Build Your Own Pencil Popper

A great D.I.Y. off-season project for surfcasters who'd rather be knee deep in the suds.

Build Your Own Pencil Popper

The Unpatented Spindle Popper 

Some time ago, I came across a how-to article on how to build your own pencil popper. Many saltwater anglers believe the pencil popper to be the deadliest lure ever for striped bass and bluefish. I was eager to see the plans in the article, but disappointed to discover they were costly and complicated.

The blueprint for the homemade popper was as detailed as an architect’s drawing and involved using expensive special equipment such as a lathe and a drill press with a sanding drum attached. I thought there must be an easier, more accessible method for making the lure.

Build Your Own Pencil Popper
Keep your eyes peeled at flea markets and yard sales for Windsor chairs. A single chair can yield multiple pencil poppers.

The popper is 8 inches long, has a thin, slightly tapered front section and a bulbous rear, with a concave face, sunken eyes and one or two hooks. The more I looked at it, the more I realized its profile very closely mimicked the outline of the turned spindles and leg supports of Windsor chairs. I knew I could find old Windsors for a few dollars at yard sales, church sales, and flea markets. One chair would provide enough hardwood blanks for a dozen poppers in several sizes.

Step 1: Cut, Whittle and Sand

Using a turned spindle eliminates all of the lathe work. All that’s needed is to cut the blank to the desired size. The eye sockets, where sanding drum work is involved, can instead be carved into the blank by any competent whittler; likewise, the concave face.

Step 2: Implant and Test Your Hardware

I used long-shaft stainless steel screw eyes for my hook mounts and front eye, which eliminated the difficult job of drilling an 8-inch, very thin tunnel for the through wire. I then tested the screw eyes for strength and found that my line snapped and my 5/0 hook began to bend before the screw eyes ever pulled out or broke.

That was the easy design. However, I chose to try a more difficult option and used a 12-point handsaw to cut a kerf lengthwise about halfway into the spindle from the belly side.

Step 3: Make Tweaks and Adjustments

Next, I laid a stainless-steel through wire into the deep groove with small loops twisted into either end, and filled the kerf with a strip of #12 copper wire glued in place with a two-step epoxy. The copper wire provided belly weight to keep the lure upright on the retrieve.

Build Your Own Pencil Popper
The finished product might look a bit rudimentary to humans, but the fish don’t seem to care.

This method can produce a dozen durable lures for almost no cost, and with this method, you can build your own pencil popper five times as fast as the lathe and drill method. Mine turned out good enough to attract the attention of any discerning bass or blue. 

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