Thursday, March 26, 2015

Unleaded Golf Club

OLF clubs from the era of the featherie golf ball (up to 1850) up through most of the gutta percha era (latter half of the 19th century) were long and slender compared to later versions. The clubface itself typically measured no more than 1 1/8" in height. Without any additional weight added to the club, the club itself may have taken on the name "featherie".

Replica putter, left. Tom Morris putter, circa 1870, right, with weights in rear of club.

The "lead" weight on this modern replica is actually a mixture of bismuth and tin instead of the traditional lead.
Clubmakers added weight to the club by pouring in molten lead into a cavity in the back of the club. A simple trough would not have any mechanism to prevent the lead from dislodging, so it was held in place by one of two methods. One method was to have intersecting holes drilled beyond the main cavity to retain the lead. 

Another method was to drill holes obliquely that were then tapped with a screw, with the thread pattern retaining the lead.

In Horace Hutchinson's 1899 The Book of Golf and Golfers, J. H. Taylor describes the process in great detail:

Outline drawn
Saw the straight part of the edges
Edges sawn. Ready for gouge
 Gouging Out the Groove

Because the density of the bismuth and tin alloy is less than lead, instead of a "V" cavity, I made more of a "U" to accept more molten metal. Two different clubheads are shown below. J. H. Taylor left the recommendation of the groove depth "to your judgment".  On my first club, my judgement was a bit off as the club came out a bit too light.

The latest club I made has a larger groove.

Drilling the Retaining Holes

I have reread "make three grooves on each side with the gouge, starting just below the edge, and continuing to the bottom with an inclination towards the heel" and I am not sure if I understand exactly what Mr. Taylor is describing.

David Stirk's book, Golf: The Great Clubmakers, shows an alternative method to prevent the lead from dislodging by drilling intersecting holes (rather than threaded holes) beyond the main cavity to retain the lead.

Two methods of retaining the lead weight in the clubhead. Intersecting holes,right, were more common.
J.H. Taylor used threaded holes, left.

The pick in one hole can be seen through the other
intersecting hole.

X-Ray radiograph through the top and bottom of the club showing how the lead is held
 in place by intersecting holes into which the molten metal flows.
This club has two additional holes on the edges to add more weight.
X-ray diagnosis: I am a bit concerned about how close the hole closest to the neck is to the face.
Upon hitting this club, the club fractured adjacent to the most central lead hole for obvious reasons.
Lesson learned: Angle the lead holes away from the neck.

Pouring the "Lead"

Now that the groove is made, we need to pour the "lead".  Instead of lead for my replica clubs, I decided to use a bismuth and tin alloy (rotometals alloy 281-338F) which looks similar to lead, has a low melting point and is safer than lead. It is also cold fusible, which means that if a void is present, more molten alloy can be added to the existing metal. The disadvantages are that it is expensive at $20 a pound, not easily removed with hand tools and about 3/4 the weight of lead.

Clay is placed to contain the molten metal (use real clay, not Play-Doh, like I did on my first attempt, unless you want a gooey mess).

The bismuth and tin alloy is quite a bit harder than lead, so I resorted to a drum sander.
Wear a respirator.

Finished putter with metal alloy weight.

Caddie Willie Gunn,1839 by C. H. Robertson at the Bruntsfield Links. In 1813, Daft Willie had his bedclothes stolen from his small attic bedroom for which the Company of Edinburgh Golfers donated 12 shillings to help him out. It was said that from that point on, he would wear his entire wardrobe all at once. He wore three pairs of pants, an overcoat, an old members red coat, several vests and shirts. Fortunately for Willie, golf was played more often during the colder season when the grass was not as high.

Illuminated letter "G" by Thomas Hodge from Golf, The Badminton Library

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hickory Golf Shaft (or Making a Tapered Dowel)

HE golf bug has bitten me again. I am in the midst of making a set of circa 1870 golf clubs. Having a hand tool background for furniture making has been helpful for understanding general important concepts such as grain direction that are applicable to making golf clubs. On the other hand, I needed to learn several new techniques and work with some unfamiliar components (molten metal, ram's horn...). This post is part of a few to follow describing hand tool techniques of 19th century golf clubmaking.

Tapered Golf Shaft

The first obstacle was trying to create a golf shaft. Ash was the traditional wood for the shaft up until about the 1820's. Ash, being a local wood in Scotland, could be worked readily while still green. Thus, it was riven (split) to form straight grained billets, then worked down with a spokeshave. Other woods known to have been used for shafts included lancewood, greenheart, lemonwood, hazel and elm. By 1824, we have evidence that hickory was being used for golf club shafts. Once the springiness and strength of hickory was discovered by the Scottish clubmakers, the other wood species took a back seat. Being imported from the USA, the wood was not as easily worked using green woodworking techniques, although the earlier shafts were still riven. Drawknives would have been tougher to use, so traditional cabinetmaking/joiner tools, such as hand planes, were used to shape the shafts.

Advertisement from The Golfing Annual 1893-94, Vol. 7, Ed. by David Duncan

The hickory shafts taper from 3/4" at the grip end down to about 1/2" and range in length from 34" (putter) to 44" (play club). The following concepts on club shaft making could also be applied to make other types of tapered dowels such as:
  • Windsor chair spindles
  • Pool cues
  • Tapered wooden plugs 
  • Rake handles

I have made about 20 clubs so far, and have experimented with about a dozen combinations in making the golf shafts. Here are 5 different variations to make the hickory golf club shafts:
  • Drawknives and spokeshaves at the shaving horse on a 7/8" square rod
  • Hand planes on the bench, knocking off 4 corners, then 8 arrises and so on
  • Same as above but with a hollow plane (concave profile)
  • Using the 3/4" beading cutter on the Stanley 55 plane to create a dowel, then tapering with a spoke shave
  • A stail engine, which turned out to be my favored method.
  • Stanley No. 77 dowel maker to create a non-tapered rod then taper with desired method
Whenever there are many methods of doing something, it often indicates that there is not one best solution. All of these methods have their drawbacks, but all worked out in the end. Here are three other methods that I have not tried:
  • Lathe. I am tempted to think that this may be the best method, but I have had no luck in finding somebody with a 44" capacity lathe. A steady rest seems mandatory.
  • Veritas dowel maker from Lee Valley tools to create a non-tapered rod then taper with desired method
  • Purchase a hickory shaft online. 

The Shaving Horse Method

Green wood is easier to work. Watch the grain. Start with a drawknife to take down the corners and finish with the spokeshave, Set the shaft aside to dry, then you can use a card scraper, then sandpaper. Depending on the grain, you may need to push the spokeshave or pull it. If the "flame" point of the grain points toward you, use a pulling motion. A major drawback of the drawknife is inconsistency and tear out. Those who make Windsor chairs may favor this method, but they typically use green wood.  

One can also use the shaving horse and spokeshaves as an ancillary method after creating a 3/4" dowel.

A jig to check diameter of shaft

The Handplane Method

From Blackheath Golfing Lays 1873
Using a handplane was the favored shaft tapering method by the last half of the 19th Century.

Five-time Open Championship winner and clubmaker, J.H. Taylor,  (likely with his colleague, Mr. Cann) wrote a 15 page detailed treatise on golf clubmaking, in The Book of Golf and Golfers (1899), but divulged only two sentences on the art of making a clubshaft.   Notwithstanding that this is the best reference I have found  to date describing the technique of clubmaking, my guess is that Mr. Taylor purchased his shafts. 

Start by tapering the four sides

V-shaped cradle
Planing the edges of the shaft into an octagon.
The aluminum bars, affixed together with bolts and wing nuts through three slots, are used to mark the taper lines.

The Stanley 45 or 55 Method

If you have a combination plane, you can load your cutter No. 29, the 3/4" bead, and plane away. Hickory is a difficult wood to work with a molding plane. The going gets tough the deeper you get and you will get a good workout. The result will be a 3/4" dowel which can be tapered with a stail engine (below) or a spokeshave or handplanes.

The Stanley 55 + muscle making a 3/4" dowel. The special clamp elevates the
 stock so that both fences can be used without bottoming out.

The Stail Engine Method

I was racking my brain trying to think of a more efficient method to make a tapered dowel when Roy Underhill's episode on the Rounder Plane came to the rescue. A stail is another name (Br.) for a wooden tool handle. Americans call this gadget a witchet. Rounder planes are similar, but are not adjustable for diameter. After an evening making the plane, I gave it a whirl (literally):

The inside is tapered to accommodate stock about 7/8" square. 

This contraption works like a giant pencil sharpener.
The stock used is a riven, then band sawn, 7/8" square piece of hickory.
 If there was a way to skew the blade,
 I am sure the result would be a lot smoother.

As the wing nuts are tightened gradually, the dowel diameter lessens. This particular stail engine can make dowels form 3/4" to 1/2". Chamfer the corners of the stock first.

The Stanley No. 77 Dowel Maker

This is another variation of the giant pencil sharpener method. Feed in a square piece of stock, crank the handle and out comes a dowel. Various diameter adapters are available.

I thought I remembered playing with the Stanley 77 as a kid.

A card scraper cleans up the faceted edges. A tool called a chair devil, which is just a wooden handled tool holding a card scraper with a 3/4" semi-circle, works well to remove thin shavings.

Putter with hickory shaft and beech head.
The beech wood for the clubhead came from a tree that was felled on the golf course adjacent to the 18th tee near my house. We used a two man cross-cut saw to cut the tall massive stump into sections, hauled the logs with a wheel barrow, then split that log with wedges. Once the log  splits were manageable, milling was completed with a band saw. The wood was air dried for over two years. 

For an update on golf shaft making, see this newer post

Illuminated letter "T" by Thomas Hodge from Golf, The Badminton Library