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Rigs & Knots
The Knucklehead Lure
A history lesson and tutorial on how to make a classic knucklehead lure.
In 1952, Honolulu tackle shop manager Tadaichi "Tada" Yoshii was awarded a patent for a jointed two-piece wooden trolling lure for billfish and tuna. This lure would become known as the knucklehead. The shape still produces and can be replicated in a home workshop. Story and photos by Jim Rizzuto.
During the 1950s, many local artisans turned out similar two-piece wooden lures, which earned the nickname "Knucklehead."
Tada began making the two-piece lures out of plastic using a design that featured a tapered front end with a slanted, scooped attack angle.
Sevenstrand bought the patent rights from Tada in the late 1950s and began selling "Knuckleheads" worldwide. Left to right: Sevenstrand model, Tada large, wooden knockoff, original plastic Tada and a Knucklehead rear end.
The 1950s also saw the introduction of Mid-Century Modern furniture. Hardware stores sold table legs that were often utilized by lure makers. Because of their tapered shape, the table legs could be turned into Knuckleheads with very little work.
I no longer have any Knucklehead lures that I made back then, so I will take you through the steps involved to make a Knucklehead out of a table leg. Each of the five starting cuts shown have a specific purpose. Keep these markings in mind if you decide to turn a few of these out.
Starting from the left, the first two cuts will become the dovetails for skirt saddles or collars.
The next two cuts become the "bump" between the jointed heads. This bump allows the two pieces room to wobble.
To the right of the last cut, I'm tapering the remaining section to make a second lure of a different kind. No sense wasting any part of this Mid-Century modern wood that's already turning.
The three pieces are now ready to finish as one Knucklehead trolling lure and a bonus tuna popper.
Being careful to center your bit, drill through each of the two Knucklehead sections. Using a bolt seated in the rear of the wood allows you to turn the lure. Withdraw that bolt, discard it and use the hole to help guide your drill.
This image shows how the pieces line up... we'll discuss more about the reason for the 90-degree nose cut later.
After you sand the wood surfaces, a tough spray paint adds color and seals the wood. The brass tube is there to position the lure for pics. Yellow was the most popular color when Knuckleheads began to gain popularity and the skirts shown are the type used 60 years ago.
Knuckleheads lost favor except with fishermen who learned a special trick. Rig the back end and you get a trolling lure that actually works better than the slant-faced early plastic models. Your wood lure with the 90 degree cut should wobble nicely at 6 or 7 knots.
Don't waste any part of your turning. Use any remaining table leg to create a second lure head. This trolling lure will mimic an early version of the shape used in the Mold Craft Softhead line.
Tune up your wooden lure with a blast of Bumper Chrome spray paint (a good trick for any wooden lure).
Add a classic skirt like this one or dress it up with a modern variety.
Don't forget the popper. Turn the front end to make a cup shape and drill through from end-to-end for a wire-through feature used to attach the lure.
Make it beautiful with a good coat of spray paint, run a leader through the center, add a sturdy hook and go challenge some big fish with this floating popper.
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