Almost every common wood has been used for bats at one time or another. However, a few species dominate the history of the sport. Traditionally northern ash has been the wood of choice, but currently— at least in the pros—it is a neck-and-neck race with hard maple. A few bats are still made of hickory and beech. For this project, I suggest buying a blank of ash or maple that has been graded for bats. The reason is not only superior performance, but also safety. A bat made from a graded bat blank is less likely to break in use.
Bat blanks are graded differently from regular furniture grade lumber. First, only straight-grained wood from slow-growing trees of moderate size make the grade. The blank must have tight, evenly spaced growth rings and be free of flaws like knots. The best blanks are often split from the log rather than sawn in order to follow the grain perfectly. Extra care is taken in the drying of bat blanks to create an even distribution of moisture throughout the entire thickness.
Tools and Supplies
To make a full-size baseball bat you will need a lathe that can handle lengths up to 36 between centers. For Little League bats, a lathe with shorter capacity will work just fine. It is best to have a live center at the tailstock end, and drive with either a spur or cup drive. If you are duplicating a bat, you will need to fabricate a simple V-block system to hold the master bat (the one being duplicated) directly behind your blank.
The bat can be turned with three tools: a spindle-roughing gouge (1 1 /4 to 1 3 /4), a parting tool ( 1 /4 wide) and a spindle/detail gouge ( 3 /8 or 1 /2). If you are comfortable using a skew, a large one (1 to 1 1 /2) can be added as an option for smoothing the shape and rounding the end of the barrel.
Complete your supplies with a pair of locking outside calipers. Make sure the caliper’s points are fully rounded smooth. Sharp points can catch when used to size your bat. Round the points with a file and smooth with sandpaper. A pair of dividers is helpful—although optional—for sizing the knob’s width. A plastic center finder is helpful in locating centers on round bat blanks.
Prepare the Blank
Determine the type of the bat you intend to turn: Major League, softball or Little League. This can be based on an old favorite you’d like to duplicate or from scratch using a drawing based on regulations dimension (see diagram). The blank should be 1 to 2 inches longer than the finished bat to allow for waste at both ends.
Mark the centers on the blank and mount it on the lathe. I place the barrel end of the bat at the tailstock. Then I true the cylinder to the axis of the lathe.
Shape the Barrel
Shape the widest part of the bat, called the barrel, first. You want to preserve the thick diameter on the blank as long as possible to avoid chatter from vibration. Start by making guide diameters on the first third of the blank with calipers and a parting tool. Set the calipers about 1 /8 wider than the desired diameter to allow for final shaping and sanding. If you’re duplicating a bat, place the master directly behind the mounted blank.
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