Bat Care - Knocking in
Why & How to get the best performance out of your new bat.
Almost all new cricket bats require knocking in before use.
Knocking in is the process of hardening and conditioning the blade's surface. There are two reasons for knocking in; firstly, it protects the bat from cracking as well as increasing its usable life and secondly, it improves the middle of the bat so the middle is bigger and better. The nature of the game of cricket is that a hard ball is propelled at high speed toward the batsman who swings the bat in the attempt of hitting the ball. This contact will cause an insufficiently prepared bat to crack very quickly and therefore have a short life span.
Cricket bats are pressed in the bat-making workshop using a mechanical press. The mechanical press applies up to two tons per square inch of pressure to the face of the bat through a roller. Willow, in its natural state, is a very soft timber and has to be pressed to form a hard, resilient layer on the surface. Once this has been done, the bat can be shaped.
The finished bat still needs a final hardening as the mechanical presses are unable to completely protect the bat, or get the perfect performance required from the blade. This requires knocking in by hand with a mallet. Whilst it is possible to prepare a bat solely by pressing, this compresses the wood too deep into the blade which dramatically reduces the performance of the bat. A bat pressed heavily will have a small middle and the ball will not travel as far it would from a bat pressed lightly and knocked in by hand.
Heavily pressed bats do not break so some firms over press bats to keep their warranty work down. This ruins the middle of the bat and the ball will not 'ping' off the middle as it should. We occasionally get asked to try to improve the middle of over pressed bats - this is a tricky task and not always successful.
The knocking in process:
There are different ways of preparing your bat for the knocking in process, but we recommend the following process as repeated trials in bat factories have shown us that this works far better than all other methods.
Raw linseed oil should be used to moisten the surface of the bat and enable the fibres to become supple. This helps them knit together, thus forming an elastic surface. This is more likely to stretch on impact, rather than crack. Raw linseed is used, as it stays moist for longer than boiled linseed. About a teaspoonful should be applied to the surface of the bat.
We recommend that oil should be applied once (3 times if not one of our bats) before the process of compressing the face begins. Each coat of oil should be about one teaspoon full. Spread the oil over the face of the bat using your fingers. Spread the leftover linseed oil over the edges and toe of the bat. Let each coat of oil soak in overnight and repeat the process before starting the knocking in with the mallet.
Knock in Face
After the oil has been applied, the knocking in process can begin. This should be done using a Hardwood bat mallet. This provides much better performance than a ball mallet and also speeds up the process.
Start by hitting the middle of the bat just hard enough to create a dent. [This is surprisingly hard]. Hold the bat up to the light to see if you are making a dent.
Knock in Toe
Gradually compress the face of the bat around these dents so that the face of the bat is level and you cannot see the initial dents any more. The bottom of the bat toe (the part that is in contact with the ground) should never be hit with the mallet.
Knock in edge
The edges require special attention. They need to be rounded off so that the hard new ball cannot damage them too much. The edges should be struck at 45 degrees to the face so that the mallet can compress the willow. Similar to the face make one dent on the edge, and then gradually even out the edge so that the whole surface has a smooth, rounded appearance. The back of the bat should never be touched with the mallet (or the ball).
If the bat is hit on the edge at 90 degrees to the face, it reduces the width of the bat and is making contact with an area that is not mechanically pressed. This increases the likelihood of cracking and you should not be hitting the ball flush on the edge in any case.
With a hardwood bat mallet the knocking in process should take between 10 and 15 sessions of about 10 minutes each (it is probably worth doing this for a bit longer if the bat is of different brand to ours).
Once you have completed this process take the bat into the nets and play a few shots with an old ball. If the bat is showing very deep seam marks then it needs more compressing. One will always get seam marks on the face of the bat; however they should not be too deep.
General knocking in
The price of a bat does not have any effect on whether or not it cracks. The best bats are usually more expensive, but liable to crack more than cheaper bats because the willow is often softer.
Back in the late 1800s the bats were subjected to huge amounts of pressure at the pressing stage to make the willow very hard. If the blade started to show signs of cracking during this process, it was rejected. Linseed oil was very often used to saturate the blade in order to soften the wood, make it more comfortable to use (over pressed bats jar on impact), and get a bit of extra performance out of it. WG Grace would have a few of the junior members of his club using his linseed soaked bats for a season or so before he would deem them ready for use.
When a bat is pressed very hard, it is very difficult to hit the ball off the square. The thin protective layer of hard (pressed) willow becomes a thick layer that is too deep into the willow. Hard-pressed willow does not have the desired elastic qualities of the soft pressed willow, meaning the ball does not 'ping' off the bat. Some manufacturers over press their bats, as the harder wood does not crack as readily, reducing the need for warranty work. Their bats, however, have very small middles.
At L&W, we strongly recommend having your bat knocked in professionally when you purchase it. This helps get a better performance and also helps extend the life of the bat. It also relieves you and your family members of a time consuming, noisy and monotonous process.
Please Note: Damage can never be totally eliminated due to the hard nature of the ball and the speed of contact with the bat. A good bat correctly knocked in ideally would last about 1000 runs including net use.
Laver & Wood sell hardwood knocking in mallets and also offer a knocking in service.
Repair & Maintenance
This section is designed to give you some helpful hints on what to do to aid the repair of your bat.
Cricket bats can often benefit from a small amount of attention - attention that can improve its performance as well as prolong its life. Relatively minor attention can add considerable life to the bat.
Most Common Problems With Cricket Bats
Over the years that we have been repairing and reviving bats we have found that the most common problems can be categorised into the sections below.
The cricket bat handle is subject to an incredible amount of strain due to the nature of the way that the ball is played. The section about an inch above the shoulders is the weakest point. This can break relatively easily when a ball is driven with gusto at the very base of the bat (the toe).
The bat is endeavouring to pivot around the bottom hand but is not being allowed to do so due to the top hand being in position. Usually the front section of cane is fractured and so the handle would need to be replaced, best done by a dedicated bat-maker or repairer.
Sometimes the handle becomes very flexible and has the feel of a broken handle but no fracture can be seen. This is due to the rubbers within the construction of the handle coming unstuck. Removing the string and gently pulling apart the canes sufficient to apply some adhesive should repair this. The best adhesive to use here is superglue (the thin watery kind). Once a small amount of superglue is applied the handle can be clamped back together by rolling a few strong rubber bands down the length of the bat handle.
If the bat feels as if it has lost a bit of power small check to see if there are visible splits running parallel to the splice going downwards from the shoulders. These are sometimes very hard to effectively repair depending on the extent of the damage. On occasion these are caused by the manufacturer not bringing the handle binding down low enough to hold the shoulders together or the rubbers in the handle go too far down into the handle splice thus causing too much movement.
If the splits are less than one inch long then you can help stop them getting worse by soaking superglue into the crack repeatedly until the crack has filled and hardened. When the splits are noticeably longer the bat is best sent to a bat-repairer or, if still under warranty, returned to the manufacturer.
The splice of the bat sometimes comes away to the point of observing movement when the handle is flexed. Applying superglue to any visible small hairline cracks can repair this.
The base of the bat (the toe) is very susceptible to damage. The balanced design of a cricket bat means that this is the weakest part of the willow blade and yet is subjected to the fastest ball and bat speed at point of impact. Yorkers are the worst kind of ball bowled in terms of bat breakage and most toe breakage is as a result of them. The Yorker can often result in a vertical crack running up the length of the blade on the front and back of the bat. If the crack is only an inch or two long it can be repaired by the simple superglue method described earlier.
If the cracks are longer than two inches a good quality PVA adhesive should be used. This will require clamping. PVA is used as it is slightly elastic and absorbs the impact of a ball well. It is incorrect to use epoxies as they will crack very easily due to the fact they don't have the flexibility of PVA. There are examples of us repairing a bat that has been split right up the middle so that it had to be separated into two halves. The bat then has to be clamped back together with PVA. After repair the owner continued to use the bat for a whole season. This is not always the case but worth a try, especially if you have a bat that is perfect for you. Doweling has sometimes been used to help with the repair of this kind of crack but from experience it does not work consistently well. Doweling creates a weak point so that the bat then breaks around the dowel. I recommend going to a professional bat-repairer for any major work to be done on the toe of the bat. A thin smear of raw linseed oil a few times over the season is strongly advised to help dispel moisture that may seep into the toe when batting on a wet wicket.The Face & Edges
The face and edges of the bat receive a non-stop battering and they must be looked after to ensure they last and the middle continues to perform well. The bat needs to be prepared as per the knocking in guidelines given on the L&W website. The use of raw linseed oil is crucial to ensure that the face and edges survive the impact of the ball. You can read more about this in our knocking in section of the website.
Once in use the face will start to crack in horizontal lines across the grain. This is quite normal together with small vertical cracks on the blade. The best way to deal with this is to use the superglue method to help reinforce the willow and then apply an adhesive facing. The best adhesive facing available on the market is a product made in Auckland and is quite often used to protect helicopter rotor blades from small stones chipping them. We actually sell this adhesive facing in our accessories section of this website at the price of US$16/NZ$20 plus shipping.
The face of your cricket bat will sometimes keep going for more than a season before it starts cracking - it happens differently in every bat. As mentioned for the toe of the bat a thin smear of raw linseed oil over the face and edges helps the bat to retain its own moisture and reduces the rate of cracking.
Products & Usage
I have mentioned Superglue throughout this newsletter, and it is crucial in a bat maker's workshop. When superglue is used it sometimes leaves a residue around the split area. This can be sanded off with fine grade sandpaper; apply a dab of raw linseed after the repair is fully dried. The glue is the thin watery kind that is commonly used to repair broken china. (Describe this to your hardware store and they will know what you mean). We sell repair kits that include instructions, sandpaper, linseed oil and superglue for US$32/NZ$40 plus shipping.