Blades & Grading
This page gives an idea as to how the blades are manufactured and the processes that are gone through before dispatch to the customer. It also has hints and tips on choosing a bat and some idea of the grading and drying methods.
Whole trees are transported into our yard either using our own lorry or a local contractor with a larger vehicle. The trees are then cross cut into 28 inch ( 71 cm ) lengths with chainsaws.
Manufacturing the Bat Blade
Each length or roll is then divided up to the required size, hopefully obtaining an optimum number of pieces. Each piece (called in the trade a “cleft”)is then shaped to the rough shape of a cricket bat blade. It is important that the correct side of the cleft is chosen as the face as this is what will become the face of the finished bat. The “blade” as it is now known, then has both ends waxed to prevent splitting and then air dried to the required moisture content.
Before despatch to manufacturers in the UK and throughout the world the clefts are graded into various categories varying from wood suitable for the cheapest boy’s bat to that for the finest players who have obtained Test Match status. Grading is firstly done as soon as the blades are sawn to give an approximate idea of stock levels.
Then when the blades have been dried one of the directors Jeremy Ruggles grades each blade himself very carefully before dispatch to the customer. We have found this to be the only way to offer good, consistant quality.
We have many different grades, each one suitable for a particular market. Here we have outlined some details of the most popular. Please note that these descriptions are for rough sawn willow clefts / blades and NOT finished bats. Generally you will find less grains in finished bats as we saw the blades wider than the finished bat and therefore some grains are removed during processing.
A Grade 1 Blade
A Grade 1 is the best looking blade money can buy, though it will not necessarily play the best. There may be some red wood evident on the edge of the bat (up to 1.75 inches). The grain on the face will be straight and there will be a minimum of 6 grains visible. There may be the odd small knot or speck in the edge or back but the playing area should be clean.
A Grade 2 Blade
A Grade 2 blade is also very good quality and normally a larger amount of red wood can be seen on the edge of a bat (Up to 2.25 inches), this has no effect on the playing ability of the bat it is purely cosmetic. Again there will be at least 6 straight grains on the face of the bat with maybe some blemishes, pin knots or “speck” visible.
A Grade 3 Blade
This is the grade we produce and sell most of and it offers very good value for money. A Grade 3 Blade has up to half colour across the bat and is sometimes bleached, again this has no direct relation to the playing ability of the wood, it just has less visual attraction. There will be a minimum of 5 grains on the face of the bat which may not always be perfectly straight. Again some small knots or a little ‘butterfly’ stain may be present with perhaps more prominent “speck”.
A Grade 4 Blade
A Grade 4 Blade is normally over half colour or contains butterfly stain (see our page on Imperfections in Willow). This wood is also normally bleached just to make it “look better”, it will still play as well as the other grades. Any number of grains are possible with often only 4 grains, the willow containing ‘butterfly’ stain is very strong, there could also be more “speck”.
Other Grades and What makes a good bat?
We have many other Grades which have been developed over the years to satisfy the different demands from all the different markets across the world.
We often get asked “What makes a good bat?” The answer is that it depends on the taste of the customer and the skill of the bat maker. A bat should always be chosen on “feel” and not merely what it looks like. There are bound to be some small knots or blemishes on the bat, after all it is a natural product and cannot be expected to be perfect, with no faults at all, it is just not possible.
The only main differences in the grade are the varying degrees of brown wood and / or butterfly stain plus the number of blemishes or knots on the bat. Generally the more colour in the bat the lower the grade, there is however negligable difference in the playing ability, it is purely a perception that if it looks good it will play well, this is not the case.
Butterfly stain (the stain resembles the shape of a butterfly), for example, used to be very popular for its superior strength and playing ability. Unfortunately, these days because it does not “look clean and white” people do not buy it. It does make very good bats that are very strong and perform well.
The Wide Grain Myth
Generally we would expect a bat to have wide grain if it has less than 6 grains on the face. The width of the grain is entirely dependant upon how fast the tree has grown, each grain represents one years growth. The factors that effect the rate of growth are the soil quality and amount of water available.
In these modern times when growers want a quick return on their investment trees have been planted in the most ideal site for the tree to grow quickly. This means that in the future there are going to be less narrow grain trees available to buy as we have cut a lot of this type of tree and re planted in better sites. This is because not so many years ago we could not supply enough wide grain wood which was in demand, now it has gone back the other way.
Unfortunately when it takes all this time to grow a tree you cannot allow for changes in ‘fashion’ which could alter from year to year.
In this respect we have cut mature trees in as little as 10 years, but generally 12 to 18 years gives a wider grain with 25 years or more a narrower grain. A narrow grain bat will certainly play well, quicker, but will not have a particularly long life.
On the other hand a wider grain bat (with as little as 4 grains on the face) will play as well, given time, as a narrow grain, it will also , without doubt have a longer life span. The reason for this is that the wood is not as old, so it is stronger and will stand up better to the beating with some of the very hard, cheap balls used in matches these days in the UK.
Weight of Cricket Bats
The highest factor affecting the weight of the finished bat is the moisture content. We are the only manufacturer supplying naturally dry cricket bat blades to the world market. This method (which takes 12 months) has, by experience, proved the best method to dry cricket bat blades. The blades are allowed to lose moisture over a long period of time which gives a far more even moisture content and means that you are far less likely to get moisture trapped inside the blade, which causes heavy weight. When they are put in our driers after 12 months to get the correct moisture content the results are unbeatable. Some customers even purchase the blades with no extra artificial drying, this is entirely up to each individual customer, although if this is the case we can give no fixed guarantees on the moisture content and weight. Jeremy Ruggles has been fine tuning the drying method since he joined the company and our customers say that now we have the most consistantly light weight blades you can buy.
The other factor that can alter the weight of a bat is of course in the making. When choosing a cricket bat a most players ask for a specific weight. In our opinion when choosing a bat more emphasis should be put on the pick up and feel of the bat than any specific weight. A bat can weigh 2lb 14oz but if made a certain way with the weight distributed differently it could feel like a 2 lb 7 oz bat, it is basically down to the skill of the batmaker. I would argue that if asked to guess the weight of a bat to the nearest ounce no player could get it right more than once in ten guesses at the very best.
The process of converting the tree into blades is still carried out in the traditional way but we are always looking at new methods to make the process more efficient or to give a better quality product for our customers. J.S.Wright & Sons Ltd. lead in the supply of willow from sites all over the British Isles to bat makers around the world. For J.S.Wright, the generation and re-generation of willow will continue to provide the unmistakable sound of leather on willow.