some of the optional or extra tools to make some tasks easier or less time-consuming. In all cases, youmusthave and use the basic safety equipment listed for each chapter and type of tackle.

Otherwise, look at the materials list at the beginning of each chapter for suggestions on required tools before heading to the tackle shop or hardware store. Try where possible to substitute the same or similar tools that you may already have on hand.



Minimal safety equipment is needed for most tackle crafting tasks. Some items that you should consider are as follows:


·      Goggles.Even if you wear glasses (which are some protection) goggles are always helpful. They are a must when doing tasks which could impact your eyes or face. For example, when cutting wire to make rigs and jigs for fishing, a cut end of wire can fly off wildly. Goggles are must for this to prevent the possibility of eye injury. Good workshop goggles are available at any hardware store or from major suppliers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. Get a pair and wear them anytime there is a chance for eye injury.

·      Gloves.Heavy workbench gloves are handy to have when handling items that might injure your hands of which might be hot to hold. Thus, gloves are good for working with wire, cutting out plug bodies, sawing glass or graphite rod blanks, or hammering out spoon and lure bodies from metal. They are also important to have when handling hot items, be these ladles and pots of lead for making sinkers and lead lures, to pans of melted plastic for making soft plastic lures such as worms and crayfish.

·      Apron.An apron is handy to have and wear to prevent damage to your regular clothing. Anything from paint spills to accidental cuts and scrapes, to excessive wear on good clothing from repeated tool use can be prevented or reduced with a shop apron.

·      Face mask or breathing mask.For chores such as sanding cork or grinding carbon materials, a breathing mask is a must. If you are dealing with paint or chemical fumes on a regular basis or anytime in an enclosed area, you will want and need an appropriate mask that protects against the intake of fumes and chemicals.

Bench or Worktable

You will need a place to work and to hold tools, materials, and finished products. This can be as simple as a small TV tray to hold the parts and materials for making a few spinners; on the other hand, you will want a sturdy workshop bench to saw out wood-plug bodies, make gaffs, and wrap rods. When molding plastic lures (worms), lead sinkers, lead bucktails, jig heads, tin squids, and the like, you may not be able to work where you wish, but may have to work in the kitchen where you will have access to heat for melting materials and to ventilation for dissipating any resulting fumes. In other cases, you may want to work on a camp stove on an outdoor picnic table for the same purposes. Whatever your circumstances, a small square or rectangle of thin plywood, Masonite, scrap kitchen countertop material (laminate), aluminum sheet, or large asbestos kitchen heat pad will be necessary to catch spilled metal or plastic, saving the kitchen counter or picnic table from possible scarring. If you are unwelcome in the kitchen or at the picnic table, there are several other options. One is to use a propane torch or stove in your workshop. The second is to use a hot plate in your workshop to melt the soft plastic used in making worms and grubs. A third is to get a self-contained electric heater and melting pot for melting the lead for bucktail and sinker molding. A must for melting lead is to have asturdyworkplace. If you use a heavy furnace that must be bolted down for security and safety, you will not be able to work with a sheet of plywood over the kitchen counter, but must have a sturdy worktable.

I use several types of workbenches when making tackle. I have a long sturdy workbench—8 feet by 3 feet—made from two-by-fours that are upended, through-bolted, and mounted with a heavy machine vise. For heavy work, it is as sturdy as a bomb shelter and just about as heavy. Two similar but lighter-weight workbenches of equal size flank this central bench. One contains a small specialized rod building lathe I use for turning rod handles, rod parts, butt caps, wood plugs, and some metal parts. The other is kept free for any overflow of work from the main bench. This last workbench is also ideal for mounting rod-wrapping tools, fly-tying vises, and similar temporary tools. I also have a completely separate fly-tying table and work area for tying flies. For lead molding, I use a small sturdy workbench where I can bolt down any furnaces and cover the wood top with sheet metal for an easy cleanup.

I use yet another, smaller, square workbench as a repository for power tools. These are not all necessary for tackle crafting, but are handy at times. They are all bolted down and include a grinder, sander, small drill press, small Dremel lathe for turning lures, and small band saw. Bins underneath this bench hold hand power tools, such as several power drills, a saber saw, a circular saw, belt sander and soldering iron. For some tackle work, such as the maintenance, modification, and repair of reels, I have a separate small workbench (about six-by-two feet) in my rod, reel, and lure tackle-storage room. I also have a fly-tying bench that sometimes doubles as a workbench for making small lures such as spinners, and is also used for tying tails on bucktails and jigs and for rigging trolling lures.

Over or near each workbench I mount perf-board (Peg-Board is a brand name) for hanging tools, reels, special parts, small power tools, and so on. The variety of styles and lengths of hooks available for this board make it possible to hang up almost any tool or part. Both 1/8- and 1/4-inch-thick perf-board are available, with the 1/8-inch sufficient for most tackle and small tool applications.


A vise is a necessity for holding wood in order to cut it to the right sizes and shapes for making plugs, for holding sheet metal when making spoons, and for clamping materials for similar drilling and cutting operations.

Woodworkers’ vises are ideal for holding wood because they have special large wood-faced jaws that prevent damage to the wood being held. Most mount below or flush with the workbench top. A machinists’ vise mounts on top of the bench and has machined steel jaws. Most have a swivel base for turning the vise, and others can also be turned at an angle to vertical. Those that are permanent mount are best, but some smaller vises that clamp (like a C-clamp) onto a table or workbench are also quite adequate for most tackle-crafting.

I like the machinists’-style vise. It has more versatility of movement and plenty of clamping power. In most cases, even when working with wood, any scarring that the jaws might cause will be cut or sanded away as you finish a plug body, smooth a spoon-blade blank, or polish other materials. Also, it is easy to make jaw-covering faces of wood, composition material, aluminum, or copper. I like the soft-metal aluminum or copper faces because they can easily be cut and bent to shape and size to fit over the jaws, and are easily replaced as desired.


A view of the middle section of author’s workbench. Note the perf-board on the back wall to hold tools, and drawers under workbench for tools and materials. At the far end of the bench (far right) is a small rod-building lathe for turning handles, etc.


Proper lighting over any work area is essential. Without it, doing good work is impossible, and in some cases even dangerous. If you can’t see well, you can’t cut or drill well or make good tackle. I like the double fluorescent “shop lights” sold in any hardware or general store or major outlet such as WalMart, K-Mark, Sears, Home Depot or Lowe’s. Two-foot, four-foot, and eight-foot lengths are available. I use a bank of four-foot-length lights, which are sold everywhere at reasonable prices.

Fluorescent lights come in a variety of different colors, from cool white to warm-spectrum light. Get the type of light you prefer. I find the cool white to be somewhat harsh, although the warm light may be too warm for some tastes. I like the soft white best. In any case, for uniformity of lighting, be sure to use bulbs of the same color tone.

One tip is to mount the main lights over the front edge of the workbench for the best general lighting, and to use supplemental lighting such as incandescent-bulb swing arm lights for spotlighting.

On small workshop projects, a small swing arm or gooseneck lamp with a 60- or 75-watt bulb may be adequate. These are corkscrew lights that screw into sockets of any lamp base. Today, most are fluorescent and a 20- to 25-watt fluorescent bulb will give you the same light intensity as the 60- to-75 watt incandescent bulbs of the past. Small high-intensity lights are also good for this and for getting a large amount of light into a small area.


Hammers are not needed for much tackle-craft work. They are needed for hammering out metal to make spoon blades, for getting a hammered finish on a spoon, for any task where you have to use a drift (a punching tool), or for making some of the tools that will be suggested later.

For most work, ball-peen hammers are best because you do not need the claw (to pull nails) found on carpenters’ hammers. You can pick a variety of sizes: Ball-peen hammers are rated by the weight of the head, from about 4-ounce through 6-, 8-, 10-, 12-ounce and heavier sizes. Cross-peen hammers are also useful for making straight marks on metal lures since the cross-peen has a wedgelike (chisel) end opposite the hammer face.

If you have a carpenters’ hammer, you can certainly make do in most cases. Other types of useful hammers are the soft-face hammers (either plastic or hard rubber or one end of each) and brass-head hammers that are soft enough not to scratch metal surfaces. Both styles are ideal for making spoon blades. A wood mallet also has uses and for tackle-crafting can sometimes double for some of the above hammer types.

To maximize striking force when forging spoon blades (hammering them into a concave shape) consider dead-blow hammers. These hammers are made with lead shot in the hollow head to minimize rebound and maximize striking force. They are relatively expensive, however, so be sure you are serious about making your own metal spoons and spinner blades—and making enough of them to amortize the hammer cost—before purchasing one.

Hand Saws

Saws are not needed in most tackle-crafting, although there are some exceptions. Some of these exceptions are:

·      Cutting wood for carving your own wood plugs. Use a regular crosscut saw (usually you will be cutting across the grain when sawing long lengths of square cross-section material into plug- or lathe-lengths). Coping saws and keyhole saws also work well.

·      Cutting rod blanks when you want to chop a blank at the tip or butt to make a rod of a different action. Use a hacksaw with a very fine blade (32 teeth per inch is best). Often, a regular hacksaw is too large and bulky. A small saw that consists only of a handle to hold the blade is best, and is easy to handle. A jeweler’s saw also works well since they have very fine teeth and are designed for fine cutting of metal. They work equally well for cutting graphite rod blanks and minimizing any splintering. These are more expensive than a regular coping or hacksaw however, and will not be necessary unless doing a lot of metal cutting with lures and metal parts or chopping graphite blanks.


·      Cutting metal to fashion spoons, squids, and other similar lures. Use a hacksaw, regular style (with frame), with a metal cutting blade (24 or 32 teeth per inch). As per above, a jeweler’s saw is also excellent for this.

Electric Saws

Electric saws are also helpful for tackle-crafting, but unless you are into a large-scale operation, they are usually not worth buying just for making tackle. If you have one or more for other purposes, or buy one for several types of household chores and also use it for tackle-crafting, so much the better. Some possibilities and their uses include:

·     Band saw. Large band saws cost well into the hundreds of dollars, but smaller ones with 8-, 10-, or 12-inch throats (the distance between the blade and the edge of the tool equals the width of the material that can be handled) are ideal. Small bench-top styles are good and can usually be found in hardware and variety stores and through mail-order outlets. Used ones sold through newspaper ads or in flea markets are also good bets. It is important to get one that has or uses a narrow blade of about 1/4-inch, because blade width controls the radius of any cut that can be made. Since these are ideal for cutting out the plug shapes from square wood blanks, a thin blade makes it possible to make sharp-curve-radius cuts.


Different types of cutting blades used for tackle-crafting. The three to the left are hacksaw blades; that to the right is an X-Acto saw. Fine-tooth blades such as those with 50 teeth per inch (far right) or 32 teeth per inch (second from right) are required for cutting rod blanks.

·     Scroll saw: This will also cut the shape of a plug from a wood blank, but if making any but the smallest plugs, it is not best. Most scroll saws are designed to work with 3/8- to 1/2-inch-thick material, usually far thinner than the 1 to 1 1/2-inch thickness of most plugs. They are okay for wood up to 3/4-inch thick, but the thicker the wood the slower the work, and the greater the possibility of blade breakage, crooked cuts, and work chattering because the blade binds up.

·     Saber saw: This has a reciprocating blade, like the scroll saw, but is heavy-duty enough for general work. Often saber saws are used in construction or home repairs for light cutting. Because they usually have a large gap around the blade, they cannot be mounted upside down and used as a stationary saw. They are okay for general cutting and for sawing wood to length for use in a lathe or for carving.


Either an electric or hand drill is useful for drilling holes in spoons or spinner parts, making pilot holes in wood or plastic plugs, and also for making molds. Although small single-speed non-reversible 1/4-inch drills are often available very cheaply, the best are variable-speed reversible 3/8-inch chuck drills. With these you can use the fastest speed for wood, moderate speeds for metal, and slow speeds for plastic (so that you do not burn or melt the material).

Rechargeable electric drills allow you to work without cords anywhere you want, and are fine for tackle-crafting projects. So are Dremel or Dremel-type rotary tools, which are small high-speed tools with specialized chucks for holding small drill bits, sanding discs, router bits, sanding drums, and stones. These are particularly good for working on the small parts used in tackle-building. A wide range of accessories is available for Dremel tools, and several different models of Dremel tools are available.

Drill Presses

Drill presses are stand-mounted drills. Most have a variety of speeds or different speed settings, and come with a 3/8-inch or larger chuck. Many are expensive and mounted on floor stands, but smaller, inexpensive tabletop styles are ideal for tackle-making.


Example of small drill press useful for tackle-crafting. This has had a drill-press vise added to hold parts securely—a must for serious drill-press work.

As with band saws, the larger drill presses have a larger throat for taking larger chunks of material, but this is seldom a problem for the small-scale work of making lures. If you use a drill press, be sure to get and use a drill-press vise that will mount to the work base and hold the work as a bench vise does. Several types and sizes are available, some will hold work at various angles, and some are relatively inexpensive.

There are also brackets designed to hold standard hand-operated electric drills, and these are fine for simple tasks. They are not as accurate or capable of repeat work as are the true drill presses. Similarly, there is a fine bracket that holds a Dremel tool, in effect making a miniature drill press out of it.

Twist Drill Bits

Twist drill bits are also needed, of course, usually in small sizes for drilling pilot holes and through-drilling plugs for hook hangers for saltwater fishing.

Twist drills come in several sizing configurations: Most come in fractional-inch sizes, ranging down to about 1/16-inch, sometimes to 1/64-inch. These are used by most home craftsmen, carpenters, and machinists. Letter sizes are used in the machine trades and are usually larger, ranging from A (small, .234-inch, or slightly smaller than 1/4-inch) to Z (the largest at .413-inch, slightly less than 1/2-inch). Numbered drill bits, also used in the machine trades, range from 80 (the smallest, at .0135-inch, and smaller than 1/64-inch) to 1 (the largest at .228-inch, or slightly smaller than 1/4-inch). The most useful for tackle crafters will be the fractional sizes, because the precise sizes used for machining are seldom if ever required in making rods, lures, or tackle. The most useful sizes are usually between 1/32- and 1/8-inch.

For making plugs with through-wire runs through the length of the plug, you will need longer drill bits. (Wood and especially balsa plugs need through-wire construction to prevent the loss of a strong or toothy fish in case the fish shatters the plug. The through-wire construction, in which all hooks are attached to the same wire or plate as the line tie, prevents fish loss. Most saltwater and muskie/pike plugs are made this way.) You will also need long drill bits for making or expanding holes in handle and grip materials for fitting these grips and handles onto a rod blank. For these, consider the 6- or 12-inch length bits.

Long drill bits are often called aircraft or electricians’ bits, and unlike standard bits, in which the drill length varies by the drill size (diameter), they come in standard 6-inch and 12-inch lengths. In most cases, the 6-inch length is adequate for drilling end-to-end through a plug. The longer drill bits can be used but are more difficult to stabilize. They are handy in making pilot holes and drilling and sanding purposed for the center boring of rod handles.


A longer drill bit (right) compared to standard bits (left) of the same diameter. The longer bits, sometimes called aircraft or electrician’s bits, are available in many diameters and in 6-inch and 12-inch lengths.


            Several types of pliers are needed, and these will be among your most useful tools. Large combination pliers (slip-joint or arc-joint pliers in which the pivot point is adjustable) can be used to hold lures during painting processes, while adding split rings and lips and hook hangers, and while drilling holes. Large-jaw pliers opened wide can be used to hold hot jig and sinker molds. In general, smaller pliers are better for most tackle-making jobs. The best is a pair of small round-nose pliers to form eyes in wire when making spinners, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, some trolling rigs, and similar lures. These pliers come in various sizes, from about 4 1/2 inches and larger, and have round tapered jaws to allow any size eye to be formed in the wire.


Split-ring pliers—to the left a precision pliers, to the right an inexpensive pair. They have small tooth on one jaw to open the split ring for adding hooks and parts. The author modified the pair on the left by grinding down the non-toothed jaw to work with small split rings.

Sometimes sets of pliers and wire cutters can be found in hardware, electronic, or hobby shops. Often these sets include four or five tools, such as tapered round-nose pliers, diagonal wire cutters, end-cutting wire cutters, long-nose pliers, and flat-nose pliers. All are very handy for the tackle tinkerer. If you do not get a set like this, it will still be necessary to have a pair of wire cutters in addition to the round-nose pliers listed above. Some sets or combinations include different types of pliers and cutters, such as extra-long-nose pliers, bent-nose pliers, and wide-jaw pliers.

Of the cutters, diagonal wire cutters are best because they will cut closer to the spinner or lure body than will end-cutting cutters. Even with diagonal wire cutters, however, there are differences in the placement of the jaw’s cutting edges. Some are shaped so that the edge of the jaw is flush with the pliers, to minimize tag ends. Others are made so that the edges of the jaws are inset slightly. The best are those with flush cutting jaws. Wire cutters are good not only for cutting excess wire in making spinners, but also for cutting lead (sprue) from molded jigs and sinkers.

Cheap long-nose pliers are helpful in painting. With these, you can hold a lure by the lip, line tie, or wire and paint it by dipping or spraying. The advantage, particularly with spraying, is that you will not get your hands covered with paint. Use cheap pliers for this, since you are not concerned about precision or quality workmanship as long as the pliers hold well—and, of course, they will become covered with paint.

Compound-action parallel-closing pliers are useful for many purposes. Originally made under the Bernard Sportmate label, many brands are available today in several different sizes. They are ideal when holstered in a belt sheath for fishing (I would not be without a pair), but are also handy for much tackle-making. The parallel-acting jaws will hold nuts securely, and all these pliers have very strong wire cutters to cut wire, screw eyes, or even hook shanks. Although they are most useful when fishing, I also particularly like the Donnmar stainless steel fisherman’s pliers and the lightweight FF-1 pliers by Sports Tools for many tackle-crafting needs.

Vise grips or locking pliers are particularly good for tackle-making. I like the Vise-Grip brand because they are sturdy and a number of different styles and sizes of pliers are available. Basically, this type of pliers locks when closed, and the locking tension is adjustable by means of screw. A simple lever unlocks the pliers to release the gripped object. For both fishing and tackle-making I particularly like small long-nose styles, which make it easy to grip small lures and parts.

Split-ring pliers are specialized pliers for opening split rings. They have a tapered flat jaw in combination with a second jaw that overlaps the first slightly and has a small tooth at the end by which split rings can be pried apart. The Worth Company makes these in an inexpensive flat model and two sizes of better-quality pliers. They are ideal for adding hooks to hook hangers via split rings or for replacing hooks on any lure.

Leader-Crimping Pliers

These are specialty pliers are used to close and crimp the leader sleeves used in rigging heavy leaders, big-game leaders, and similar rigs that require leader sleeves. Several types are available. One type is the cup-opposing-cup style, used for crimping oval sleeves. The point-opposing-cup style is designed for working with round sleeves only. Each style of crimping pliersmustbe used with the correct style of sleeve, otherwise the sleeves can be damaged, and the crimp made poor and weak.


Pliers designed to crimp leader sleeves. At bottom is the cup-opposing-cup style, at center an example of the point-opposing-cup style. Each takes a different type of sleeve.

These pliers come in a number of different styles, including small hand pliers for simple crimping operations, or larger, compound-action pliers that are preset for a given force for a certain style of sleeve: This type is best when working with large sleeves such as are used for the heavy leaders and riggings for offshore big-game fishing. They are the type preferred for crimping and making 250- to 400-pound test leaders of wire or mono for billfish and such.

Metal Snips

Snips for metalworking will be needed only if you plan to make your own spoons from sheet metal or cut sheet metal for spinner blades or accessories (metal tackle boxes or lure boxes, for instance). If the metal you plan to work with is thin (under 20-gauge), regular duckbill snips will work fine. Several sizes are available, with the smallest usually the cheapest and easiest to use for making lures.


Sheet-metal snips. Left are duck-billed snips. To the right are three styles of aviation snips: right-cutting, left-cutting and straight-cutting. Some snips incorporate all three cuts in one tool.

For cutting heavier-gauge metal, for spoons and such, you will need the heavier leverage of aviation snips, sometimes called compound leverage snips. These snips, which usually have about a 12:1 power ratio or leverage advantage over regular snips, are available in both inexpensive and high-quality tools. The inexpensive are often designed as “all-in-one” tools, in which one snip will cut in any direction. The better-quality snips are made with specifically designed jaws to cut in a certain direction. Thus, of the high-quality snips you will need three, or a complete set: one each to cut straight, left, and right. Keep in mind that one of the all-purpose inexpensive snips will cost about a quarter of the price of one set of three better snips. As with the dead-blow hammers for forming spoon blades, these are not really economical unless you plan on cutting a large number of spoon blades.


Several files will be needed for a variety of tackle-making operations. Coarse flat files are used for shaping spoons, roughing out wood plugs, filing points on gaffs, and similar tasks. Medium files give a smoother finish in these same operations and can also be used for the preliminary shaping of rod grips. Fine-tooth files are useful to remove the flash (excess lead) from molded jigs and bucktails, making and finishing molds, sharpening hooks, and filing down guide feet for a smooth fit on a rod blank. It also helps to have files in several configurations, including flat and half-round. The half-round files are perhaps the best because you get one flat side and one rounded side, which is good for shaping the concave parts of wood plugs and similar tasks.

Fine files are very handy for a variety of tackle tasks and often come in sets. I have a set of a dozen that includes flat, triangular, round, half-round, oval, knife, and other shapes. Often these are called needle-style or Swiss-style files. Some come with handles, others do not.

For making your own rods with cork handles, be sure to get a rat-tail file that can be used to ream out the holes in cork rings to exactly fit the rod you are building. (A good substitute for this, however, is a reamer.)

Wood rasps are good for initial rough work on cork rod grips and wood-plug bodies. One rasp, usually a half-round, is sufficient for most jobs. The best length for most files, with the exception of the small set of fine files, is about 8 to 10 inches. Smaller files are difficult to work with while larger ones just overpower the work and job.

If you plan to work extensively on tackle and to make your own lures and rods, you may want some special files and accessories. All-purpose files will do most jobs, but since they are not specifically designed for use on lead, aluminum, or brass, they tend to clog up quickly when used on these metals. For these, special open-tooth files are available that are designed to work with softer metals and not clog up.

Be sure to buy a file cleaner, often called a file card. These are small, flat cleaners that have very short, tempered metal bristles for cleaning particles from file teeth.

One additional file/rasp tool is used with an electric drill, but serves the purpose of a rasp or file. This is the rotary file and rasp that, when fitted onto the end of a bit extension, allows you to rasp out holes in foam grips. The small rotary bit fits into the extension, and this in turn fits into the drill.


Reamers are available from any hardware store and will usually ream holes from 1/8- to 1/2-inch. They are ideal for enlarging the holes in cork rings to fit onto rod blanks.

Special long reamers just for rods are available from many rod supply catalogs. Consider a set of rod building reamers for extensive work on rod handles. These come in sets of three or four, each a different diameter. They consist of tapered lengths with a spiral sanding strip wrap around each of the tapered shafts (about 12 to 18 inches long) for reaming out a center hole in foam or a preformed cork grip to fit properly on a rod blank. When the sanding strip wears out, replacement sanding strips to glue in place are available.

Also, you can make your own reamers as outlined in Chapter 2. I like reamers better than rat-tail files for rod work, since they are easier and quicker to use.

Soldering Iron

A soldering iron will be helpful in making spoons and some specialized lures in which spoon and spinner blades are used. An electric soldering iron with a small tip, the type used in radio and electronics work, is best. Often small soldering irons like this come in kits with several tips, or with optional tips for specific tasks available.


Examples of flame and gun soldering tools. The gun to the left has a fine tip for working with lures; the flame torch at top right fills with butane and provides a small flame for welding.

With a soldering iron, you can solder hooks to spoon blades, hooks to spinner blades to make small ice-fishing lures, and weight blades with solder to make a heavier lure or to change the action of a blade.

Pop-Style Riveter

Pop riveters, those that rivet from one side of a piece of material, are ideal for some tackle tasks. On larger spoons, they allow you to rivet the eye of a hook into the hole drilled into a spoon to make a fixed-hook spoon. They can also be used for repairing reel seats in which the metal swaged hood becomes loose on the barrel, or for fastening together triple-wing buzzbait blades of your own design. Those that take the smallest-size rivets, with 1/8-inch shanks, are most useful.

Electric Grinder

Electric grinders are not required, but can be used to smooth and polish spoon blades, to sharpen tools, and to accomplish similar tasks. Most useful are the small hobbyist-size grinders with two wheels of about a 5- or 6-inch diameter.

Electric Sander

Electric sanders will do some of the same things electric grinders do. They will not easily sharpen many tools, but can be used for polishing and fine-shaping spoon blades, sanding wood plug bodies, and removing flash from molded-lead sinkers and jig heads. There are a number of types of bench sanders (the type you will want, if you get one) including belt and disc sanders. I like the belt sanders best because they allow sanding against the firm support of the flexible belt. Many of these hobby-type tools include both a belt and disc sander.


Even inexpensive machine lathes are priced high for the use you get from them in tackle-building, but there are some specialized rod-building lathes on the market, along with small hobby woodworking lathes, that can be used for rod-building and lure-turning. For rod-building, a lathe is ideal for turning handles and grips, and even for rod-wrapping if it can be run at a very slow speed. For making lures, lathes are ideal for turning wood plugs. If you are considering one for turning handles for rods, remember that you must turn the handle andthenglue it onto the rod, or get a lathe that has a through-center tail stock or a long-enough bed to allow you to place the entire rod blank into the lathe. The through-center tail stock will allow you to run the rod blank above the handle, through rollers or a centering bearing, to support the rod and keep it from whipping around as the lathe turns the handle.

There are other lathe possibilities. One is a small Dremel Moto-Lathe that, while not large enough for rod work, is ideal for turning wood plugs. This model used to be widely available, but has been taken off the market. Some might still be available through secondhand shops or at flea markets. The Dremel was available alone or in a kit with tools and accessories.

Small substitute lathes are also sometimes helpful. One inexpensive possibility is a wood-turning attachment to be used with any hand electric drill. In essence, it is a bench-mounted clamp that holds the drill upside down but horizontal by means of a special bracket and large hose-type clamp, with a small bed and tail stock for holding the work. You can find this attachment in hardware stores, catalog hardware houses, and stores such as Sears and J.C. Penney. One in a current Sears catalog will hold work up to 16 inches long and 4 1/2 inches in diameter—ideal for turning handles separate from the rod and for turning any size wood plug. Flex Coat also sells the supports necessary to hold a hand drill and to support the rod for rod building tasks.


Examples of two lathes for hobby and tackle-crafting work. The large lathe in the foreground was designed for rod work, the small Dremel lathe (now discontinued by the company) is ideal for turning a plug bodies.

Wire Formers

Several types of wire formers are available. Some are small inexpensive tools that allow the forming of various types of eyes in most spinner and spinnerbait wires. They are great for the lure-maker who has trouble using pliers to make eyes or who does not want to use pliers. One model looks like a screwless C-clamp, and with a turn of the handle will make a variety of wire forms, eyes, and bends.


Several types of wire formers are available for making spinner and spinnerbait forms. The Cabela’s tool in the foreground clamps to a workbench, is relatively expensive, and designed for heavy, continuous work. An extra, revolving shaft head is also shown. The wire-forming tool (left) from the Worth Company does simple tasks on light wire. The round-nose pliers to the right are also useful for most tasks. The two wire-forming tools come with instructions.

Larger, more expensive wire formers are bench-mounted and come with attachments or have accessories available for making eyes and bends in different-size wire. Different collets are available for different wire-size ranges. One such tool available from several mail-order companies (Mud Hole, Cabela’s) is of sturdy cast iron, and will clamp to any table or workbench up to 1 3/4 inches thick by means of screw clamps. With two handles working in opposite planes, it will make virtually any type of spinner or wire eye, bend, snell, or wire form. Collets available for this include those for wire from .018- through .025-inch, .026- through .029-inch, and .030-through .035-inch. Although relatively expensive, these tools are extremely versatile for any serious tackle-maker of spinners, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and wire forms.


Dividers as used by carpenters are useful to transfer dimensions from one part of a piece of work to another. Thus, they are ideal for checking the dimensions of both sides of a wood plug, the length of a guide wrap on both sides of a rod guide, or the length of wire in a spinner. Straight dividers are ideal and much better for most tasks than inside or outside calipers.


A rule, or ruler, as this tool is commonly called, is necessary for measuring parts in lure- or rod-building. The best ones are those of plastic or metal with measurements in both inches and millimeters. Short, 6-inch rules are ideal for measuring lure parts; larger, 18- to 24-inch rules are better for measuring handles and guide spacing on rods. One small rule that is ideal for rod work has a “0 center” mark and inches or millimeters measured out from this center point. These rules are made by the C-Thru Ruler Company and are ideal to mark the center position of a taped-down guide to assure that the guide wraps on both feet are of equal length. They are available at stationery and drafting-supply stores.


One type of rule that is ideal for tackle building, since it has a center “0” that makes it easy to mark the center of the guide ring and to indicate identical marks for beginning wraps.


Two types of small hobby anvils for swaging lures, hammering scale marks on spoons, etc.


If you are planning to make a number of spoons from scratch, a small anvil will be handy. Several sizes are available in hardware and hobby stores. Get one that has a horn at one end for working with odd shapes. These can be either mounted to a workbench or used independently on a sturdy work surface.

Gate Cutter

Although called a “gate cutter” by companies such as Do-It and Hilts Molds, these are really specialized cutters for stripping wire. As a gate cutter used for removing the sprue from lead castings, they should be used only for lead or plastic and for not the heavy hard wire used in fishing.

Fly-Tying Tools

Special fly-tying tools are available and very useful for some aspects of tackle-building. A fly-tying vise is a must for bucktails, other types of tied tails on spinnerbaits and buzzbaits (though these are an exception to the slip-on tails usually used), fur and feather tails tied on spinner hooks, and other tied tails for various lures. Other accessories used in fly typing are useful as well.

Fly-Tying Vise


Fly-tying vises are designed to hold a hook, on which various materials are tied. Vises are commonly used in all aspects of fly tying but are also very useful or tying bucktails and dressed hooks for spinners and plugs. The cost of a vise ranges from very inexpensive to several hundred dollars. The simple inexpensive ones work fine for tackle-building.

Be sure you get a vise with jaws that will open wide enough to hold the largest hook on which you wish to tie materials. Some vises have separate jaws for different hooks, while others advertise that they will securely hold any hook from a size 28 through a 5/0. Failure to use a vise with jaws that will hold the large-sized hooks can result in sprung jaws, a broken vise, and insecure clamping of the hook. Remember that the hooks for lures on which you will be tying are far larger than the standard hooks used for most fly tying.

Most vises are available on either a pedestal base or with a clamp base. The pedestal bases are ideal if you are going to move around the house—tying bucktails on the basement workbench, on a TV table in the family room, on an office desk, or on any surface to which you cannot clamp or do not wish to scar the surface.

The clamp-on vises are sturdier and as a result of the adjustable clamp do allow up and down adjustment of the vise head for more comfortable tying.

Other Fly-Tying Accessories

An entire mini-industry has been built around the various types of fly-tying vises and fly-tying tools and accessories. Although these are most useful for true fly tying and are less necessary for the more basic bucktails and hook tying, they are still handy to have. Some accessories to consider include:

Bobbin holders. These are small arms that are usually attached to the vise post and hold the thread on a bobbin out of the way. They are useful for holding the thread clear while winding hackle when tying dry flies or palmered-hackle bodies.

Bobbins. Any fly or bucktail can be tied using thread cut from a spool, but a bobbin that holds and guides the thread makes tying easier, allows more precise thread work, reduces thread waste, creates constant thread tension, and causes less fatigue. Many companies make bobbins in various styles (metal and no-grooving ceramic tips), in different sizes for different spools (Gudebrod makes two bobbin sizes), and in different tubing lengths. If you are serious about bobbins, it helps to have one for each thread color or thread size you use.

Bodkins. Bodkins are nothing more than a metal point on a handle and are used for picking out thread and adding head cement to a wrap to secure it. They are handy for many tackle tasks and are easy to make (See Chapter 2).

Half-hitch tools. To finish off any wrap, you must use a half-hitch or whip-finish. Special tools are available to make these tasks easier. Half-hitch tools are usually double-ended, with a different head on each end to fit different hooks. They can only be used on the heads of hooks in back of the eye and will not work on any wrap in which you have to bring the thread over part of the lure or jig, as with bucktail heads. For this, you must use a freehand half-hitch finish or a whip finish.

Whip-finisher. Whip-finishers are more complex to use and require some practice, but they allow a tier to finish a wrap with a whip-finish. As with half-hitch tools, most can only be used on a wrap that is finished on the hook shank just in back of the hook eye. Some do allow working to make the completed wrap over the lead head or other parts of the lure.

Hackle pliers. These are small, spring-operated clamps that hold hackle for winding around a hook shank. They are useful for wrapping hackle on some special jigs such as crappie flies (really jigs) and similar hackled jig heads. Several styles and sizes are available.

Details on all these tools can be found in the many books available on fly tying, and purchase is easy through any fly-fishing shop or through the many mail-order catalogs that cater to fly tiers. Some of the mail-order companies listed in Appendices F and G include fly-tying tools and materials; other sources can be found through the various fly-fishing magazines.

There are also special tools made exclusively for rod-building, which usually are only available from tackle shops or mail-order component-parts outlets.



While they would never be needed in the past, some aspects of rod making today require a lathe. A wood or metal lathe (usually either will work for the tasks required in rod building) is necessary for making the bore hole in wood or acrylic grips, for some fancy wood handles, etc. The hobby lathes will work fine. These are available from most tool shops and from some mail order catalog wood working supply houses. Note that you will only need a lathe like this if necessary for some rod handle work.



Precision inside and outside measuring calipers are not absolutely required, but they are handy and useful. With these instruments that can measure in either millimeters or inches (thousandths), you can easily compare inside and outside ring sizes of guides, and precisely check short lengths of short items and diameters.


           These clamps for gluing cork rings together to make a handle are available at some shops, but are also each to make using scraps of wood and threaded rod. See Chapter 2 for instructions on these handy but easily made tools.

Curing Motor

Curing motors are a necessity for building rods today because all of the best finishes are thick epoxy or polyurethane, which require constant slow rotation once applied to the blank to prevent the finish from sagging and dripping. For these, a curing motor is a must.

Curing motors come either DC- (battery operated, either one or two D or C cells) or AC-operated. Motors typically range from about 4 to 10 rpm, although a slightly slower or faster speed also works. All include some form of chuck to hold the rod. Chuck variations include simple rubber butt caps that can be fitted onto the motor and adjusted to any rod, a simple three-jaw chuck of thumb screws, or self-centering chucks of rubber or aluminum (these are most like a lathe chuck). Some chucks are nothing more than a heavy rubber membrane stretched over a rotating cup, with the rod or rod blank mounted in a hole in the center of the membrane. This thick membrane, almost like a automobile tire tube, holds the rod securely enough for the slow rotation.


A commercial curing motor that, by means of a thumb screw “chuck” to hold the rod, turns the rod at a slow speed to prevent sagging of the finish.


These tools usually come with, or have as an option, a support for the other end of the rod. The best are those that are AC-operated. You can also make your own curing motor tool, as outlined in Chapter 2.

Handle Seater

Handle seaters are easy to make (see Chapter 2), but are also available from some tackle shops and component houses. In essence it is a board with one or more holes, by which a synthetic (Hypalon or EVA) grip can be pushed into place on a blank.

Tapered Reamer

These are long reamers with a grit finish for tapering cork grips and rings. Most are about 18 inches long and come in several size grits. They are available from most mail order catalog houses dealing with rod components.

Tip-Top Gauge

Gauges are available from tackle shops and component-parts houses. Several major guide and tip top companies make them now. Most are a small plastic rule or device that has holes into which you can size a rod tip and nubs to size a tip top. They usually include sizes from 4/64 through 32/64 inch. In the sizes indicated, they can also measure metal ferrules.


Various scales are available to make rod-wrapping thread designs easy. These are two scales used for lining up decorative butt wraps on rods. The circle template is used to line up decorative wraps on the rod; the straight scales to measure for those wraps.



Cutters to cut foam and cork rings and handle lengths into sections for making patterns and checkerboards are handy if you want this look on your rods. Mud Hole makes a cork cutter that will cut ½ inch thick rings into the sections required for regluing and adding to a cork grip. North East Rod Builders has a similar (but differently working) cutter that will do the same thing with foam EVA sections so that you can make contrast coloring rings and sections for rod grips.

Rod-Wrapping Tools/LATHE


Small rod-wrapping tools are available from many suppliers. This example—from Flex Coat—contains felt-protected “V” blocks and sewing-machine-style tension devices. An extension to support long blanks is also shown.

These are available in both manual and electric models. The manual models range from simple wood racks with notches at each end to hold the rod and a thread tension device attached to the base, to more sophisticated tools of aluminum or with special attachments or features for wrapping or other rod-building tasks. Some locally made house brands are available from tackle shops and mail-order companies. Currently, Jann’s Netcraft, Renzetti, Flex Coat, Mud Hole, American Tackle, PacBay, and Merrick Tackle all have rod wrapping tools. These vary from simple clamp-on rod-wrapping tools to motorized, long-bed machines with several rod supports for holding parts of the rod blank, and up to eight thread carriages to hold thread spools for complex wrapping.

Electric models usually include a power supply, a built-in chuck to hold the rod, and a base with one or several additional rod supports. Usually the device is controlled by a foot-pedal rheostat control for adjustment of thread-wrapping speed. Often the base is on a rack that will slide back and forth, enabling the rod-builder to sit in one spot and wrap, sliding the rod and motor base along the rack as needed to wrap each guide.


Many companies make power wrappers that are controlled by a foot pedal and turn a blank on rollers for fast, easy wrapping. This one is by Pacific Bay.


Another example of a power rod wrapper, with foot pedal. This one by Flex Coat has felt-covered “V” blocks for the blank.

Some simple manual rod winders are inexpensive, while some of the variable-speed, aluminum-base, aluminum-chuck, roller-rod-support machines are very expensive. Some of these come with optional slow-rpm curing motors. Details on any of these can be found in catalogs, although you can also make your own simple machines, as noted in Chapter 2.

In considering any of these, get as many catalogs as you can and examine features and prices to determine the features you want and what you can afford.

One important feature with manual machines is the ability to adjust the position of the thread tension device and one-end rod support. It also helps to be able to get an additional single rod support for working with long blanks or one-piece blanks. However, you can make your own additional support or jury-rig a support if necessary. These adjustments, however, make it possible not only to wrap any guide, but also to do the small decorative wrap on the end of a tip-top or the combination decorative/hoop-strength wrap required for self-ferrules.

For electric models, make sure the motor has a secure chuck, either a thumb screw or a self-centering chuck, so that you can hold any rod. If working with complete rods in which the handle has been attached, there is an advantage to working with thumb screws or a non-self-centering chuck. This will allow you to mount rods in the chuck that have an offset angle (some trigger-style rods), as well as any of the pistol-grip-handle rods. If working on long rods such as one-piece or long two-piece surf sticks, you may need extension base sections to hold the whole rod and to allow wrapping guides at one end. If this is a possibility, consider the length of the base when buying the machine and explore the possibility of obtaining extra extensions if needed.

Thread Tension Devices

These are available as separate items from most parts outlets. They are usually the thread tension device used in sewing machines, adapted for thread-wrapping. These can be bought at sewing and fabric stores in addition to tackle and mail-order houses.


This is a small tool, usually plastic, to help smooth guide wraps and to close or prevent any gaps in the thread wrap. Good substitutes include plastic-barrel ballpoint pens or similar devices.


Small alcohol or butane torches are available and useful in removing bubbles from thread-wrap finishes by the application of quick heat. They are also helpful in removing and replacing tip-tops. In addition, small butane torches are available for welding and soldering operations, such as fastening hooks to small ice-fishing blades or larger spoons. Some of these torches, such as the butane Micro Flame Torch & Soldering Iron, made by Tri-Peek International, Inc., are designed specifically for small-flame hobby work and are ideal for tackle-crafting purposes. The torch is easily filled from butane fuel injectors and comes with flame and soldering tips. Soldering, as with the Tri-Peek Aluminum Weld and their Multi-Weld (for soldering everything but aluminum, magnesium, and pot metal) is available for these tools.

Alcohol Lamp

An alcohol lamp is very useful for wrapping rods. The side of the flame can be used for singing the thread wrap to remove any small fuzzy areas, and to make finishing easier. These lamps are also useful to heat a tip-top before attaching it to a rod tip with a heat-set cement or one of the several ferrule cements made for this purpose.


This, along with its disposable replacement blades, is ideal for cutting excess thread in rod-wrapping. If you have a choice in blades, choose the #11, which is sharply pointed and has a flat cutting edge, ideal for tackle-craft and rod work.

Diamond Wrap Tools

These are available to help in making and laying out diamond, chevron, and other decorative wraps. The tools consist of templates that allow the positioning of diamond or chevron marking points on four sides of a rod, along with right-angle gauges for checking the initial crossing threads after the first wrap is laid down.

Masking Tape

Masking tape in 1/8-, 1/4-, 3/8-, and 1/2-inch thicknesses is available from some tackle-parts catalogs, art stores, hobby shops, automotive supply shops (where it is used for pin-striping), and stationery stores. It is ideal for determining and laying out the guide spacing on rods and for masking fine parts of lures for painting. The 1/8-inch size is best for holding guides while rod-wrapping; the 1/2-inch size is best for masking lures for painting.

Safety Equipment

Basic safety equipment is a must for safe tackle-building, especially when power tools are used or when lead is molded. Drilling, sawing, grinding, sanding, and lathe operations frequently throw off small bits of wood and metal and dust. To prevent injury to your eyes, wear safety goggles during these and all other shop and tackle-making operations. This is especially important when cutting spinner wire, drilling, cutting and making spinner blades and wire riggings, and making and hammering spoons blades. Safety goggles are inexpensive and good insurance.


Safety equipment is very important in tackle crafting. The heavy gloves are useful for holding molds and ladles when pouring sinkers and bucktails; the face mask for painting and the goggles for most shop and hobby operations for eye protection.

A shop apron is also handy for all workshop tasks—from painting to molding lead bucktails to working with power tools. Pick a good long apron that will protect you and your clothes.

When molding bucktails and sinkers, wear heavy gloves to prevent burns. Either heavy work gloves or, preferably, welders’ gloves, should be worn. If you carefully follow the directions on molding with lead, you will seldom if ever have a problem or spill. In many years of tackle-making and molding sinkers and bucktails, I have never had a serious spill. Even if such a spill occurred, it is unlikely that it would spill on your hands, but the added protection of gloves is definitely worthwhile. In addition, when working to make lots of lures, the ladles, pots, and molds will become hot. Gloves make handling these items easy and comfortable.

Since spray painting is used for finishing many lures, it is worthwhile to invest in a small breathing mask fitted with removable, replaceable filters. (Most of the excess spray paint can be trapped by using a “paint box,” as outlined in Chapter 15.) It is also handy to have some disposable rubber or plastic (Latex or Nitrile) gloves on hand. These make it easy to paint without having to clean up afterwards. The disposable gloves are sturdy enough for painting and can be thrown out after use.

It is also important to have adequate ventilation, preferably an exhaust fan. These precautions and suggestions concerning ventilation and the use of a breathing mask are just as important for molding lead lures and sinkers and molding soft plastics as they are for painting. See the chapters on these lures for specific suggestions.

The important thing is to use any and all safety equipment possible. This means not only the above equipment, but any other you learn about. Equally important is common sense in using power tools. Basically, this means removing any jewelry, wrist watches, bracelets, ties, loose sweaters, or loose jackets, scarves, rolling up your sleeves, and wearing a work apron. This will prevent any jewelry or clothing from becoming caught in power tools with damaging or tragic results. When using a power tool, be sure to read, understand, and follow the directions and safety rules for that tool. The general suggestions and ideas on the use of power tools here and in subsequent chapters are in addition to—not in place of—the basic operations and safety information supplied by individual manufacturers, suppliers and dealers.

Remember that you do not need all of the equipment mentioned—or most of it—to make much of your own tackle. (The one exception is safety equipment). The discussion above is meant as a comprehensive overview of the tools you might want to consider using, if you already have them on hand, or buying, if you get heavily into one type of tackle-making where these tools can save time and, eventually, money.

There are substitutes for some of these tools that amount to almost no-cost replacements. These are covered in the next chapter, along with directions for the construction of some specialized tools for rod- and tackle-making that you cannot find.

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