They may look like simple pieces of wood or metal, but making a baseball bat takes skill, experience and a very keen eye for detail.
Baseball derived from the English game of rounders in the mid-eighteenth century, and it’s believed that the very first recorded game of baseball was in the leafy English county of Surrey in 1749 with Frederick, Prince of Wales playing for one of the teams. By the 1830s it was all over the USA but there was no standard for the bat.
Players in those days would whittle their own bats. Some would resemble cricket bats, others would resemble short-handled rounders bats and others would have a thick end with a long handle. They were much heavier than modern bats and today’s multi-millionaire players no longer have to do it themselves, so how do you make a baseball bat? You’re about to find out.
How Are Wooden Baseball Bats Made?
Rule 1.10(a) of Major League Baseball states that ‘the bat shall be a smooth, round stick not more than 2.61 inches (6.62cm) in diameter at the thickest part and not more than 42 inches (1.06m) in length. The bat shall be one piece of solid wood’. It is to this exacting standard that all baseball bats must conform. So how do they manufacture baseball bats from raw material to finished product?
It all starts with trees. Most baseball bats are made from ash, though some are made from maple, birch and even bamboo. The felled trees are taken to mills and the wood is turned into billets, long cylindrical pieces of wood.
The billets are then ink-dotted. This is a very important process on the journey of how baseball bats are made. Ink-dotting bats means they pass the very strict MLB regulations regarding the slope and structure of the wood grain. Ash bats don’t require ink-dotting as the grain is visible.
The billets are then sent to a CNC (computer numerical control) machine to be precisely cut to the finished shape. Each MLB baseball player has very specific requirements for shape, weight and barrel thickness, so companies can have over 8,000 different settings on their CNC machines depending on the player they’re making bats for.
After the bat has been formed, it is quality controlled for imperfections and then sanded smooth, but there can still be some very small openings in the grain. At this point in the process of making wooden baseball bats, they are rubbed against a bone (often an actual bone such as the femur of a cow) to tighten the open grains and compress the wood to prevent it from fraying.
After the felling and the lathing and the ink-dotting and the bat-boning, all that’s left is the finish. The bats are spray-painted with colour, the decals are added and then a final protective layer of topcoat is applied. They are polished by hand, packed up and shipped out, hoping for a home run or two!
From Blank to Bat - How are Aluminium Baseball Bats Made?
While the professionals use wooden bats, bats made from aluminium are very popular outside of the major leagues.
They are light and long-lasting, and the process of how aluminium baseball bats are made starts with aircraft-grade aluminium rods which are cut into short lengths around 20cm long called blanks.
The solid metal blanks are set into a drilling machine that bores out the centre. They’re then mounted onto a press to go through a process known as impact extrusion. With over 300 tons of force, a tool buries into the hole in the blank and stretches it. This gives it the recognisable form of the thick end of a baseball bat.
The tapered blanks are cleansed of any oily residue and then a 400-ton press shapes the blanks slightly longer than a full-length bat. They’re then tested to ensure they are perfectly straight.
This process of how baseball bats are made may seem complex, but it’s vitally important that every step is precise. The smallest inaccuracy could mean the difference between a home run and being struck out.
Next, the long bats are topped and tailed to their exact length and are sanded. This process ensures there are no defects in the metal, and roughs it up a little so the layers of paint adhere to the surface.
The bats are hand-sprayed with layers of paint and then the decals are applied by submerging them into a solution that activates the adhesive, and then fixed to the bat.
We’re almost finished answering the question ‘how are aluminium baseball bats made.’ The bats go back to the paint department to be sprayed with a clear coat of polyurethane, the plastic end cap is fixed in place and the aluminium stopper at the handle end is fused to the top of the handle in a welding machine.
Finally the synthetic leather grip is wound around the handle, it’s fixed into place with high-grade tape and there we have it – that is how baseball bats are made!