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King of Eels
4,227 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Designing and building a Ballerina.

Getting started:
First, I'm no expert, far from it,there have been some great plug builders, some are still building,some are not, some are household names, others, unknown...I'm here to show you the path and give advise to the best of my abilities...
Plug building is a rewarding and fun hobby that can wile away those long winter hours when there are no bass to be caught..But, if you think you are going to save money by building your own plugs, you're building for all the wrong reasons and should stop reading this RIGHT NOW!!! this can be an expensive and addictive hobby ( read habit).. but it doesn't have to be, with a few basic tools and a medium quality wood lathe ( around $179 from Penn Industries for a Crafter Pro)

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you can start turning your own plugs, another solution is to purchase one of the quality kits available at New Jersey tackle or M&D's ( Cape Cod Tackle) , these two outfits will be your main supply depot for plug building supplies like Lips,wire,weights,hooks and swivels...

A word about safety: OK maybe alot of words.
One of the most important things to remember is to work safely and carefully at all times, always follow manufactures instructions when using power tools,paints,solvents and sealers...

Dust control:Turning,cutting and sanding wood all create dust, not only is it a nuisance,it can be hazardous to your health,all efforts should be taken to protect yourself from the fine airborne dust, a quality dust mask is a must,if you do not have a quality dust collection system I recommend 3M's 8210 particulate mask.. it is one of the finest disposable masks on the market.. also remember that ultra fine wood dust can be explosive... so all efforts should be made to contain it and eliminate this hazard..
Another solution is a dust collector:

Kitchen appliance Fixture Gas Machine Shelving

Mine is a Delta 1 HP 220volt 850 CFM, it is fitted with a pair of 1 Micron filters ( stock are 35 Micron) also in the picture are a drum and shop vac, the drum is part of a two stage system that collects heavy debris and reduces the amount of handling of the dust bags..note the shop vac. in the picture, this is fitted with a heppa filter( available at Lowes or Home depot) a quality shop vac is a must for safe and easy clean up.. I also run a 650 CFM ceiling mounted air purifier fitted with a smoke filter.. dust is not an issue in my shop.

Clothing: Turning, cutting and drilling equipment turn at a high rate of speed, accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, please dont become a statistic, button all loose clothing and and never wear gloves when operating a drill press or lathe... the fingers you save will be your own...

Alcohol: I like a cold brew as much as the next guy... but drinking and power tools dont mix.. save the drinking for after your done using power tools.. it tastes much better during the clean up.

Eye protection: safety glasses or OK, but a full face shield will be your best friend!

Supplies: Plug building supplies can be procured from both local and internet sources, wood can be bought from your local lumber yard and some home improvement stores, another source of cedar is your local fence company, scraps can often be had for cheap or simply hauled away.. it doesn't hurt to ask... Plug lips, belly,and nose grommets,weights swivels,hooks and wire can be Purchase at the afore mentioned New Jersey tackle or M&D's or Stamina tackle.. McMaster Carr is a good source for different gauge wires and quality drill bits and shop equipment..

Sealing wood: there is no rocket science involved with sealing wood,the principle is simple,keep water from infiltrating the wood, which will cause it to swell and effect the plugs action, it may even cause it to split in two, this problem can be especially prevalent in Birch, Maple and poplar...
Methods used to seal wood vary greatly, the oldest and tried and true method is Boiled linseed oil ( BLO) mixed with Turpentine or Mineral spirits ( I use odorless mineral spirits) BLO has been used to preserve wood for hundreds of years and is very effective at doing so, it is readily available and is relatively inexpensive... There are three main draw backs to sealing with the BLO mixture, if the sealing container is left open,the mixture tends to give off a odor ( especially with Turpentine) ,secondly, the mixture dries slowly, a complete cure takes 7-10 days, if the mixture is not allowed to cure fully, adhesion problems can result, as can a tendency for the BLO to bleed through the finish, especially when the finished product is left inside a hot automobile in the heat of summer.. take your time and allow a full cure... lastly and most importantly is the potential fire hazard, the mixture itself is not the problem, as linseed oil dries, it creates heat, any rag or paper towel used to clean up spills or wipe down a plug could possibly spontaneously combust under the right conditions, dispose of all rags and paper products in a bucket of water, then spread them flat out side away from potential fire hazards, once dry they can be disposed of in the trash safely..

Val oil: I have never used this sealer, those that use it love it, it dries quickly with out some of the dangers of BLO, however, it is difficult to find, I have heard rumors that it has been taken off of the market..

Epoxy sealing: the latest rage,.. I dont use it, and have never tried it, but for small batches of plugs may be the way to go..

Other options: I have used both Tung and Teak oil for quick sealing , I use this for sealing prototypes because it dries in hours and allows me to make adjustment on the fly and retest the same or next day...they are just not as permanent as BLO or epoxy.

Primer: This is an open field, a good deal of hobby builders use Zinsser Shellac based primer, I used it for years myself with good results, it adheres well and comes in Spray can, quarts and gallons... last season I made the switch to Zinsser cover stain oil base... I spray it on with an automotive type sprayer but it can be brushed on or the plug dipped in it..
Some builders use primer from a spray can with good results... so there are options..just be sure your choice is compatible with whatever top coat you use.. check the manufacturers recommendations

Paint, Many options here as well, many hobby builders use rattle cans ( spray cans) with good results.. I used rattle cans for 20 years... remember, when spraying with rattle cans follow the manufactures instructions... dont spray in a confined area...near a heat or fire source or an explosion could result.
for this reason I now use water based acrylics, they are odorless, and when coated with epoxy ,the finish is very durable.. this process requires a little more equipment so for this build we will be using Spray lacquer in white, black and clear.
The wood: almost any type of wood can be made into a plug with the proper sealing...

Cedar: There are many types of cedar, all make good plugs, Alaskan Yellow Cedar ( AYC) is the most popular and easiest to work with, Atlantic yellow, white and Western red, and eastern red to a lesser degree all make good plugs..a word about Western and Eastern red cedar, both are slightly more toxic than the yellow and white cedars ( all wood is toxic to a degree) some people can become sensitized to it... keep your arms covered and wear a dust mask!

Birch: Birch is a popular plug for darters,it is heavier than cedar, but lighter than maple it turns and finishes nicely.. some of my finest slow sink needle fish are made from birch...

Maple: This dense hard wood makes good darters and fast sink needle fish, it is also used in select deep swimmers, it must be sealed well or it will split.

Mahogany: Like Cedar there are many varieties, it seal well and makes great needle fish, I like it for small darters and hand carves.

Pine: Many a plug has been made from white and sugar pine.. I make all my prototypes from this inexpensive, durable wood.
This is far from a complete list, but these are some of the more commonly used woods.

Building the Ballerina: The original ballerina was built in the early 1900's by Pflueger, it was originally designed as a black bass plug, the original was 5" long and 15/16" in diameter... for the purpose of this build, I will be bumping up the size of this plug to 6" and 1 1/8" in diameter..

Materials you will need: the original was built out of yellow pine, I build mine out of WRC ( western red cedar) and have excellent results...the buoyancy of the WRc make for a very lively plug.
you will need a blank 1 1/4" X 1 1/4" X 8" or larger, a through wire,nose,belly(.370) and tail grommets, a swivel ( I use #1/0 Kroc stainless swivels) a 3/0 treble a 5/0 single siwash ( or 3/0 treble) some paint ( I used spray Lacquer for this project, clear Lacquer), medium glitter( optional) sealer and primer... there will be other things that will be apparent along the way..

I like to lay out the plug on a piece of graph paper, it is alot easier to correct your errors on paper with an eraser than it is to chuck up another piece of wood ( cheaper too) I start by laying out a rectangle the maximum width of my plug..

Ruler Wood Office ruler Rectangle Flooring

Next I lay out the lines of the spook ( ballerina) I extrapolate out 6" and 1 1/8" wide, if the design is not to your liking, a few strokes of the eraser and you can alter the profile.. easy as can be..
Once you have the profile to your liking, write all the dimensions onto the "blueprint", save them to an index card( you will see why latter) and put the blue print into a looseleaf binder.

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Now mark the center of your blank, this can be done by going corner to corner making an X or with a home made center finder, if I'm not working with a close diameter , I simply eyeball the center and center punch with an awl.

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Mark the blank on one side so you map out a 6" area, you only need to mark one side as you will see a ghost image as you rough out your plug to make your cylinder, be sure to leave approx 1/8" ( in diameter)or a little more for finishing., also leave the ends square, this will aid in drilling the body holes..

Wood Office equipment Automotive exterior Bumper Audio equipment

Now prepare your turning tools, you will need a roughing gouge, a skew and a parting tool.. you also need a pair of calipers and something to measure with as well as a pencil ..once the cylinder is roughed out, use your parting tool to square off the ends of your plug ...

Wood Tool Gas Wind instrument Cuisine

remember that index card...

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clip on your lathe for quick reference, mark out your plug,

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your finished target nose diameter is 3/8", mark #1 is @ 7/8" with a target diameter of 7/8"( this will also be the location of your eye), mark #2 is @ 2 1/4" the finished target diameter is 1 1/8", this is also the beginning of your tail taper, the other marks are for the belly hook and weight and are not needed at this time, the tail diameter is 5/8" for your finished plug, be sure top leave enough room for finishing, use your parting tool to define the diameters that you want, check with your calipers, be sure to leave enough for finishing ( sanding) use your skew to define the tapers, refresh marks as you go, check the diameters often with a set of calipers...

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once the plug is turned, sand with #80 grit followed by #120, this is as fine as you really need to go, too smooth and you can run into adhesion problems with the primer, be sure to define all the tapers, this is a very simple plug to turn, remark your plug, the hook hole is @ 1 1/2" ( all measurement from the nose) the weight hole is @ 4 1/4 and is 3/8X 1/2" deep..

Gas Engineering Cylinder Auto part Machine

Now is drilling time, the easiest way is on the lathe, a drill press can be used,if you have one with enough height.. I use a 9/64 bit but most folks use a 1/8" bit and this works can also drill with a hand drill but drilling straight through is difficult... on the lathe with a 6" drill bit and the lathe set at 1200 RPM, slowly advance the plug into the bit while siding the tail stock. reversing the direction every 3/4" or so the clear the chips, when you reach the end, flip the plug and drill from the opposite end..

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Gas Engineering Cylinder Auto part Machine

Now go to your drill press, if you dont own one, a hand drill will suffice, at the marks made on the plug, drill your belly and weight holes, go just deep enough to drill just past the center drilled through hole, if your drilling your through hole with a hand drill drill the weight and belly holes first, this will aid you in the through drilling "free hand"
for drilling the body, I use a 1/2 by 11/32 step drill, but for most people, a 1/2" forsner bit is more practical for the spot facing of the belly grommet( counter sink) and a 3/8 Forsner bit will drill the hole for the swivel as well as your weight hole ( belly grommet is .034")

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before you remove the square ends, mark the eye, use a block of wood that extends about 1/16" above center..

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then spot face with a 3/8" forsner bit.... now cut off the ends, install your belly weight ( approx. 1/4 ounce) fill the hole with putty, I use Elmer's 2 part epoxy putty, but plain wood putty will do, now sand smooth with #120 grit and your plug is ready for sealing( be sure to allow sealer to completely cure)..

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after sealing give it two thin coats of primer ( see recommendations)

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after the primer has dried, I gave this plug two thin coats of lacquer,

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I then painted the back black,mainly to give me a visual when working the plug, after the paint dried, I installed the belly grommet and eye using marine grade two part epoxy, the plug was then sprayed with clear lacquer, and a fine coat of medium glitter applied while it was still tacky, I then followed with two more coats of clear lacquer...

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After 24 hours, I begin by assembling the nose and tail grommets, I then insert the wire, be sure to encapsulate the swivel, it sucks to find out it wasn't caught while fighting a fish, been there done that..

Wood Feather Sports equipment Fish Automotive exterior

Assembly .. I start by bending the wire up at a 90 degree angle, most start at a 45, I then chuck a #) Phillips in my vice, the original jaws have been replaced by home made aluminum ones, then pressing the wire against the screw driver, just above the bend I wrap the wire around the screw driver, forming a loop,

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next, I remove the plug and screw driver from the vise, and place the loop in the vice ( the aluminum keeps the wire from getting damaged) now begin the wrap hold the loose end in a pair of needle nose vice grips and begin the wrap, TIGHT to the body, push the plug slightly away from you as the wrap comes to wards you, as you proceed, pull the body towards you, placing the wraps tight to the grommet, the second full wrap goes on top of the first...

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cut off the excess with a pair of side cutters or dremel wheel.... now you have a nice neat tail loop low profile and professional...

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add a 5/0 siwash with sparsely tied bucktail and a 3/0 belly hook and take this dog for a walk...

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Happy thanks giving all

King of Eels
4,227 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Ive never had one turn yellow with e-tex spray scratch coat... unless the sealer is bleeding into the finish... You do not have to spray a scratch coat, it is just a step I take to make a better product...

I have gone back to lacquer because of it's availability and durability...

but it must be sprayed outside or in a vented booth...

King of Eels
4,227 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Poly will always yellow....

yes, I use the lacquer for a scratch coat, under the e-tex.... I have never had a problem with acrylic water based paint, but it will lift enamel right off the plug...

All those beautifull plugs that creek chub made were all painted with lacquer..then clear coated with lacquer... it on it's own is a very durable finish..

First Mate
1,198 Posts
This plug is producing fish. My best color has been yellow back with white belly. The walk the dog action is great. Sometimes I don't even retrieve, just let it sit and give it a twitch as the boat is drifting.
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