Baseball season is in full swing. Many companies are hard at work making sure that no player ever runs out of their favorite baseball bat. As we were thinking about wood turning this month, we thought there’s really no more common of an example of wood turning than the baseball bat.
The Start of the Baseball Bat
When the game of baseball was first played, sticks were used to hit the ball. By the time the game had been officially organized as a team sport, the players either whittled their own bats or bought them from a wood turner.
Then Hillerich & Sons, a Kentucky wood-turning shop came on the scene. They were the first company to devote a full-time operation to the manufacturing of baseball bats. According to company lore, in 1884, John “Bud” Hillerich, the son of the company’s founder, was attending a Louisville Eclipse baseball game when a player named Pete “Old Gladiator” Browning broke his bat. Bud then invited Browning back to the shop where Bud custom-made a new bat from a piece of white ash. During the next day’s game, Browning pounded three hits in three at-bats using the new bat. And the rest, as they say, is history. The company named its new product the “Louisville Slugg”er.”
What Woods Are Used to Make Baseball Bats?
Approximately half of pro bats are made from northern white ash and the other half from hard maple. The best timber comes from parts of Pennsylvania, New York and other northeastern states where the terrain and climate are most favorable to its growth.
Why is Ash So Popular for Baseball Bats?
Bats have traditionally been made from ash, because of the wood’s durability and resistance to damage from impact. Its long, straight growth pattern also allows it to be milled and molded better than many other species. An added bonus to the wood turner using ash – it isn’t as hard on your cutting blades, bits and knife edges as some other hardwoods. And baseball players love it because when a ball is hit with an ash bat there is a trampoline affect. When a baseball hits an ash bat it tends to react like an object hitting a trampoline and bouncing back off of it.
The ash is valued for its strength, flexibility, and light weight. “With white ash you have the rare combination of strength and flexibility,” said Brian Boltz, a general manager at Hillerich & Bradsby Co., the parent company of Louisville Slugger. Ash bats do not snap the way a maple bat does. Ash bats will break just as easy, but usually they just wear out. The grain of an ash bat will delaminate over many uses.
Hard Maple for Baseball Bats?
As power hitters started looking for more home runs, maple entered the scene. “It’s a harder wood and the ball “pops” off the bat more, said Brian Boltz, general manager at Hillerich & Bradsby Co., the parent company of Louisville Slugger. The downside is that maple shatters more easily than ash.
Maple itself is a very hard, dense wood and a majority of maple bats are made from rock or sugar maple. The harder the surface the faster the ball will jump off the bat. Maple is a tight grained hard wood, where ash is not. The tightness of the grain in maple makes it not as easy to see and will not have grains that are clearly visible like you do in ash.
Turnings from Ash and Maple
All of the same wood qualities that ash and maple make good baseball bats also make it excellent for wood turnings.
What do you think? Do you turn with ash and maple? What are your favorite parts of working with them?