It might seem a bit pointless to make your own floats when your local tackle shop is selling them in every shape and size imaginable. However, there is something nice about fishing with a float you've made yourself. And making them is a pleasant way to spend an evening, especially during the colder months. You could even sell them, or give them away to your friends.
In this guide I'll show you how I go about making simple porcupine quill floats. These are whipped up the length of the float, with an eye whipped to the bottom, and painted a suitable colour at the tip.
Although I use porcupine quill for this guide, a material not readily available in this country now due to a strict import ban, the general techniques shown can also be used for a wide variety of other quills, such as goose quill or crow quill.
Materials you will need
In order to make the floats featured in this guide, you will need the following:
1. A tall vase, preferably clear, filled with tap water
2. A pair of pliers
3. A pair of wire cutters
4. A junior hacksaw
5. A pair of scissors
6. Wire to make the eyes - I use 15 and 30 amp fuse wire depending on the size of float.
7. Paint brushes - at least one with a fine tip.
8. Turpentine or White spirit
10. Yacht Varnish
11. Super glue
12. Whipping thread (such as the kind used to whip rod rings) or strong cotton
13. Paint - I use Plasti-kote Fast Dry Enamel, in Orange Glow (B27) and Gloss Black (B1) - you'll find this in places like B&Q and Homebase and so on.
14. Split shot
15. A length of mono
16. A float rubber
17. Kitchen roll
18. A fine-tipped CD Writer Pen
19. A cocktail stick or something similar
20. Your choice of quill material - I'm using porcupine but goose quill or similar is recommended
Step 1 - prepare your quill
The first task I carry out is to cut off about a centimetre of the very sharpest point of the porcupine quill. This is purely to make it easier to fit the eye later on, but it also helps to prevent me from stabbing myself - those porcupine quills are sharp!!!
I then use the sandpaper to lightly sand the length of the quill - this removes the shiny surface and will help the paint and varnish to adhere to the quill later on. Now clean the surface with some kitchen roll and a bit of white spirit or turps.
Step 2 - measure the amount of weight your float will carry
Cut a short length of mono and attach it to the bottom of the quill using the float rubber. Now add a couple of split shot that you estimate the quill to be able to carry.
Place the weighted quill into the vase of water, and check - you are looking for the float to cock but leaving a section of quill still out of the water - this will be the painted tip.
Keep adjusting the weight until you are happy, then remove the quill from the water, and using the CD marker pen, mark where the water came up to on the quill.
You can remove the weights, mono and float rubber now.
I now use the hacksaw to trim the tip section to length, followed by sanding to make a smooth tip surface. The tip of this porcupine quill float is actually the end of the quill where it enters the porcupine's body and is a little jagged, so I like to remove this leaving a smooth round tip.
Step 3 - Form the eye
This is optional but I like to add an eye to the bottom of my floats, probably more for aesthetic reasons than anything else.
Eyes are formed by cutting a suitable length of wire and at it's centre point, wind it twice around something suitable, such as a cocktail stick, or in this case a small screwdriver. This will leave you with an eye and two short stems that act as the legs.
These legs are whipped against the side of the quill to hold the eye in place. I like to use a pair of pliers to lightly squeeze flat these legs, so that they lie better against the quill and aren't too bulky when whipped.
I now put a dab of superglue onto the legs and hold them in place in the right position against the sides of the quill - this is purely to make life easier when whipping the eye.
If you're anything like as clumsy as me, you are now glued to a float sorry!
Step 4 - Whipping
The technique for whipping a float is similar to whipping an eye on a rod. It takes a bit of practice and when you do this the first few times you might think you need about five pairs of hands, but I assure you it becomes much easier!
A little tip with whipping is to pull some thread from the bobbin and feed it through the pages of a suitably heavy book and out the other side. This helps to keep tension on the thread and lets you control the whipping with both hands without worrying what the thread bobbin is doing.
Before you start, cut a couple of inches of the thread off and keep to one side, you'll need this later.
To whip, start a little above the eye and wind the thread down towards the eye, then back up in close turns in order to catch in those initial wraps and hold the thread in place. Now continue in close wraps all the way up the length of the eye legs.
When you reach the top of the legs, you may choose to finish the whipping off here, or if you prefer, like me, you can now wrap most of the entire length of the float. Do this by turning the float at a slight angle and whip so that the individual wraps are evenly spaced apart and angled up towards the tip.
I whip until just before the small water mark I made in step 2, then straighten out and do a few more close-turn wraps.
Now, take hold of that bit of thread you cut off earlier, and form a loop. Lay the loop of line against the float where you are currently whipping, so that the loop is pointing towards the tip of the float, and the two loose ends pointing towards the eye. Continue whipping, catching in this loop of thread and do a few more close wraps.
Now, cut your whipping thread leaving a length of a couple of inches, and poke this loose end through the loop. Then pull on the two loose ends of the loop which in turn will pull the end of your whipping thread through several wraps, holding it in place. Pull the loop out completely (and in turn the end of the whipping thread) and put to one side ready for the next float.
Trim off the loose end of your thread and the whipping is complete.
Step 5 - Paint
Time now to paint the tip. You can use any colour you like of course, but I've chosen bright orange glow paint. After giving the tub a thorough shake to mix the paint, I remove the lid and dip the tip of the quill into the paint to the required depth. I then brush off the excess paint to leave a thin coat, and put aside to dry. If you use too much of the Plasti-Kote paint you won't get a good result - better to use several very thin coats. It takes about 30 minutes to dry between each coat.
I also like to add a black stripe at the bottom of the orange once that is dry. For this, get hold of a fine-tipped paint brush. Hold the float upside down on a dry surface in a way that you can rotate the float with your hand. Rest your other hand on the surface, hold the tip of the brush against the float where you want to add the stripe, and rotate the float. That is the easiest way I have found to get a fairly straight black stripe.
Step 6 - Final step
You may if you wish write the shotting weight onto the float which you can do with a steady hand and the fine-tipped cd-writer pen. You may also wish to write your name or the name of the person it is destined for.
Finally, apply a couple of thin coats of yacht varnish to the float, paying particular attention to the whippings. On these porcupine quill floats I prefer not to varnish over the paint, preferring to varnish just up to that point. The quills are pretty waterproof anyway so the main purpose is to protect the whippings. I've never had great success painting on top of yacht varnish with this type of paint anyway - you may have better results.
Anyway, I hope I've inspired you to try your hand at making some yourself. Next time you're walking the dog or out fishing, keep your eye out for suitable quills - you won't find many porcupines wandering about, but there are always plenty of swan and goose quills to be found around the water's edge, and crow quill is available from all good fly-tying material vendors.