So you don’t know how a cricket bat is made? Well that’s just not cricket is it! Described as the quintessential English sport, in the game of cricket they say nothing beats ‘the sound of leather on willow’ but what does that expression actually mean? Well it’s all about the cricket bat and how it’s made with the best quality wood.
Are crickets bats really made of willow?
They certainly are. Willow is the best wood to make a cricket bat with and, to be more precise, Salix Caerulea or Alba Var English willow is the wood of choice to make a professional grade cricket bat. Some of the long-established English cricket bat manufacturers even have their own Willow tree plantations, to ensure they grow the trees the way they want to.
Once the tree has been chopped down what happens?
The tree trunks, with the bark still on, are taken to the saw mill and milled to the right length, with one flat side and one ‘domed’ side, so the basic shape of the bat is already there. This piece of wood, called the cleft, then goes off to be graded.
How does grading a cricket bat work?
This is the key moment of quality control for a cleft in order to grade what standard of cricket bat it’ll be. Before it’s even been shaped, skilled cricket bat makers examine the grain and colourings of the wood. The top quality bats the professional batsmen and women want have the straightest and most even grains, with not much overall colouring in the wood. Although it’s naturally occurring, wavy grains means a lower quality bat.
What happens after the cleft has been graded?
You need to reduce the moisture in the wood by drying it out. This is an exact science rather like regulating the temperature in a cave so that your wine matures nicely. The temperature to dry out cricket bat willow is generally between 20 and 22 degrees, with around 50% humidity. Consistency is the key here, so the wood should be dried in a very controlled environment to regulate the moisture content to perfection.
Oh and the handles, which are made out of cane with cork and rubber, also need to be dried at the same time to the same parameters, otherwise you’ll have problems when you put to the two woods together (for example wood splitting) if the percentage of moisture is not the same in the two elements.
What happens next in the process to make a cricket bat?
After drying out, it’s time for the edges and faces to be shaped. This could be done by hand, using traditional tools such as drawknives and spokeshaves, or by machine. Once this has been done, the cleft is pressed to compact the wood to a particular point, according to batting preference.
What difference does the amount of pressing of the cleft make to the finished cricket bat?
The harder pressed the wood is, the harder the ball comes off the bat. A slightly lighter pressing gives more feedback in the hand of the batter, which is what some cricket players seek from their bat. It all depends on what sort of game they play.
How does the handle get attached?
We thought you’d ask that. A ‘v’ shape called the ’splice’ needs to be cut in the top of the cleft. Again this can be done by machine, or by hand. In the high quality cricket bat manufacturing workshops, the handles are fitted by hand.
And after that’s done is that it? Is your cricket bat ready to hit a few sixes?
Not yet! This is when the shaping to finely tune the bat happens. Sometimes done by robots that can be programmed for specific shapes and styles, sometimes done entirely by hand, this is where the real characteristics of the bats are created. Some players like a very flat toe, others seek a high middle, whilst for come cricketers is all about the thick edges.
Shaping done, surely we’re onto the finishing touches now?
Yes. The binding is added to the handle, the bat is given a finish wax and polished, the branded stickers are added and your cricket bat has been made. All that remains for you to do is to stand at the crease and get ready to face a fast ball from the bowler…and that is how a cricket bat is made!
If you’re a cricket fan and would love to have a full-size grade 1 cricket bat custom made for you, top cricket manufacturer Millichamp & Hall will welcome you to their workshop at Somerset County Cricket Club in Taunton to have your very own English Willow cricket bat made for you as you watch.