1: Is a bat made of [such-and-such timber] better than one made of [some other timber]?
Sometimes, yes - but it depends on who's asking.
The timber make-up of your blade determines how it plays, but for a bladesmith, timber choice is far more about negating any potential impediments than uncovering a hidden benefit for a player, as making the wrong timber choices are far more likely to hamper your game.
The whole idea behind having a custom bat is to have equipment that is well made, comfortable to use, that satisfies the design brief and is ideally suited to your own particular needs. So when we design a blade for you, we don't just work hard to maintain high quality and production standards, we also take into account your needs, and how you play as an individual, with all timber choices flowing from there.
If for example you use lots of wrist in your strokes, a thick balsa core with thin balsa medial plies may be ideal, as these blades are typically lightest of all, and less likely to strain your wrist.
That said, some people struggle to serve or push with thicker blades. Balsa is also unique amongst TT timbers thanks to the Balsa Effect, and the thicker a balsa core is, the more pronounced the effect becomes.
Some surface ply timbers moderate the balsa effect, others tend to accentuate it, while a few can cancel it out all together.
Most surface ply timbers have their own unique playing characteristics too: some are faster, some offer more control, some feel "crisp" while others feel quite "woody", some vibrate more and can add "buzz" to your feedback... some may even impart slightly more spin than others, depending on the type of rubber fitted.
On top of all that, there's different playing style to consider - e.g.:
How close to the table do you like to play? Where are your comfort zones around the table and where do you struggle?
Do you prefer forehand over backhand, or vice versa? Is one side weaker than the other? Do you need a two-speed bat to compensate for your weaker side, or can this be compensated for by rubber choice alone?
How much spin do you like to impart on the ball during general play? Do you rely on your serve to win points? Do you loop a lot or do you prefer to hit flat?
What playing rubbers are you currently using, and in what thicknesses? Do you use pimples out or anti-spin rubbers, and if so, on which side?
Is your game style offense, defense, a combination of both or atypical? Do you rely on deception more than power?
Are there any current deficiencies in your game which HAVEN'T improved with extra practice? Is your current bat contributing to the problem, or helping it?
..and so on.
In our opinion, choosing blades purely around timber alone is the wrong approach, regardless of whether that timber is balsa, kiri, cedar, sassafras or the finest kiso hinoki.
In all cases, the focus should always be on your needs, and desired outcomes - timber choices are only ever the means to that end.
2: Most blades I've tried felt very much the same. Does changing the timber species inside the blade really make that much difference? Isn't it better to just stick to one blade and timber type and practice a lot more?
We agree many blades out there feel much the same, but that's because lots of them frankly ARE very much the same.
Most of the world's bats / blades are made from a tiny handful of timber species, for both commercial and performance reasons. Ayous for example (a.k.a. Obeche or Abachi) is used in over 90% of the world's TT bats, creating a lot of homogeny between brands.
Ayous is hugely popular with TT manufacturers because of its lightness, stiffness, low-density and even lower cost... and hey - it also makes a pretty good blade. But Ayous is just one of the 50,000-odd timber species that exist, the bulk of which have never been seriously trialled in combination with others in a TT blade, largely for commercial reasons.
This is partially why we to experiment with and use native Australian timbers wherever possible. Apart from us loving to look at and work with native timbers, many Australian timbers perform equally well to other common TT species like koto, ayous or limba (if not occasionally better!)
If we had to guess why no manufacturers use Australian natives except us, we suspect its because they don't have to. They already have several timber species that are profitable to buy and use, and which work acceptably well, so why look for alternatives?
We however make our blades for the pure love of it, not just for any profit involved. We want our equipment to be meaningfully different and distinctive from all other blades out there, and are are happy to seek out unique, local, sustainable alternatives to that end, rather than blindly import and use the exact same TT timbers as everyone else.
Besides which, variety has value purely for its own sake. 90% of the world's players using Ayous blades may seem innocuous enough, but its also an unnecessary conformity. If 90% of all TT players drove beige Toyota Corollas, people would be amazed, especially given the other wonderful alternatives that exist.
As for their being any beneficial differences between species, speak to someone who uses an all-balsa blade, a kiso hinoki one-ply, or an all-willow defensive blade, and they'll tell you these blades are enormously different. All these woods all have a unique internal / growth structure which make them ideal for certain applications, and deliver certain playing benefits other TT timbers like koto, limba or ayous simply can't provide.
We also agree that sticking to one blade is better than chopping and changing (no pun intended), and that more practice does more good than changing equipment alone. The benefit you get from any equipment is fully dependent on you, and how much you practice with it, regardless of what it's made of. That being said, the wrong equipment is still the wrong equipment if it harms your game, and additional practice with the wrong equipment can easily lead to bad habits creeping in.
In some cases, switching to custom equipment has considerably improved our customer's game - in other cases, any improvement is only extremely minor. But even small differences can still have an accumulative effect over time - winning you more points on average per game, boosting your ranking over time, and increasing your opportunities to indulge in a little playful victory-laden trash-talk with friends and opponents... and seriously, who doesn't want a little bit more of that in their life on occasion? ;-)
3: What is "The Balsa Effect"?
Balsa is unique amongst table tennis woods, as it has a non-linear response curve.
Much like Tenergy rubbers, balsa has an in-built 'catapult' effect all of its own, which only emerges when a ball strikes the playing surface at medium to higher speed.
With slow speed impacts (such as when pushing or returning serve) balsa can provide excellent light touch and control - but with faster impacts such as driving, looping, blocking, chopping or smashing, balsa's catapult kicks in, the rebound speed increases dramatically, and it adds extra speed to your shots over and above what you would experience with any other timber.
This is an excellent feature for close-to-the-table blocking or counter-hitting, as this extra speed gives you an edge. The balsa effect actively works against you however when looping the ball, as dwell-time is reduced during each stroke... the ball is often not in contact with the playing surface long enough for you to easily impart a lot of spin.
The Balsa effect can also tend to make your pushes close to the net "pop up" higher than normal if you're not careful, leaving you open to counter-attack from a flick or smash.
How much the Balsa effect impacts on your particular game depends on the way you play, the thickness of your blade and rubber sponge, the thickness of the balsa, the wood type and thickness of your blade's outer ply, and the Balsa's location within your bat's plywood (amongst other factors).
For more information on the Balsa effect, we recommend you read this excellent article from TT retailer One of A Kind Trading.
We should point out that while the balsa effect is well known phenomenon, having it feature in your blade is purely a matter of choice.
If you wish to take advantage of the balsa effect in your blade, try using a blade with Koto outers, as Koto does not temper the Balsa effect.
If however you wish to nullify the balsa effect completely, and wish to use balsa purely to have an extra light blade, we know of some Australian native timbers that can do the job here --please contact us for further details.
4: What does "ITF Score" mean?
ITF stands for Impact Tone Frequency.
It refers to the average frequency (or pitch) of the noise a bare blade makes, when its playing surface is struck by a competition-standard table tennis ball falling from a set height. This frequency is then used as a comparative measure of a blade's speed
Generally speaking, the harder and stiffer a blade is, the faster it tends to be during play. This correlation between a blade's stiffness/hardness and its speed tends to hold true regardless of a blade's manufacturer, raw material or construction method.
Because stiffer/harder blades also tend to produce higher pitched sounds during play, the sound a blade makes (ie: its impact tone frequency) is a useful rough measure of its overall speed, compared to other blades. The higher the pitch (or frequency) of the noises a blade makes, the faster that blade tends to be during play.
There is no standardised name, procedure or method for calculating this particular measure of speed in the industry. Furthermore, it is only a very rough measure of speed - the rule does not hold true in every case, and should be regarded more as a rule of thumb
Impact Tone Frequency is just the term we use internally during our own speed/frequency testing. Other blade smiths may call it something different.
5: Do you use synthetic composite materials like carbon fibre, kevlar etc?
Yes of course - but only when we have to.
We keep a variety of synthetic composites fibers in stock, and we can (and often do) add them to a customer's blade if desired... but frankly, nowadays we try to avoid using them wherever possible.
I own several composite blades myself, and have made countless more for others - and I do love the speed and stiffness they impart to a blade. But the arguments for using most common synthetic composite fibers like carbon fibre, Kevlar, ALC, Arylate, Zylon, Vectran, Fibreglass etc just don't stack up like they used to - especially given numerous natural alternatives exist which can (and should) eventually make most of them redundant.
None of these modern synthetic fibers are readily biodegradable - carbon fibre for example does not break down through either sunlight or bacterial action... environmentally speaking, the stuff is nigh-indestructible.
Secondly, none of these materials are manufactured sustainably to the best of our knowledge, all of them require massive energy inputs during manufacture, and the process of us using them in a blade also creates a large amount of secondary and tertiary waste for us to dispose of, again - none of which is biodegradable.
Once you add epoxy resin to any synthetic composite fiber, it becomes impervious to bacteria and UV. Natural weathering via the elements takes centuries to break this stuff down, and they can frequently leech toxic substances into landfill (and eventually into the water table) in the process
In our experience, most (if not all) the benefits synthetic composite fibers bring, can also be achieved via alternate means. The more responsible bladesmiths out there (including ourselves) are moving away from artificial fibres towards biodegradable fibres and alternate techniques - these include fibres made of flax, jute, cotton, silk, and other natural light-weight resin formulations or building techniques.
Australian timbers have a role to play here too, as the majority of our timber species are staggeringly hard and stiff, with some species having comparable - if not better - tensile strength than carbon fibre, while others can come close to many synthetics in terms of their strength to weight ratios when used in a blade (depending on the species and its implementation that is - the figures differ wisely between species)
The arguments for avoiding synthetics aren't just environmental ether -- if you normally play with a stiff and hard carbon blade, switching to Australian timbers outers not only provides many the same benefits, I find it also adds a whole new quality to the playing feel.
Just as playing with outer and inner carbon layers feels very different (with each having their own particular strengths and applications), the same can be said of blades with Australian timber outers.
With Australian outers, you often don't need an outer carbon layer to stiffen the blade or add playing speed as many of our timbers have the same tensile strength and/or torsional stiffness as fiberglass anyway. I find that with Aussie timbers, the outer ply IS your carbon layer!
Speaking purely for myself (as a player, a blade-maker, and an environmentalist), outer carbon, inner carbon, hard carbon and soft carbon blades just don't have the same feel, or appeal to me, as the feedback and feeling I can get from living carbon fibre via a set of the right hard Australian outers
Please email us for more information about synthetic composite fibers, the various alternatives that exist, and about and what sorts of playing conditions are most conducive to each of these various materials.
6: Do you seal your playing surfaces and edges?
Yes - all our blades have two thin coats of waterproof PU varnish on the playing surfaces and along the full length of the edge.
We don't varnish our handles however as sweat then makes the handle slippery during play. Some players prefer to seal the handle themselves with PU varnish, beeswax, linseed oil, PVA glue or the like, or we can seal it for you as an additional build option.
7: What's involved in cloning (recreating) a classic or discontinued blade?
Cloning a blade is typically pretty straight forward, though please understand - we can create a blade that is highly similar to your original one, but it is virtually impossible to make one exactly the same.
Manufacturers often do not disclose the timber they use in their blades, and its extremely difficult to reverse-engineer the glue type and gluing techniques used in the original.
We will ask you questions about the original blade's playing characteristics, and make some educated guesses when recreating the blade in order to get as close as we possibly can to your particular 'old faithful'.
You can expect from this process to receive a bat with similar weight, size, and speed to your original, which feels strongly reminiscent of your original blade, but is still not an exact replica.
8: What glues do you use to attach your rubbers? Can I detach the rubbers later if I buy a pre-made factory bat?
Yes you can. All our pre-made bats have sealed playing surfaces, and use TT-friendly glues that allow the rubbers to be easily detached.
We're also happy to attach your rubbers for you if desired. If you buy a blade and rubbers from us, we will happily fit your rubbers without charge. Attaching rubbers without a blade and/or rubber purchase attracts a small fee.
9: Does the type of glue I use really matter that much if I boost my rubbers?
Oh yes, absolutely.
Your entire set up (blade and rubbers combined) relies hugely on your rubber glue and gluing technique to work properly, even if you boost your rubbers (though for the record, boosting rubbers is really not a practice we encourage).
Even if you're only playing at club level, the wrong rubber glue or a bad glue-up can still create diminished or inconsistent bounce and dull your rubber's speed and spin. This makes using booster somewhat redundant, as you don't get the full benefit of any speed boost.
Rather than list the various gluing/boosting DONT's we've seen over the years (incorporating everything from cheap olive oil to shoe polish, and UV radiation to the kid's left-over glu-stick), we'd much rather give you some solid advice on how to attach your rubbers to a blade to ensure you get the best out of your equipment.
Both professionally and personally, we use and recommend latex-based glues, and double sided PSA sheets/tapes, each of which have their own pluses and minuses:
Latex glues are expensive and can be tricky to use, but they are the gold standard of liquid rubber glues in our opinion.
Some latex formulations include ammonia, which has an unpleasant smell. Ammonia prolongs the glue's shelf life, and gives the glue an even consistency. The ammonia concentration is typically very low, and does not harm the rubber, sponge, blade or sealant in our experience. Most people can tolerate the smell, but some are especially sensitive to it.
Always follow the safety / usage / disposal directions on your glue or adhesive, no matter what type or brand you use.
We typically recommend thinner latex glues over thicker ones, as it is far easier to create a even layer of glue without any bumps, lumps or dry patches. Thinner glue tends to contract a little more during drying, so be sure to allow for shrinkage when trimming your rubbers to size.
We buy latex glue wholesale and in bulk to keep the price down, which necessitates us buying more than we need. We plan to on-sell our excess glue in the near future - please check back for updates or email us for details.
USING LATEX GLUE:
When gluing with latex, less is definitely more. One single, thin, even layer on both blade and rubber is ideal - excess glue is wasteful, adds to the cost and does not deliver a meaningful performance boost
Please ignore that crazy myth that famous international players (eg: Ma Long) apply multiple thick layers of glue to their blade to boost rubber performance... these rumours don't stand up to close examination (...they do however sell a lot more glue!):
The more layers of glue you add, the greater the likelihood your glue layer will be uneven and lumpy with inconsistent thickness, density and bounce - this actively harms rubber's performance, not enhances it.
Even small amounts of excess glue can create bumps and ridges that show through the rubber's top sheet, which can be a problem during competition bat testing.
An extra thick glue layer is illegal under ITTF rules, so even if Ma Long did use such a technique, he could not use that blade in competition. Match official inspect every blade prior to each performance, and those who breach bat control guidelines face sanction or risk being banned from competition.
Thinner latex works best with traditional sponge. Some tensor-style rubbers feature a large pore sponge which is poorly suited to thinner latex. For these rubbers we recommend a thicker latex glue or PSA adhesive sheets.
The most common mistakes by far with using latex glue are using too much, and not waiting for the glue to dry. Latex glue should be virtually transparent when dry, and you only typically need one thin coat on each surface. In 20+ years of playing table tennis, not once has a rubber ever fallen off on us with this technique... which frankly is the whole idea.
If you still boost or chemically modify your rubbers, please stop. Over time it ruins the rubber, and exposes you to volatile organic chemicals which do massive damage to your body (not to mention your reputation as an honest player). There are hundreds of excellent affordable high-performance rubbers out there, many of which are factory boosted. The speed glue era is dead and buried - it went the way of shoulder pads, corduroy flares, and celluloid balls. Please - for the sake of your future health, let it go dude!
White spots, puddles or lumps are usually a sign of excess glue (or old glue) and take longer to dry - fanning helps, but don't use a hairdryer, as it increases the risk of the glue shrinking over time.
PSA SHEET (Pressure Sensitive Adhesive):
Double sided PSA sheets are available online from most TT equipment retailers. They are easy to apply, and provide the ideal adhesive layer for mounting a rubber. They are our personally preferred method for mounting rubbers to competition blades, or for mounting rubbers with large pore sponge.
TT-specific PSA is space-age stuff that's purpose-built for securing your rubbers to a blade. They are less sticky on the rubber side to prevent accidental tearing when swapping sheets, and more sticky on the blade side to ensure better cohesion. They consistently give the best results of all gluing methods in our experience, and they are the only type of PSA sheet you should use if you intend to use your blade in competition.
Stationary shops stock a wealth of general-use, double sided PSA tapes and sheets. Some of these general-use products can also give quite reasonable results, and if you find a good one, they are arguably the cheapest gluing method of all (but still remain second to proper TT sheets in our view).
PLEASE NOTE: because general-use PSAs vary widely in weight, strength, performance, cost and availability (depending on the brand and intended application) we really don't recommend them, unless there is no other choice.
If using general-purpose PSA, please note that if you aren't very careful, you'll probably tear your sponge when swapping rubbers later on; if you swap your rubbers often (as we do) enormous care is required with general PSA. Using a blade with tortionally stiffer outer timbers such as blackheart sassafras can help massively here
10: Are your blades and bats ITTF certified for use in national / international competition?
Yes and no:
YES - you can use our blades and bats in ITTF competitions, but that being said,
NO - our blades are not ITTF certified, because its neither necessary nor possible to certify them.
ITTF Certification only applies to the playing rubbers applied to a blade - the blades themselves however have always been excluded from the certification process.
In order for a blade to be acceptable for use in ITTF competition, it must rather comply with relevant sections of both the current ITTF Rules, and ITTF Racquet Control Guidelines, as issued to competition match officials, which are then themselves to performed in line with official ITTF Competition Blade Control Procedures.
In summary, these various compliance rules/guidelines state:
A blade's composition must be at least 85% natural timber by thickness (ie: no chipboard, MDF or particleboard)
Each layer of material used in a blade must be flat, level, continuous, and of even consistency.
Any cupping in the blade (ie: a concave warp in the blade playing surface) must be less than or equal to 0.5mm in depth.
Any doming (ie: a convex warp of the blade's playing surface) must be less than or equal to 0.2mm in height.
Reinforcing composite material such as carbon fibre, kevlar, fiberglass etc may be used inside a blade to strengthen a layer of glue, however:
Each layer of reinforcing material must be the lesser of either 0.35mm thick, or less than 7.5% of total blade thickness, and
The combined thickness of reinforcing material and adhesive must be less than 15% of the blade's total thickness
Any paint or varnish on the playing surface must be sufficiently thin to not otherwise affect blade performance (ie: 0.1mm)
All volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are banned and must not be detectable in the blade, glue or racket covering either prior to, during or immediately after competition.
All testing equipment measuring a blade's compliance during competition, must be sourced directly from the ITTF itself, and must be operated in line with the Racquet Control Guidelines.
To ensure we comply with the above ITTF rules and regulations:
We only fit/use currently-certified versions of ITTF-Approved table tennis rubbers to our bats,
We do not use use or employ any products, supplies, or manufacturing processes that feature VOCs
We adhere to all manufacturing tolerances set out in the above-summarised ITTF rules / racquet control guidelines
We do not use, apply or advocate the use of any aftermarket boosters / speed glues / artificial tuning or cleaning products.
So long as one of our blades has not been altered, damaged or otherwise modified after purchase, any of our blades and bats should therefore be quite safe to use in official ITTF competitions.