Thursday, August 31, 2017

Using a Trapping Plane and The Stanley 77 Dowel Maker to Make a Tapered Dowel (Golf Shaft)

CCASIONALLY, I still get sidetracked from "standard" woodworking to make graceful replica mid-19th century long nose golf clubs. There are two main parts of the golf club, the clubhead and the shaft. I enjoy making the clubheads, but the shaft had been another story. The shaft is made of hickory, and as you know, working with hickory using hand tools requires frequent sharpening and more sweat. On a prior post, I showed about a half dozen methods of creating the golf shaft which typically tapers from 3/4" to about 1/2". These methods could be used to make chair spindles, pool cues or whatever. The traditional method for a clubmaker of the era was to use a hand plane to taper the shaft followed by a spokeshave. Near the end of the 19th century, the clubmaker often purchased the shafts from a factory that used a lathe. This would have allowed him more time to tend to his other duties as keeper of the greens, caddying, playing for prize money and setting up member tournaments. I believe that since shafts were often purchased, explanations in books regarding shaft making are lacking as opposed to clubhead making. Also, with golf shafts often 43" or more, a lathe that large would not be common either in a 19th century golf shop or a modern home woodshop.

Original (left) and replica (right) long nose putters circa 1870 along with variuos tools that could be used to fashion a golf shaft. On the floor, clockwise from 1 o'clock: Stanley 77 dowel maker, Stanley 55 plane with 3/4" beading cutter, hand plane, rounder plane, trapping plane and stail engine.

Five time Open Champion J. H. Taylor spent 15 pages discussing clubhead making and only 2 sentences on the shaft. From The Book of Golf and Golfers, Horace Hutchinson, 1899. My guess is that Mr. Taylor did not enjoy making shafts and purchased them.
Here is a method to make a tapered dowel, or golf shaft, using the Ashem Crafts standard trapping plane combined with a hand crank. The nice thing about the trapping plane is that even if the dowel or shaft is bowed, it poses no problem (as opposed to using a lathe even with a steady rest). Shafts are often a bit bowed after riving the stock since the grain may not run perfectly straight. Additionally, the aggressiveness of the shavings is easily adjusted by the amount of pressure applied to the tool. Of all of the methods I have worked with to make a wooden golf shaft, this is the most efficient and enjoyable for me.

The standard trapping plane from Ashem Crafts

This shaft was pretty badly bowed but still could be handled with the trapping plane

My Stanley 77 dowel maker now works double duty, not only making a 3/4" rod, but also serving as a hand crank after a simple modification. There is a video of the Stanley 77 dowel maker on that prior post

The modification is needed so that the 3/4" dowel turns when the  crank is turned. Normally, with the Stanley 77, the stock is stationary with the cutter rotating like a crank-type pencil sharpener.

After poking around The Home Depot, I was fortunate to discover that standard gas pipe fittings fit the thread on the drive shaft for the cutter. I used a 1" x 1/2" coupling-reducing fitting. The larger opening threads on to the crankshaft, while the smaller hole is 3/4". Three threaded holes were tapped into the fitting to grab the dowel.

Normal setup of Stanley 77 with a 3/4" cutter

About to place adapter

1"x1/2" coupling-reducing fitting with threaded holes for retaining bolts, perfect for a 3/4" dowel
The folks from Ashem Crafts were kind enough to provide a schematic to make your own hand crank from a bicycle crank; or you have the option to purchase their hand crank, known as a twizzler. Certainly, the driving mechanism need not be human powered. The Stanley 77 can be hooked up to a motor.  In fact, you can easily use different ratchet adapters placed onto a squared off end of the dowel and stick this in a drill, shown below.

Trapping plane - motorized

The stock should be turning away from you. If you want to use a trapping plane with a lathe, you'll need to run the lathe in reverse or purchase a trapping plane specifically oriented for a lathe.

How did they manufacture golf shafts in the late 19th century?

Descriptions of golf shaft making prior to the late 1800's described the use of riven wood. Initially, during the ash shaft era prior to about 1820, the shafts seemed to have been formed with drawknives and spokeshaves. Once hickory started to be imported to Scotland around 1820, the non-green timber was formed into shafts with planes. The lathe was not used until the last quarter of the 19th century. As a youth, the 1893 Open Champion, Willie Auchterlonie, served as the human power for clubmaker Robert Wilson's lathe aound 1880.
Excerpt from Great Golfers in the Making, Henry Leach, 1907
Interestingly, the mechanically powered method using a lathe has been cited as the method of manufacturer of golf shafts in the late 1800's, but further details are often lacking. Did they use woodturning gouges with the lathe? Not sure. But, it seems to me that renowned clubmaker Robert Forgan indeed used a trapping plane. In the 1897 edition of the Golfing Annual, there is a description of Forgan and his methods. The ring plane, by its brief description below, seems to be a type of trapping plane. I have come up empty trying to find any further information about a ring plane.

Article originally appearing in the 1897 Golfing Annual
and also in the St. Andrews Citizen, Dec 22, 1900, upon Forgan's death.
Forgan purchased his gasoline powered lathe in 1882 followed later by a copying lathe and supplied shafts and raw clubheads to many professionals, including Old Tom Morris, who then refined and assembled them and stamped their own names on the clubs.          


Here is a nice vintage British Pathé movie short showing a guy that really knows how to use a trapping plane to make a Brazilian greenheart fishing rod.

Some terminology for similar devices:

Rounder plane: fixed diameter plane to make a dowel

Stail engine, adjustable rounder, turning plane or witchet: adjustable diameter rounding plane that adjusts by turning a pair of screws
Trapping plane: adjustable diameter rounding plane that adjusts in real time using a lever mechanism.

An original Tom Morris putter (foreground) with 3 replicas in beech.

From The Golfers, by Charles Lees, 1847
Illuminated letter by Thomas Hodge from Golf, The Badminton Library