Willow is Sourced
Clefts are sourced using only the finest english cricket bat willow. The clefts are then graded by into various categories from wood suitable for the cheapest boy’s bat to that for the finest players who have obtained Test Match status. Grading is firstly done as soon as the blades are sawn to give an approximate idea of stock levels. Then when the blades have been dried each blade gets very carefully graded again.
The way in which Fantail cricket bats are manufactured involves various presses and pressings throughout the blade's journey into becoming a bat. The main aim of pressing has always been to compress the fibres for strength and also for rebound. As pressing is a delicate balance between hardening the willow for strength and leaving the blade soft enough to play well. Generally, The blade is pressed to between 1500 lbs and 2000 lbs per square inch with one to three passes. We believe that this is the most fundamental part of bat making and is often be the difference between a good bat and a great bat.
The handles used are a 100% Singapore manau cane handle, with a laminated construction of cane and rubber strips. This type of handle is designed to absorb the shock and is fitted through the precise splicing of the handle into the blade. A splicing saw is used to cut the deep V into both blade and handle, using specialised jigs, so that the handle and blade fit together perfectly.
The blade and handle are fitted together by hand using a PVA glue then clamped and left to dry. Traditionally handles are set slightly forward of the blade, although as with all stages of production this is adjusted to each blade individually according to the bow and the particular characteristics of the blade.
After these steps are completed the handled & pressed bats are then shipped to our workshop in Auckland, New Zealand.
English Willow Grading
A Grade LE (Limited Edition) is the best looking and performing blade money can buy and is in the top 4% of willow. The grain on the face will be straight and there will be at least 10 grains visible. These are an incredibly good piece of willow turned into the finest bat imaginable. We don’t produce many of these a year as the quality of willow we use for this grade is hard to come by.
A Grade 1 is the best looking blade money can buy, though it will not necessarily play the best. There may be some red wood evident on the edge of the bat. The grain on the face will be straight and there will be at least 4 grains visible. There may be the odd small knot in the edge or back but the playing area should be clean.
A Grade 2 is also very good quality and normally a larger amount of red wood can be seen on the edge of a bat, this has no effect on the playing ability of the bat it is purely cosmetic. Again there will be at least 4 straight grains on the face of the bat with maybe some blemishes, pin knots or "speck" visible.
This grade offers very good value for money. A Grade 3 Blade has up to half colour across the bat, again this has no direct relation to the playing ability of the wood, it just has less visual attraction. There will be a minimum of 4 grains on the face of the bat which may not always be perfectly straight. Again some small knots or a little 'butterfly' stain may be present with perhaps more prominent "speck".
Machining of cricket bat willow is arguably one of the most important side of manufacturing, which will control the quality and performance of the bat.
Our bats therefore undergo a various machining processes. Bats are resized in length, depth and width using unique jigs, planers and saws to achieve the best part of the timber as the driving playing area and to shape the profile. Throughout these stages, the blade must be continually evaluated in order to maximise the potential of the willow. There are no shortcuts taken as every willow bat is unique and must be assessed throughout the production processes if performance, quality, strength and honesty of grading are to be guaranteed. These stages define professional cricket bat manufacturing.
The blade is shaped traditionally by 'pulling off' the willow with the various hand tools including draw knifes, heel shaves, spoke shaves and planes. We try to leave maximum wood in the driving area whilst working the blade to establish the balance.
The coarse cuts of the draw knife are smoothed using various styles of planes and the shoulders and handle are seamlessly blended with the spoke-shaves. The toe is very carefully shaped to the customers choice for strength and protection. As with all the other stages of production, the hand shaping is absolutely unique to each bat.
During the shaping, the bat will be intermittently removed from the vice and tested for balance and form by the bat maker, using his knowledge of the game as a point of reference for balance and pick-up.
Once the bat has been shaped and sanded, the last element in blending handle and blade together seamlessly is to rasp the handle. The handle shape is again determined by the customer and is set before binding and gripping, but differences in face profile involve careful adjustments to the handle shape to give the best balance, feel and performance.
The bat will continue to be shaped throughout the sanding processes which are again multiple and specialised. Our sanding is not just to refine the surface of the bat but is an extension of the shaping, it is where the shapes are clarified. Our bats go through a 4 separate coarse sanding and three fine sanding processes. This is labour intensive, fastidious and the bedrock of our finish. it is the sanding processes which achieves our high quality finish, the polish merely seals it.
The handle is bound with a traditional linen thread sourced in New Zealand which is applied on a custom-made binding lathe. The handle is brushed with PVA glue and whipped with the twine which provides strength at the top of the splice and throughout the length of the handle. The handles are then left to dry before polishing.
Once the glue on the binding has fully dried, the bat is burnished using a compound wax which polishes and flattens the wood leaving a shiny surface. The edges of the bat are then boned to make them more resilient to damage. Using a stainless steel bar compress the fibres. With Fantail and any good bat production, if the pressing and sanding are correct, then the finish is obtained though a final polish stage. Again, the key to our finish is the quality of the sanding.
Labelling & Grip
The bound and polished bats are then very carefully labelled and applied with a grip. As with most of the components in the bats, the labels are again a specialist product manufactured for us in New Zealand which we design ourselves up to print. The labels truly express us as a brand. The labels are sub surface printed onto durable polycarbonate to avoid damage to the designs from impact of the ball. Labelling must be precise to emphasise the profile and finish of each bat.
Oiling & Knocking In
We apply two coats of linseed oil. Linseed oil helps the cricket bat to retain its own moisture and reduces the rate of cracking due to allowing the fibres to stretch rather than crack. The knocking process starts with the edges and toe of the bat we do this by hand using a wooden mallet as these are the weakest and most vulnerable areas of the bat. It then moves on to our Smart Knock knocking in machine. Which does all that a human can do but better as it has complete control of each strike with placement and power. It works its way slowly up and down the blade while moving across the blade simultaneously. We slowly increase the knocking power to build the bat up to a level where it is ready to be used in a net session. The machine stops when it gets to 20 000 hits. We then remove it and take it to our net where we run it through a couple of tests to make sure it’s properly knocked in. We then add a coat of our Fantail Bat wax. Bat Wax acts like a traditional Linseed oil by nourishing the willow and the bees wax offers a protective coat by sealing the grain from any excess moisture.
The toe guard is made of a rubber material and applied to the toe of a cricket bat to stop moisture seeping up through the toe. the first step is to give the toe of the bat a light sand, we then apply a heavy duty contact adhesive to both the toe & rubber guard, After the glue is touch try we then apply the guard to the toe and hammer with a rubber mallet until full contact has been made. We let the glue set overnight to achieve maximum bond and then shape the guard to form the acquired toe shape
The first step is to cut the facing to size. We then remove the paper backed covering, align the Bat Facing to the cricket bat and then apply the Facing. We then apply long stripes of fibre tape down the edges as they are a very vulnerable area of the bat.