Hockey Sticks Guide: Materials

INTRODUCTION | WOODEN HOCKEY STICKS | COMPOSITE MATERIALS
COMPOSITE HOCKEY STICKS | WOOD VS COMPOSITE

Traditionally hockey sticks have been made from wood, more specifically Mulberry. As the game has developed, technology improved and the movement towards playing on both sand and water based artificial surfaces has firmly taken hold, a number of additional materials have been introduced into the manufacture of hockey sticks.

The 1990s saw the introduction of several aluminium shafted sticks which clearly increased hitting power, but after a number of injuries resulting from the failure or partial failure of the metallic parts of these sticks, the FIH quickly took a firm stance to prevent further potential injuries by banning the use of metallic components in hockey sticks.

As 'space-age' materials such as fibreglass, carbon fibre and Kevlar became more widely available and cheaper to produce, several manufacturers stepped into the fray with hockey sticks developed using composite materials. Although limited in initial appeal, consistent refinements have resulted in composite sticks being widely used and accepted. The use of composite materials has also been combined with the traditional wood to create lighter, stiffer hockey sticks which maintain the traditional wooden feel.

Wooden Hockey Sticks

  • One Piece head construction: For many years hockey sticks were hand crafted from individual blocks of Mulberry. Mulberry being the wood of choice due to its combination of strength and flexibility. However the limitations in this style of manufacture were quickly realised as the changes in playing style demanded increased curvature in a hockey sticks head. Attempting to recreate a modern Maxi or Hook headed stick (see Head Shape section for more info) from a single piece of wood in many cases would prove impossible due to the increased stresses on the wood.
     
  • Laminate head construction: In order to get around this problem stick manufacturers moved towards a 2 part stick construction, combining a traditional one piece handle bonded to a laminated head. The lamination process which essentially involves the bonding together of several layers of wood provided the much needed combination of strength and pliability required to create the new head styles. This said, early examples were prone to de-laminating or layers separating from each other, (especially when kept in wet environments) causing splitting along the layer boundaries. Over time this problem has been dramatically reduced through improved bonding techniques and better stick care, to leave laminate construction as the method of choice for most modern wooden hockey sticks.
     
  • Reinforcement: The increased wear and demand for more stiffness lead by hockey players forced manufacturers on a search to find materials and methods to improve these elements of their hockey sticks. The increasing use of previously space age materials and reduced costs led the manufacturers to incorporate a number of new materials in order to take advantage of their specific properties. Initial designs used these materials to a very limited extent such as strips bonded to the playing side of the shaft to provide greater strength or stiffness. The current innovation in top of the range hockey sticks sees the use of woven sleeves incorporating one or more materials to completely encase the shaft of the stick as well as additional strips in key areas of the stick to increase stiffness and strength as well reduce wear and tear.

Composite Materials

Modern hockey sticks, both wood and fully composite take advantage of a number of different materials and their properties in order to maximise the power and feel. In this section we shall briefly explain the different materials, their properties and their potential uses.

Hockey Stick Materials - Fibreglass, Kevlar, Carbon

  • Fibreglass: Cheap and easy to control, fibreglass is made from fine strands of glass and is often woven together and combined with a resin to increase strength and stiffness but more often applied to wooden sticks to limit wear to areas such as the head.
     
  • Kevlar/Aramid: This fibrous material often used in built proof vests and body armour is very strong yet flexible. Kevlar or Aramid as it is generically called, is used to increase the strength of the stick to a level above that of fibreglass.
     
  • Carbon Fibre: Thin, expensive and very light strands of carbon are often woven into sheets or strips. Very stiff and strong, Carbon Fibre is used in a variety of hi-tech industries such as Formula 1 racing where the combination of strength and light-weight makes carbon fibre the obvious choice. Carbon Fibre is the material used to create the stiffness in hockey sticks which in turn lead to the greatest amount of power being transferred from the stick to the ball. In brief, the more Carbon Fibre in a stick, the stiffer it is. The weakness of carbon fibre is its low resistance to impact or brittleness, which causes it break. As a result Carbon Fibre is often combined with Kevlar/Aramid in order to take advantage of its strength yet prevent breakage.
     
  • Resin: A range of glue-like substances that dry to form a very strong, hard, wear-resistant material. Resins are used for a variety of purposes. On their own they provide great protection from the wear of sand and water based surfaces and as a result are often applied to the head of both wooden and composite sticks as a protective layer as both part of the manufacturing process and as an aftermarket accessory i.e. TK Stick Magic. In conjunction with other composite materials such as fibreglass, Kevlar/Aramid and Carbon Fibre they can be used as both a bonding agent to securely bind fibrous strips and sleeves to wooden sticks or in the case of purely composite hockey sticks the major constituent of the stick, holding together the under-lying strengthening and stiffening fibres.

Composite Hockey Sticks

Composite hockey sticks have experienced a very rapid evolution from rather heavy and bulky beginnings to profiles and weights almost identical to traditional wooded hockey sticks.

Composite Hockey Stick: Twin Channel Construction Composite hockey sticks are as the name suggests manufactured from a number of woven fibres which are pre-soaked in resin and then baked in a mould to combine the different elements and take on the desired shape, profile and strength characteristics. Once cooled the sticks are painted and lacquered to provide the customised hard-wearing outer finish.

The cross section (seen left) shows the standard twin-channel construction technique developed to provide the ideal strength to weight ratio required for modern hockey sticks. The different fibres used in the construction provide the hockey stick with its particular characteristics, i.e. more Carbon Fibre the stiffer and more expensive to produce, the more fibreglass the more flexible and cheaper the stick.

Wood Vs Composite Hockey Sticks

The argument of wooden versus composite hockey sticks has raged throughout the hockey community for many years now. In this section we will try to outline the various Pros and Cons associated with each of the construction techniques and leave you to make your own decision.

Common misconceptions: The restrictions set by the FIH (hockey's governing body) prevent top of the range composite hockey sticks from creating more hitting power than an equivalent wooden stick.

Arguments For Wood:

  • Wood as a material is cheaper than composite materials and therefore results in reduced retail prices.
  • The natural characteristics of wood result in a softer feel for the ball which many players, including internationals favour.

Arguments Against Wood:

  • Due to the hand made nature of the stick it is very difficult to get any two sticks that are exactly the same.
  • Wooden sticks are only as good as the wood they are made from and therefore inconsistencies in the quality, moisture content and density of the wood may result in two sticks of exactly the same specification performing completely differently.
  • Without additional protection wood is more susceptible to wear on sand based surfaces.
  • Wood has a tendency over time to draw in moisture which leads to loss of power and likelihood of breakage.
  • Wooden sticks have a smaller sweet spot for creating maximum hitting power.

Arguments For Composite:

  • Composite sticks have a greater power to weight ratio i.e. strength and stiffness can be maintained by a lighter weight composite stick.
  • The heads of composite hockey sticks are designed to create a larger and more forgiving sweet spot for maximum hitting power.
  • The manufacturing process leads to composite sticks being much more consistent in their weight, stiffness and power, so if you've used one stick you can be fairly confident another hockey stick of the same specification will feel and perform to the same level.
  • The nature of a composite hockey stick (i.e. a high resin composition) means that aftercare resins naturally bond better to like materials, resulting in increased playing life and consistent feel.

Arguments Against Composite:

  • Harsher, less refined feel for the ball, although with ongoing development this is becoming less pronounced.
  • Cost of materials and production result in more expensive sticks than a wooden stick of a comparable specification.

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