1: Is a bat made of [such-and-such timber] better than one made of [some other timber]?
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?
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.