If you are just starting out with wood bats, or are just looking to pick out a wood bat, here is some basic know-how on what the best wood bats are made out of.
This guide will walk you through how to pick out the best one and get the best bang for your buck. Let’s start with some basics:
The Advantages of Practicing with a Wooden Bat
So why choose a wood bat when everyone else seems to be hitting with metal? Metal bats have gained popularity because of their outstanding performance.
That said, most coaches will recommend wood bats for practice over other materials such as aluminum, and for good reason. Wood bats are also the preferred choice for Major League Baseball players.
When hitting with metal, pitch selection is not something you fuss about, and mishits aren’t that big of a deal. Balls still fly off the handle, and you can even swing at bad pitches without any problem.
With wood bats, however, you need to be a lot more selective. Getting jammed or hitting with anything but the sweet spot might very well result in a broken bat.
This then motivates you to improve your hitting, which in turn makes you a better player.
Because wood and metal bat performance is so different, pro leagues and certain youth leagues have in the interest of safety, switched to wood bats.
A Smaller Sweet Spot
There are few things that compare to the utter satisfaction you get when you catch a ball right on the sweet spot. It makes you feel like a baseball god.
Wood bats have a much smaller sweet spot than metal bats. Because of this, your technique is held to a higher standard.
Smaller Sweet Spot = Better Pitch Selection
When your technique is forced to improve, you, in turn, become a lot more selective about the pitches you swing at.
Choosing pitches that are worth swinging at and those that aren’t is a valuable skill in any batter’s arsenal.
For instance, an outside pitch that’s hit with an aluminum bat may very well go past the infielders.
Because wood bats aren’t as forgiving as aluminum bats, they correctly teach batters the strike zone, and players who hit with wood become much better at pitch selection.
Because hitting with wood is so much harder, the bar is raised considerably and practicing with a wooden bat, will improve your overall technique.
More Power in Your Swing
As your hitting mechanics and technique get better, so will your confidence, speed and, ultimately, your power. With your new superpowers, it’ll get so much easier to hit with a metal bat.
The sooner you start training with wood bats, the sooner you become a better player, overall. With aluminum, instead of breaking your bat when you swing at an inside or outside pitch, aluminum bats simply turn a bad swing into a cheap hit.
Training with a wood bat will teach the value of selecting good pitches, and improve your hitting mechanics. Invaluable skills in the pursuit to become a better hitter.
And because woo bats are difficult to master, using them to train make hitting with metal bats a cinch!
Classification of Wood Bats According to Turn
You’ll often hear about turn when shopping around for the best wood bat. What is turn and how does it apply to wood bats?
Know what it means but not sure which turn model suits your style of play? This section will explain the differences between the various turn models and their differences – everything from handle & barrel diameter, taper, and balance.
Knowing the difference goes a long way in helping you choose the best wood bat. The most common turn model is the 110 turn, the 271 turn, the I-13 turn, and the 243 turn. Here is a brief rundown of each turn model:
This model is ideal for players who are new to the game, or those making the switch from metal bats to wood bats, because of how alike they are in terms of feel.
The 110 model has a long barrel and a thicker handle which makes it a lot more durable than other wood bats.
Because the weight is distributed along the long, slow taper, 110 turn model bats are lighter, have greater swing speed, and a balanced feel.
This makes this turn model the ideal choice for contact hitters. It has a barrel diameter of 2 1/2“ and a handle that’s about 1” thick.
Barrel Diameter: 2 ½”
Handle Thickness: 1.00”
Barrel Length (Taper): Long
This turn model is quite similar to the 110 model as far as barrel diameter and barrel length goes.
However, this turn model has a shorter taper than the 110, which results in a larger barrel, and a slight end loaded feel.
Additionally, the 271 has a thinner handle, which is about 0.938” (15/16”). Because it’s slightly end loaded, this turn model is popular with power hitters.
Handle Diameter: 15/16”
Barrel Diameter: 2 ½”
The dimensions of this turn model are similar to the 271. And like the 271, it has a 2.5” barrel diameter, and a 15/16″ handle diameter.
This model has a shorter taper than the 271, which results in a bat that’s top-heavy.
Besides that, the dimensions turn model is fairly similar to the 271. This is the preferred option for power hitters.
The dimensions of this turn model are quite dramatic, with a 2 ⅝ (.906”) barrel, and a handle thickness of 29/32″.
This turn model has a sudden taper which in turn creates a huge barrel and a thin handle.
Because of this, the 243 turn is end loaded and has lots of pop. This makes it the preferred choice for power hitters and more experienced players.
Needless to say, because of its dimensions, this turn model is not ideal for players who are new to the game.
Handle thickness: 29/32”
Taper (Barrel Length): Medium
Barrel thickness: Approximately 2 ⅝”
The Ink Dot – What’s It For?
Watched any Major League Baseball game recently? You may have noticed that some of the wood bats in use have a black dot around the handle. This is as a result of a text known as an Ink Dot Test.
What is an ink dot test? This is used to show the “slope of grain” on wood bats.
Commonly used on top of the range maple and birch wood bats, this test is useful for showing how the grain runs along the bat. Unlike on Ash bats where the slope of the grain is easily visible, It is hard to see the grains on maple and birch bats, so the Ink Dot helps comes in handy. Ash bats won’t have the ink dot.
If the grain runs diagonally, the bat is more likely to break/splinter across that line. Wood bats whose grain runs through from the handle to the barrel are more durable have a lower chance of breaking.
The side with the ink dot test is the hardest side of the bat.
Wood Baseball Bat Materials
Wood bats can be made from a variety of wood types, the most common of which is ash. Most ash wood bats today are made from Northern White Ash found in Pennsylvania or New York.
These bats are both an affordable and durable option for anyone who is starting out with wood bats.
Ash is a medium-hard wood that has a wider grain structure than other woods. This results in a wood that is has a softer feel and greater flex when hitting.
This flex is beneficial for a few reasons
- Creates more whip through the hitting zone
- Provides a high trampoline on contact with the ball
- Leads to less splintering and flying apart when the bat breaks.
Additionally, because of their grain structure, ash wood bats have Increased bat speed.
Another popular choice. This is a hard dense wood that comes mostly from sugar maple or rock maple trees. The hardwood makes maple bats a better quality, tougher, and more expensive bat.
Maple bats are about 15% – 20% harder than ash, which results in a wood bat that lasts a lot longer, which more than justifies the price tag. This is why maple bats have become so popular.
Due to how hard they are, maple bats have less give. More energy is used to propel the ball as opposed to it being absorbed.
This results in the ball being sent further than it would with a less dense bat. These bats are smooth, and you can feel how compact the bat is when you run when you run your hand over one.
So, don’t buy a maple bat unless you are 100% certain the bat you are buying a hard maple (sugar maple or rock maple)
Birch is another type of wood that is hard and flexible. Its adoption has been slow, but more and more players (amateurs, minor league, and pros alike) are beginning to see it as a viable option to ash bats or maple bats.
This is a great option for anyone starting out with wood bats.
Birch is harder than ash but is more flexible than maple. As a result, wood bats made from birch are both durable and flexible.
It offers the best of both worlds with a pop similar to that of maple bats, and the kind of flex that’s found in ash bats.
This unique combination of hardness and flexibility leads to a bat with a great trampoline effect and one that’s less likely to splinter or fly apart when it breaks.
This is the next great option. These are the hardest wood bats but due to this, they can get a bit heavy.
Fortunately, though, new ways such as air-kiln drying are being developed that will rid the bat of the excess moisture, making it lighter.
These are getting more popular by the day, and may soon become a staple in MLB, once its inherent benefits are realized.
If you are looking for a hard-to-break bat that will last for years to come, hickory bats are the answer.
Bamboo is another wood bat material that has become quite popular over the years.
While it may not be the hardest wood out there, bamboo bats are more durable than traditional wood bats and can take lots of mishits without breaking.
They do not flake or split easily. As a result, the barrel does not need to be taped during batting practice or cage work.
These bats have fantastic pop and are lots fun to play with.
Composite Wood Bats
One common worry when shopping for the very best wood bat is the issue of durability.
Prior to the introduction of composite wood bats, it was impossible to tell how long your wood bat was going to last for.
Composite wood bats were made as an alternative while maintaining the traditional feel of a regular wood bat. Composites, however, came with the added benefit of durability.
These bats are of a mixture of different wood blends, composite fiber, and fiberglass fused to an inner support that’s not made from a solid wood billet.
Some advantages of composite wood bats:
- Composite wood bats perform just like traditional wood bats but are a lot more durable.
- They are BBCOR certified for adult league play. Even then, some leagues still do not allow composite wood bats. So as a rule of thumb, always speak to your coach before buying a wood bat.
- These bats are great for beginners, and are good for both batting practice and use on game days.
Care And Maintenance – How to Care for Your Wood Baseball Bat
Having spent your hard earned money on a new wood bat, a little tender love and care goes a long way and is well worth it.
To help your bat last long and keep it performing at its best, spend some time every so often to clean it. Especially if you use pine tar on your bat.
Here are a few care and maintenance tips to keep your bat in great shape:
Cleaning your wood bat is quick and easy. Set aside some time and it should only take a couple of minutes. If you use pine tar on your bat, dirt and grime will invariably build up.
The best way to clean it off is by wiping it down with rubbing alcohol.
Ideally, do this every day if you can. Take some rubbing alcohol and generously apply it to a soft cloth.
Using the cloth, wipe the bat down thoroughly all the way from the handle to the barrel.
Pay special attention to the handle, as that is where grime builds up most.
Wooden baseball bats and wood, in general, is susceptible to water damage or extreme temperature. With this in mind, here are a few pointers for storage in the off-season.
First, keep your bat away from any wet or damp areas. The moisture can seep into the wood and ruin it.
If possible, take a little extra caution and store your wood bat in a box full of sawdust. This way, the sawdust shields it from any moisture in the air and absorbs it before it reaches your bat.
Should your bat get wet, dry it immediately with a soft cloth, then apply linseed oil to it.
Never store your bat in your garage or inside your car. The high temperature will get rid of all the moisture in it, making it brittle and causing it to break prematurely. Instead, stow it away in your closet in the off-season or when it’s not in use.
Finally, always store your bat vertically with the handle side up to keep it from falling over or getting knocked over and possibly breaking.
Over time, your wood bat will get scratches, dings, and scrapes. To keep it silky smooth and working at its best, “bone it”. Take a bone, or even another bat and rub your bat firmly back and forth against it.
After a few minutes, the scratches and scrapes will be gone, and your bat’s surface will smooth out.
Breakage, Prevention & Repair
The sad reality of using wood bats is that breaking is a very real possibility. However, when being used correctly, these bats have been known to last a good long time.
To reduce placement, one key point to consider is the trademark placement. This is not by chance. Because no two trees are exactly the same, then no two bats are exactly alike. All of them differ in one way or another.
Always use your bat “label up”, or “label down”
Because of this, the trademark is placed on the part of the bat that is most susceptible to failure. The side directly opposite the trademark is similarly just as prone to failure. One look at how the grain runs around these areas will confirm this.
That said, the rule of thumb when using a wood bat is always to always bat with the label facing either up to the sky or down to the ground.
How to Repair Broken Wood Bats
Way back when I was a kid, repairing a broken wood bat simply meant getting the first thing you could find in your dad’s chest of tools. Some tape, nails and a hammer was all it took to get your wood bat working again.
There’s not a ton of value in repairing your bat as opposed to shelling out more money (about $50) to get a new one.
Wood bats are relatively inexpensive, and if you do manage to get it fixed, the bat will only be solid enough to practice with but not to play in a game. Put it in a game situation and an 85 mph fastball is enough to cause it to come apart.
If your bat is fractured, enlarge the crack by using something like a knife, and fill it up with glue. Gorilla Glue or Elmer’s woodworking glue should suffice.
Next, clamp the bat using a Woodworking Vise or any other clamp that can get the job done. Let the glue dry, and you then can take your bat outside for a trial run.
Finally, change the side you hit with. So if you typically hit with the label down, try hitting with the label up. Try out your bat, and try not to swing at outside/inside pitches! Good luck!