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courtesy of George Lockhart

Traditional Handmade Floats, Yorkshire Dales, UK


Materials & Tools:  Cork, sharpie, centre measure device, power drill lathe or mini-lathe, sandpaper of various grits,


I was asked if I could put together a small tutorial as to how I create floats, so I've put together this to allow other amateur float makers and anglers to see how I create and construct my floats. I do not claim to be a professional float maker as there are many other float makers out there far better than myself. I became interested in float making through an elderly gentleman who I grew up beside and I find it relaxing making them and also greatly satisfying when you see fish being caught with the aid of something that you have created from scratch.

If your looking at making your own floats in the future, may I suggest a few publications you should try & get?  I use many other publications...too many to list, but the ones I have photographed below would be the backbone of the float makers library.  They are a wealth of information and if your looking at making traditional floats, then they are an absolute Godsend! Most of them are now out of publication so you'll likely find them by carrying out an internet search.



Above, and to the right in the photograph, are the four publications by World Champion Billy Lane.  To the far left, the "Floatmakers Manual" by Bill Watson, "The Float" By Keith Harwood and finally an old "Ultra Floats Catalogue" which of course was originally Billy Lane's designs.

I have chosen Cork on Cane to illustrate within this tutorial as it is considered a more traditional float to make than current day balsa's & more pleasing to create.  The same principles are used for any body floats I create either in cork or balsa.




Step One:


This is how the cork on cane starts its life.   Used champagne cork which can be picked up on the internet (in bulk) or ask your local bar / club to save them after parties for you.

Step Two:


The first thing I do is to find the centre of the cork and mark it ready for drilling. I do this with the means of a tool which is used for model making and woodturning.  I mark the centre both on the top & the bottom for precision.  In this way, I know when drilling if I haven't went off at an angle.


Step Three:


I recently bought a mini wood turning lathe to turn float bodies. As you can see from the picture, I have mounted it to an old wooden float box which I use to store the various tools and parts for float making. I had used an old power drill clamped to my workbench in the shed, now I can bring it all indoors as it is small & compact enough for my computer / study room.

Step Four:


The next stage in the process is drilling out the centre of the cork to allow the float stem to be pushed totally through the cork. I prefer to push a complete stem through the float rather than cut the stem into two and glue them at the top & bottom, this choice gives strength to the float the whole length of the cork.



Step Five:


The tool I use to turn the float body is nothing flashy or expensive. I use an old screw driver which I have ground down to form a cutting edge. This I use to rough turn the float down to a basic shape.  Then I'll follow up with various grades of sandpaper to get the final shape & texture I desire.

Step Six:


The next couple of photographs show the cork being turned down from its original shape to the final shape I chose for the float body.

Step Seven:


Rough shaping via the screw driver's skew chisel edge.


Step Eight:


Final shaping completed via various grades of sand paper.



Step Nine:


Next step is choosing a stem to match the float. I like to use quills as well as cane. I have been lucky with my quills as I know several gamekeepers on local neighboring estates, however, you do find a lot whilst walking the river bank.

The cane I use is recycled from food products, Most skewers are made from bamboo, but over the years I've managed to collect a number of proper cane skewers.


A restaurant supply store is a great place to find bamboo skewers.   Once the appropriate stem is found it is cut to size then glued in place & allowed to set.

Step Ten:


This is where the float really starts to take shape. By adding silk whipping, a technique that you will have to master.  With time & practice, you will learn to whip neatly and hide all thread tag ends. By experimenting, you can create very unique visual whippings on a float.


This technique was originally designed to bind & secure the float together before the days of glue. Once the whipping is in place I always paint a white undercoat before applying the top coat of fluorescent colour, This enhances the final colour's vibrancy, in my opinion.

Step Eleven:


This is probably my least favorite part of creating floats as a steady hand is required and I'm no artist. I prefer to paint freehand than use any dipping methods or other ways of applying the paint. I have tried various methods used in books and recommended by other makers but always come back to freehand.


I use 3 fluorescent colours for my float tips, red, orange & yellow. The picture shows the painted float along with others being painted in my polystyrene drying ring which I procured from my wife's craft box.

Step Twelve:


I prefer to use a waterbased lacquer which has a 10% sheen rather than a marine varnish, for a number of reasons:

Water based results in easier brush cleaning, no lacquers/thinners smell or mess to deal with.

It doesn't cloud the true texture & colour of the float as some varnishes do even though they are meant to be clear

If a mistake is made, it can be easily wiped off, unlike varnish which sticks to everything.

It is more durable than varnish and doesn't peel or flake after a few seasons of continuous use.

The 10% sheen of the lacquer doesn't make the float shiny like marine varnish does.

All of my floats are given an average  of seven coats of lacquer with 12 - 24 hours drying time between coats, The lacquer is normally dry in 3 to 4 hours, but I prefer to leave it dry longer due to building floats in my spare time after work.



Step Thirteen:


The penultimate stage before completion for me is the application of my signature and date of construction before applying the final coat of lacquer, which protects the maker's mark in more than one way.

Step Fourteen: 


The final stage in float creation is to find the weight that the float will support with the aid of an old 2 litre soda bottle. With experience, when your turning the float down on the lathe, you will be able to guess what weight the final float will support based on its size. I take the lacquer dried float, using a float rubber and some fishing line, and add shot. Using a silver paint pen, I then write the weight on the side of the float for reference.

Step Fifteen:


Gram weight marked on float.

Floats Completed:


The float in the centre is now complete, I have grouped it together with some other floats which were being made at the same time to show the various shaped bodies you can achieve through creativity.


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