How to make balsa floats on a lathe

You could spend hundreds of pounds on fishing floats and equipment over a season. According to a leading fishing equipment retail website, floats can cost from 60p to £5 each in 2013. But, with time, effort and skill you can make your own floats to your own specifications and size, saving a large amount of money. Balsa is one of the lightest commercially available woods in the world. This makes it ideal for making floats as it is buoyant, durable and can be easily shaped.

Position the safety goggles on your face, covering your eyes. Insert the balsa wood into the lathe chuck and turn the chuck key in a clockwise direction until the wood is securely in place. Make sure it is gripped firmly at each end and cannot slip.

Turn the lathe on and place the cutting tool close to the wood. As the wood rotates, let the cutting tool make contact with the wood. Begin at the tip of the float and work your way along to create a teardrop shaped body. This design is balanced enough to work well in both fast-flowing and slower, calmer waters.

Cut the wooden skewer so it is 15cm/6 inches in length. Drill a hole into the body just wide enough to fit one end of the skewer.

Place a small blob of glue onto one end of the skewer and position it into the drilled hole. Ensure it is straight and leave it to dry.

Use a piece of coarse sandpaper to sand the float down. Then use a piece of fine sandpaper until you have a smooth surface.

Paint the tip a bright colour such as red, orange or yellow so it is easy to spot in the water. Paint the body a darker colour. Once the paint is dry add a coat of waterproof varnish and leave until dry to the touch.


If a wooden skewer is not available, try using a piece of thin wire. Wipe the float with a cloth after sanding to ensure dust does not mix with the paint. The waterproof varnish must cover the whole of the float to protect it in the water.


Remove any loose clothing that may get caught in the lathe.

Things You'll Need

  • Cutting tool
  • Wooden skewer
  • Drill
  • Sandpaper
  • Safety goggles
  • Waterproof glue
  • Paint brush
  • Paint
  • Waterproof varnish
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About the Author

Jane Chisnall is an antique silver specialist at an international auction house. She started writing about the antiques trade in 2002.