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Best Wood For Making Fishing Lures

I wish I had a buck for every time someone asked about the best wood for making fishing lures! It’s a great question…… one of the most common questions I get, in fact.

Choosing wood for lure making doesn’t need to be difficult. But it’s fair to say that some timbers are better than others – both for ease of use and for the quality of the lures they make.

Some of the staple timbers that are popular with lure makers around the world include balsa wood (one of my favorites for newbies), basswood, jelutong, various cedars, cypress knees, beech and baltic pine. I’ll talk more about a few of these later in this post, but pretty much all of them can be great lure making timbers.


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What Do You Want To Know About The Best Wood For Fishing Lures?

Qualities Of The Best Wood For Making Fishing Lures

 

It’s fair to say there is no such thing as the “perfect wood” for lure making. In fact, the timber you choose to carve some lures from will depend on what you are trying to make. What works for one lure (or lure maker) may not work for another.

Just like anything in life, it’s not a “one size fits all” situation. For example, you probably wouldn’t turn up at a trout stream with a surf rod, right? And you you wouldn’t chase marlin from a kayak….. (well, some might). So in lure making, you wouldn’t make a tuna lure from balsa wood. And you’re probably not going to make a bass popper from abachi. Both of those timbers are great for some lures, just not for all lures.

I use just a couple of timbers on a regular basis, but I use a much wider range of timbers on a less frequent basis. I have different preferences when I’m making poppers than I’d have for crankbaits and different ones again for lipless cranks. It’s really a case of matching the wood to the end product I want to create.

One of the important steps in wooden lure making that often gets overlooked is to harden the timber before painting it. Painting and clear coating creates a barrier thin barrier around the outside of the wood, which only gives limited protection. But hardening is a process of treating with a product like epoxy that gets deep into the wood and then sets to make the wood itself harder. Obviously, this tends to increase the density of the wood slightly. But it does allow us to work with soft, easily worked timbers and then toughen them up for longer lasting lures.

7 Qualities That Determine The Best Wood For Making Fishing Lures

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1. Density/Specific Gravity

Let’s not get bogged with detail about how density and specific gravity are different….. For the lure maker, all that matters is that we’re talking about the relative weight of your lure making wood. In other words. if you have two chunks of wood the same size and one is heavier, that chunk is said to be more dense. If the density of wood is greater than the density of water, the wood will sink. If it’s less dense than water then the lure will float. And if the density is the same as water, the lure will suspend (neither float nor sink). I reckon finding the best wood for making fishing lures is about balancing strength and density. This gives maximum flexibility for your lure design and more options regarding the action you want the lure to have. Unfortunately, strength and density are often a tradeoff! Low density usually also means low strength. The trick is to find the right balance for the type of lure you’ll be making.

2. Strength

In simple terms, strong wood will resist splitting or snapping. Weak wood obviously splits or snaps more easily when you put it under strain. Simple enough……. But how much strength do you really need in a timber for lure making? Well, not much. Or a lot, it just depends. For example, if you’re making big crankbaits or stickbaits to throw at dog tooth tuna, GT’s or other tough customers you need tons of strength. But for small, light line popper lures for trout or perch, not so much. Most lures have areas where a lot of wood gets removed. This is particularly a problem near the head of the lure where there’s often a bunch of holes and slots quite close to each other.  Of course, gluing everything together will restore some of the strength. But wood failure can still happen and can cause lost fish. If you’ll be using screw eyes to install your tow point and hook hangers then stronger wood is obviously an advantage. Which raises the question: Why not just use the strongest timber for every lure? Surely no lure can be too strong, right? The problem is that stronger wood is usually also heavier, difficult to shape and doesn’t give lures the best action. Usually “strong enough” is better than “strongest”. Generally speaking, light weight timber gives lures a much better action. So the best wood for making fishing lures is the one with the correct balance of strength and weight.

3. Hardness

Hardness is all about dent (and tooth) resistance. Lures made from hard wood will last longer, simple as that. We all know that the best way to catch fish is to smack your lures into structure frequently. Pylons, rocks, fallen trees, reef. But slamming your lures into structure is hard on them. When a lure gets dented the clear coat is usually compromised, allowing water to get into the timber. It’s the beginning of the end. But before we get on to talking about hardness, let me clarify something. Not all “hardwoods” are hard, and not all softwoods are soft. Balsa wood, for instance, is a very soft material, but is technically classified as hardwood. And Yew is a very hard softwood, much harder than a lot of hardwoods. That’s not confusing at all, is it? What I’m saying is, just because something is labelled “hardwood” at the lumberyard, doesn’t mean it’s going to be dent resistant when you make a lure from it. Once again, we have a trade-off. Hard wood also tends to be dense and heavy. The good news is, most lure making timbers can be hardened after you’re done shaping them. This allows us to use a softer wood then toughen it up afterwards. It tends to increase the density of the lure slightly but makes much longer lasting lures.

4. Wood Grain

When it comes to grain, there are two things to look for in a lure making timber:

  1. How straight the grain is
  2. Whether the grain is open or closed.

If you’re using hand tools, straight grained timber is much easier to carve than interlocked or woven grain. It’s less prone to splitting and “dig ins”, and it’s easier to know which direction to move the blade. I used to prefer closed grain timbers (those with very small pores) because they were a little less work to prepare for painting. But these days I actually prefer an open grained timber. The open grain tends to soak up the chemicals I use to harden the wood. This gives me tough, hard, waterproof lure bodies that resist denting and take paint beautifully.

5. Dryness

Personally, I use only kiln dried timber for lure making. Why is that important? Well, I like to know that my wood has been properly seasoned (dried, not salt and peppered). Moisture in the timber does a few nasty things to your wooden lures: Firstly, it causes early failure of your paints and clear coats. You see, once a lure has been painted and clear coated, whatever moisture is in the fiber is trapped. When that lure gets warmed up on the dash of a boat, back of a car or other warm place the water starts to evaporate. The water vapor pushes from beneath the clear coat, breaking the bond with the wood surface. Your lure is now on borrowed time, the paint is well on the way to failing. Secondly, moisture in the wood tends to cause “movement” as any cabinet maker will tell you. That is, the wood expands and contracts a little more than dry wood does, stretching and testing your paints, clear coats and adhesives. And finally, moisture in the wood means it’s heavier than it should be. And that means the wood is more dense and and your lures will have a more sluggish action. All in all, those are all pretty good reasons to use a quality, kiln dried timber, don’t you think?

6. Availability & Cost

There are quite a lot of blokes out there making some amazing “nude” lures. In other words, they’re clear coating the wood without painting it. This allows the natural grain and color of the wood to shine through, which is very attractive to the human eye. Fish don’t mind it either……. if you’ve read my lure fishing tips you’ll understand why. The reason I mention this? I reckon making nude lures is the only time that the cost of buying lovely, ornate, prestige timber is justified. The rest of the time you’ll be painting over the grain, so stick with boring, vanilla timbers and save yourself a buck! Apart from not being expensive, I like to make sure my chosen timber is readily available. Can you imagine perfecting a new lure pattern only to find that you can’t get the right wood any more? Leave the rare, exotic, highly sought after (and thus expensive) timbers to the wood turners. There are plenty of cheap, readily available options that are perfect for lure making.

7. Other Considerations

There are a few other considerations when it comes to choosing the best wood for making fishing lures:

  • Toxicity. No wood dust is good, but some are worse than others. I wouldn’t necessarily avoid timbers whose dust are irritants or even toxic. I use cedar a lot, for instance. Just be aware that you might need some extra precautions – lie dust masks or even gloves.
  • Odor. Some timbers have smell that makes them unpleasant to work with. Can fish smell it? It’s hard to say once it’s under layers of paint and clear coat. But fish do have a greater sense of smell than humans, so do you want to chance it?
  • Waxiness. Some timbers have a kind of waxy quality that doesn’t agree with glues or paints. Best avoided for obvious reasons……

Popular Options For Making Timber Lures

 

Fortunately, there are tons of options when it comes to choosing wood for fishing lures. In fact, I have readers and customers all over the world and we’ve never yet failed to find a local timber that will do the job.

Of course, there are a few popular options that get widely used around the globe. Below you’ll find a summary of four of the more popular timbers for making timber lures, plus one lesser known one that I personally love to use.

And if you can’t get any of the timbers on this list, just scroll to the bottom of the page for a bigger list of wood for fishing lures.

Best Wood For Making Fishing Lures: Docs Top 5!

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1. Balsa Wood

Description: Balsa is one of the more commonly used lure making timbers around the world and is perfect for many crankbait and topwater styles. It’s light colored and usually has straight, even grain. Balsa has reasonably uniform density and is extremely lightweight and easy to work.

Pro’s: Easy to shape and work. Extremely lightweight, giving lures a crisp action and lure makers lots of weighting options. Readily available and not too expensive in small sizes used for lure making. Takes glue and paint well. Con’s: Soft and easily dented. Through wire recommended for medium duty lures, not recommended for heavy duty lures.

Best Applications: Small to medium crankbaits, topwater lures and suspending jerkbaits.

Comments: I often start newbie lure makers off with balsa wood because it’s one of the easiest materials to get results with. I wouldn’t use it for lures that will be thrown at toothy species or really hard fighters, but it’s perfect for plenty of “bread and butter” species. I’ve always recommended a through wire for all balsa lures, but in recent years I have used and tested screw eyes and twist eyes in balsa lures for line classes up to 6kg with no problem. Any heavier than that, I’m turning to a through wire!

2. Cedar

Description: There are a few different cedars that get used for lure making – in fact, cedar is one of the top choices of lure makers around the world. My usual preference is western red cedar, but eastern red and Alaskan yellow cedar are good choices too. Australian red cedar is especially good if you can get it – light and very strong for its weight. Cedar is heavier than balsa wood, slightly darker in color and a fair bit harder, making it a great choice for many applications. Pro’s: Easy to shape and work – and more durable than balsa wood. Lightweight, giving lures a crisp action and lure makers lots of weighting options. Takes glue and paint really well. Con’s: Dust of some cedar species is toxic, most species are highly irritant – asthma sufferers beware! Can contain some tannin, so needs to be sealed with a stain blocker to prevent acrylic paints from getting spoiled. Can form ridges during sanding as the softer inter-grain materials gets removed faster. Best Applications: Crankbaits of all sizes, lipless crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits, brokebacks, topwater lures gliders and countdown minnows. Comments: If I had to nominate just one timber to win the title of “best wood for making fishing lures” then cedar would be right up there. As I said at the start of this post, there is no “one size fits all” lure making timber. But but cedar is right up there among the top few in terms of versatility and quality of finished product.

3. Basswood/Lime

Description: With a name like basswood, it’s gotta at least catch bass, don’t it? Seriously though, basswood is a wonderful lure making timber. It’s lightweight, light in color, strong, easy to work……. what more could you want? Well, it’s low in tannin, takes glue and screws well and hardens nicely when you treat it before painting. If you’re one of my European lure makers, then lime is a very closely related timber…… and everything I’m about to say about basswood also applies to lime. Pro’s: Easy to shape and work. Light weight and light colored for a great action and easy painting. Dust less irritating than cedar. Con’s: Not too many cons for this timber! The main ones are availability and cost. Basswood is not always that easy to get your hands on and can cost a little more than other lure making timbers. Best Applications: Crankbaits of all sizes, lipless crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits, brokebacks, topwater lures gliders and countdown minnows. Comments: If you’re a custom lure maker with a steady supply of basswood you probably won’t waste too much energy looking for an alternative timber. You’re pretty much covered for most wooden lure making applications.

4. Jelutong

Description: Jelutong is a light weight lure making timber that’s easy to carve and has a nice even grain. It’s a wonderful option for making all kinds of lures, being very similar to basswood in terms of weight, hardness and grain. Jelutong takes screws and glue well and absorbs hardener nicely to toughen the whole thing up. Pro’s: Easy to shape and work. Not too expensive, light weight and strong, with straight even grain. Like all wood, the dust is not great for the lungs, but jelutong isn’t nearly as irritating or toxic as cedar. Con’s: Jelutong can be difficult to get in some parts of the globe. Apart from that, there are not too many down sides to using jelutong as a lure making timber. Best Applications: Crankbaits of all sizes, lipless crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits, brokebacks, topwater lures gliders and countdown minnows. Comments: At the time of writing I’d have to say Jelutong gets my vote as the best wood for making fishing lures. Sure, I’ll switch to balsa for some styles, like small poppers. Or I might use cedar for flat sided cranks. But there are not many lure styles that can’t be made with jelutong. Haven’t tried it? Give it a go!

5. Smoked Baltic Pine

Description: For most of us, smoked baltic pine probably isn’t even on the radar as a wood for fishing lures. I got put onto it years ago by a window maker who imports the stuff for its stability and much lower toxicity than cedar. Smoked baltic pine is a superb lure making timber. It carves easily, sands super smooth, soaks up wood hardener and is light yet strong. Pro’s: Easy to shape and work. Light weight but strong, low irritant compared with cedar, hardens and paints nicely. Con’s: Difficult to get. I have a supply of offcuts from a window factory, but otherwise I’d have to special order it from a lumber importer – probably at great cost. Best Applications: Crankbaits of all sizes, lipless crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits, brokebacks, topwater lures gliders and countdown minnows. Comments: I wish smoked baltic pine was more available as I love making lures with the stuff. Despite having the typical, conspicuous light and dark grain of pine, smoked Baltic pine is easy to carve and doesn’t contain tannin. Worth trying if you can find a supply.

Overview Of Some Key Lure Making Timbers

The table below provides info about popular lure making timbers as well as some commonly available species that might also be suitable.

More Wooden Lure Making Resources

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