I am in the midst of making a set of circa 1875 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 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 could also be applied to make any tapered dowel. Some uses for tapered dowels include:
- Windsor chair spindles
- Pool cues
- Tapered wooden plugs
- Rake handles
I have made 10 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
Using a handplane was the favored shaft tapering method by the last half of the 19th Century.
V-shaped cradle holds the shaft.
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.|