WOOD BAT GRAINS: FACTS VS. FICTION
Wood bats are typically made from nine MLB approved species. A vast majority of today’s players use maple, ash, birch, hickory, or beech. Other wood species are not readily available in billet form or squares; thus, bat makers do not use them. Up until the 1990’s, ash was the material of choice. Once Barry Bonds shattered the all-time home run record with a maple bat, maple became the wood of choice.
One of the more complicated subjects on wooden bats is their grain structure. It seems that everyone wants to be a “Professor of Woodology” these days. Here are the facts.
Maple – It’s a very hard, rigid wood that mainly grows in Pennsylvania, New York, New England, and Canada. The early maple bat models were breaking way too often, causing flying shards to strike fans, coaches, and players. The MLB hired a consultancy group to study maple. They came up with various weight and grain requirements, along with the “ink dot test” for closed grain woods. It’s a tool used for evaluating the slope of a grain to determine if the wood is “pro-grade.” The ink dot isn’t the only way to evaluate maple quality. You should also examine the wood itself. If there are strange curly grain lines, it’s a sign of poor-quality wood. You want to see a clean, uniform grain with a crisp, white color. Dark or browning areas may not be a bad thing, that simply means the piece of wood came from the area closer to the interior heartwood of the bat or from the very outside of the tree and may have some superficial bark streaks. If you see chunks of brown area, stay away – that’s most likely embedded bark. Also, always check the handle for unwanted knots. All of these factors can be attributed to birch and beech too, since they are also closed grain woods.
Ash – Make sure the grain lines run perfectly straight from the knob through end of the barrel, with no turn off or deviation. This is a key for ash bats. Another factor is the number of grain lines. In my opinion, the fewer lines the better. I’ve learned that a 7 or 8 grain ash bat will be tougher and more effective than a 15+ grain line bat. The great Tony Quinn would spend days sorting ash billets at the Louisville Slugger wood supplier looking for 6 to 9 grain ash bats – that’s all he swung. In summary, straight lines and fewer grains make for a superior ash bat.
Hickory – It’s the purest, most old-school bat material and was used during the dead-ball era. Hickory is considered to be the densest wood approved for use. It’s an open grain wood that has a tight and consistent structure. Due to its density, try to find a hickory bat that has a manageable weight.
Many of our wood bat models are available in multiple species, so hitters can choose which type of wood is right for their game.