Cricket bats were originally made out of a single piece of wood. This meant there was no shock attenuation when the bat struck the ball. The bat would have jarred in the hands of the batsman every time they hit the ball.
To overcome this problem, bats were made out of two pieces of timber, usually just another piece of willow spliced into the handle. In the 1850’s there was another evolution to the handle, with cane, usually Manau Cane, being introduced in 1853. This subsequently improved the balance of the bat, but still did not adequately attenuate the shock.
Three years later in 1856, handles took the form they have maintained until now. Canes were split and then laminated back together with rubber between the canes. The rubber helped dampen down the shock of the ball hitting the bat. This technique dealt with the jarring, and the 1850’s technology has stood the test of time.
Image: C-10 handle insert.
Revised Handle Laws
During the middle of the first decade this century, batmakers began innovating with handle designs. This was driven partly by a shortage in high grade cane for handles, as well as a desire to create a point of difference with other bat makers through innovation.
At the same time, concerns that the bat was dominating the ball were troubling the cricketing community. Flexible handles can decrease the distance balls travel, as the give between the rubber and cane means that it does not deliver as much power as a stiffer handle would.
Carbon fibre inserts were used to stiffen up the handle. Our experiments showed that our stiffer handles gave the batsman a huge advantage, allowing them to hit the ball far further than with a bat with a conventional handle.
Image: James’ preferred splice & handle configuration, with high shoulders supporting the handle.
Cricket bat handles have been manufactured in the same manner for over 150 years. The process, from the time of harvest, may have become a little more mechanised over the years, but is still essentially the same as it was in the 1850’s.
High quality handles are produced using Manau cane harvested from the jungles of Sumatra. And Malaysian Sarawak cane The 3 metre canes are initially boiled in oil and dried in the sun for several weeks before being graded according to size they are then cut to the right length, split and then the faces planed to ensure a good gluing surface. The planed pieces of cane are then glued together with three cork or rubber laminations for shock absorption.
The first solid Manau cane handles were used in 1853, they were deemed to cause too much vibration which made the bat painful to hold therefore rubber laminations were introduced in 1856, the same handle materials are used to this day. We do however use carbon in some handles now due to the need to use a renewable resource.
After the canes are washed, they are fumigated in a chamber with an external container burning sulphur. The fumigation process uses the sulphur fumes to bring out the best of the canes’ colour, while at the same time as killing any borer that may be present in the cane. The fumes are carried into the chamber by a flue, and the canes are smoked overnight, sometimes up to 24 hours, until an even colour is obtained.
Once fumigated the canes are air dried and sorted into different grades.
Image: Cricket bat handles awaiting further crafting.
The top part of the handle is then shaped to the batmakers specification and shipped ready for the splice to be cut. The most popular pattern has 9 pieces of cane with 3 rubber inserts. Once the splice has been cut this, it can be fitted in to the blade using a mallet to make sure the handle has reached the base of the joint. PVA adhesive is used to ensure a strong joint is made.
Laver & Wood’s Handles
Laver & Wood uses handles that are similar to those used in the 1850’s. They source their cane from South East Asia, and have experimented with making our own handles, although we also purchase handles in their most basic form.
When the handles arrive they will be about half to twice as thick as the finished handle. The first stage of the manufacturing process is to turn the handles on a lathe, which reduces them down close to the width required to go into a bat.
The next stage is to cut the splice. This cut needs to be carefully made so the join between the handle and the blade is a very tight fit. After applying glue the splice is tapped in with a knocking-in mallet.
Image: A bat with a crack through the shoulders that James Laver repaired.
Handles & the splice of the bat are one of the major break-points in a bat. Careful craftsmanship can extend the life of handles. At Laver & Wood we are absolutely pedantic about how we make our handles, as we can dramatically reduce the chance of the handle breaking or the splice coming apart.
There are many weak points in handles and through making our own bats and repairing other brands’ bats we have gathered a very good idea of why handles break.
The most common weak point on a handle is the join where the rubber strips are glued to the cane in the centre of the handle. Often the canes delaminate, causing the handle to become very flexible. This is almost impossible to spot when buying a bat, but in general, thicker handles last better than thin handles, so it is best to avoid bats with thin handles.
To find out more about how Laver & Wood manufacture their handles, please purchase Laver & Wood’s Cricket Bat Lore Volume I on Amazon.
This blog post is Part 3 of a four-part series exploring the art of cricket bat making, as told to us by the world-class makers of customised cricket bats, Laver & Wood. Be sure to read the other posts in the series:
- Laver & Wood: Cricket bat lore – Part 1
- Laver & Wood: Cricket bat lore – Part 2
- Laver & Wood: Cricket bat lore – Part 3
- Laver & Wood: Cricket bat lore – Part 4
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