Early baseball players rarely hit home runs because the bats were so heavy. The 20th century saw baseball players like Hank Aaron use lighter bats for better performance. Over time, bat makers made constant improvements to how bats are made.
The bat has evolved from simple sticks to the classic Ash wood bats we know today. Players started buying bats from wood turners and by 1863; Baseball Leagues came up with standardized specifications.
The first league ruled that bats should have a round shape and a maximum thickness of 2.5 inches. Players could use any type of wood. There were no length specifications.
Today’s bats have a 2.75 inch diameter and 42 inches in length. They should not be reinforced with cork, metal or anything else.
Hillerich & Sons is the oldest bat making establishment in 1884 which became Hillerich & Bradsby in 1911 after a merger.
Baseball players can be obsessive about their bats. Take Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox who treated his baseball bats to alcohol baths to cool them before games. Baseball legend Babe Ruth wanted to see pin knots in the baseballs’ barrels. Frank Frisch hung his bats in a barn throughout the off-season to cure them.
What Baseball Bats Are Made From
Baseball bats use wood from Ash trees, birch, and maple. Ash wood is light, strong, and flexible. The ideal Ash trees for baseballs grow in dense groves. The groves protect trees from winds and the trees grow straight and tall – heading towards the sun. It takes at least 40 years for the trees gain a 14-16 inch diameter ideal for bat making. A tree produces 60 bats on average.
When Ash trees are ready for harvest, foresters use spray paint to mark them. Log cutters fell trees with chain saws and carry them off in pieces measuring 10-16 feet each. At the mill, each log undergoes inspection. Only the ones free of uneven grains and knots make the cut. A hydraulic wedge cuts the logs into splits of 40 inch each.
Ash wood bats feature visible grains. But maple and birch do not have visible grains. So every wooden baseball bat made of birch and maple must have an ink dot that depicts grain structure.
How Baseball Bats Are Manufactured
From splits to billet
Workers at the mill use automatic lathes to remove the rough edges from the splits, turning them into billets. They bundle billets together and inspect each one to make sure the wood grains are straight. Finally, workers apply a preservative to the edges of the billets to preserve them. From there, it is off to the bat maker’s lumberyard.
The billets get to the lumberyard still need air drying to remove sap and gum. This ‘seasoning’ process follow by stacking them up in a yard and leaving them for at least six months.
Shaping and sanding
The billets are now dry and ready for more quality inspection. Workers use an automatic lathe to shape the billets into a basic baseball bat with a tapered neck. They sand them and grade them by their weight.
Sanding gives baseball bats a smoother and more attractive finish. The sander also helps to remove nubs left on the bat. After removing the bat, bat makers sand down the ends.
Sanding down the bat makes it nice and smooth, but bat makers will go a step further to close all the tiny openings within the wood grains using a bone rub machine.
The effect is to make it harder, close and tighten the grains. By compressing the wood like this, it will not fray. The bat becomes stronger and long lasting.
Bat manufacturers keep models of every bat they manufacture. Each model’s name is after the first baseball player to order it. The final bat may be a Hank Aaron or a Mickey Mantle.
When someone orders a baseball bat, the bat turner chooses a suitable billet for the purpose. The highly skilled bat turners slowly shape the billet into a precise copy of the model ordered. They turn the billet over a lathe until it is ready.
The bat turner weighs and measures the billet to make sure that it is perfect.
Once ready, the bat still needs trademark branding. The signature of the baseball player who first ordered it is placed on the bat’s sweet spot. The bat goes in a staining vat for immersion. All bats are varnished and packed in cartons for shipping to the customer.
Ash baseball bats are unique because staining looks so much better on their grain structure. When you stain or burn-finish an ash bat, the grains become even more noticeable.
The process of coloring and coating the bat will not cover the ink dot. The ink dot remains visible, even afterwards.
Bat makers constantly carry out impact tests, sometimes aiming baseballs at different points on the pat using compressed-air cannon. Accelerometers read velocity as high-speed cameras capture the impact of the ball on the bat. Inspectors track how often the bats bend and the trajectory of balls bouncing off bats.
Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)
The most popular MLB baseball bat woods choices are ash, maple, and bamboo.
MLB baseball players aren’t allowed to alloy baseball bats as per the rules. However, anyone can use alloy bats for training and recreation.
Baseball bats are made from quality wood therefore the price is slightly higher than others. For example, the best wood baseball bats cost about $150-$450.
No. Since baseball bats use wood they wear out faster. During the 2019 season baseball players on average used 100-300 bats!
Even though traditional bat makers continue to make Ash wood bats, wood composites are making inroads into the market. The wood composite bats comprise of a plastic foam core hidden beneath layers of synthetic fibers woven into each other and impregnated with resin.
We also have a lanxide bat. Lanxide is ceramic-enforced. Non-wood bats are more resistant to breakage and they offer more hitting power.
Major League Baseball only allows bats made from pure wood. This means that only college players and amateurs can use composite and aluminum bats. This means that wooden bats are here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future.