A Grade 1 Willow
A Grade 1 is the best looking blade, though it will not necessarily play the best. There may be some red wood evident on the edge of the blade. The grain on the face will be straight and there will be a minimum of 6 grains visible. There may be the odd small knot or speck in the edge or back but the playing area should be clean.
A Grade 2 Willow
A Grade 2 blade is also very good quality and normally a larger amount of red wood can be seen on the edge of a blade, this has no effect on the playing ability of the bat it is purely cosmetic. Again there will be at least 6 straight grains on the face of the blade with maybe some blemishes, pin knots or “speck” visible, we also put the top 2% of the excellent quality butterfly blades that we get into Grade 2.
A Grade 3 Willow
A Grade 4 Willow
A Grade 4 Blade is normally over half colour or contains butterfly stain (see our page on Imperfections in Willow). It will still play as well as the other grades. Any number of grains are possible with often only 4 grains, the willow containing ‘butterfly’ stain is very strong, there could also be more “speck” and other faults.
Other Grades and What makes a good bat?
There are many other Grades which have been developed over the years to satisfy the different demands from all the different markets across the world.
Q: “What makes a good bat?” The answer is that it depends on the taste of the customer and the skill of the bat maker. A bat should always be chosen on “feel” and not merely what it looks like. There are bound to be some small knots or blemishes on the bat, after all it is a natural product and cannot be expected to be perfect, with no faults at all.
The only main differences in the grade are the visual appearance of the wood including amounts of butterfly stain plus the number of blemishes or knots on the blade and the straightness of the grain. Generally the more colour in the blade the lower the grade, there is however negligible difference in the playing ability, it is purely a perception that if it looks good it will play well, this is not the case.
Butterfly stain (the stain resembles the shape of a butterfly), for example, used to be very popular for its superior strength and playing ability. Unfortunately, these days because it does not “look clean and white” people do not buy it. It does make very good bats that are very strong and perform well.
The Wide Grain Myth
Generally it is expected for a blade to have wide grain if it has less than 6 grains on the face. The width of the grain is entirely dependent upon how fast the tree has grown, each grain represents one year’s growth. The factors that affect the rate of growth are the soil quality and amount of water available.
In these modern times when growers want a quick return on their investment, trees have been planted in the most ideal site for the tree to grow quickly. This means that in the future there are going to be less narrow grain trees available. Unfortunately when it takes all this time to grow a tree you cannot allow for changes in ‘fashion’ which could alter from year to year.
In this respect we have cut mature trees in as little as 10 years, but generally 12 to 18 years gives a wider grain with 25 years or more a narrower grain. A narrow grain bat will certainly play well, quicker, but will not have a particularly long life.
On the other hand a wider grain bat (with as little as 4 grains on the face) will play as well, given time, as a narrow grain, it will also , without doubt have a longer life span. The reason for this is that the wood is not as old, so it is stronger and will stand up better to the beating with some of the very hard balls used in matches.
With the climate changing and growing seasons getting longer, that the amount of narrow grain we are producing is getting less as a percentage. There is nothing we can do about it and players will have to adapt in the coming years to accepting more wider grains.