Turn Your Own Bat
Over the years I have turned many wood bats. In fact, for a while, I owned and operated a small wood baseball bat company known as Southern Bat Company. You might still see a few of our bats floating around in various wood bat leagues throughout Sydney. These days, I turn bats for my friends and the enjoyment of it. But back when I was selling bats throughout Australia and overseas, the majority of these bats were turned on large CNC (Computer Numerical Control) lathes. On the CNC machines, basically you input the necessary CAD (Computer Aided Design) profile that you wish the machine to produce and the high speed cutters do the rest.
But, you don’t need any fancy machinery to turn a baseball bat. In fact, turning a baseball bat is one of the most basic projects you can do on the lathe. As you can see in the video, this is a basic lathe that has been lengthened to turn a 36-inch billet, which is about as long as you want to start with if you are turning a 33-inch bat. Many lathes today will only allow a 30″ billet, so be sure to check that if you are interested in purchasing a lathe. I would also like to note that there is no right or wrong way to turn a baseball bat.
Several years ago, I was interviewed by American author Stuart Miller, who actually included Southern Bat’s story in his book ‘Good Wood: The Story of the Baseball Bat’. In this book, you can read the history of the wood bat and learn how many of today’s companies manufacture their bats. If you’ve watched the video, hopefully the following notes will help fill in some of the blanks and elaborate on some of the more important details.
Start with a squared off billet, find the centers, and securely fasten to the head and tail stock. Initially you will want to use the lowest speed setting on your machine. The more you take off, the more you can increase the speed until you have a perfectly cylindrical billet.
Mark out the length of the bat and each interval marker you plan on working off. I find it’s easier to copy a bat in front of you, until you become confident enough that you know exactly what your depths need to be.
Starting below the barrel, start turning down to the required depths at each interval marker. Remember, you can always take more off, but it’s near impossible to put it back on. So be careful!
Work your way down the bat, taking off much of the mass. The finer shaping comes later.
The handle is one of the most important parts of the bat. It often determines whether a bat feels good in the hands or not. Remember to leave some wood there for refinement later. It is also important to take your time, Often trying to take off too much too fast will result in chipping across the grain. Be very gentle!
Once the knob and handle are taken care of, you can start working on the barrel. Ash has a tendency to “jump”, causing the billet to become oval in shape. Be gentle during this process.
With the knob finished, you can now set the length of your bat. Remove all the wood beyond the barrel down to about a 25 mm in diameter. You don’t want to be cutting too much off on the band saw later, but you also don’t want your bat to jump off the lathe. Once the excess is removed and the length is established, you can round off the barrel.
If there are any adjustments that need to be made, now is the time to make them. Again, be very careful. After all this work, you’d hate to ruin it now!
Start sanding with a coarse paper. I like to start with 80-120 grit paper, depending on how well you turned the bat. If you want that glossy finished, you will want a nice smooth finish. Finish with a 180 grit.
Once you are finished on the lathe, you can nip off the ends on the band saw. As you have probably seen, some bats are cupped on the barrel. You can cup the bat at this point or leave it the way it is. I always like to think of new stains and finishes, to give the bat a slightly different look.
Have fun turning your bats, and I hope this short video helped you a little.