Step 1 - Cricket Bat Willow
Trees cut down by Salix at Paddock Wood.
Cricket bat willow (salix alba, var. cśrulea)
is a cultivated timber which grows in large
plantations in wetland areas throughout
Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Each tree is
individually planted by hand and during its
natural life-span, the willow will be tended
by the grower to ensure that the tree will
be suitable for bat making. For each willow
that is felled, two new trees are planted.
In this way the industry, countryside and
the actual species are protected. Cricket
bat making is a craft based on conservation.
For more information on cricket bat willow,
Step 2 - Selecting the Timber
[left] Willow clefts
ready for grading and machining.
All our timber is sourced either from local
trees or from willow specialists. Choosing
mature trees (between 15-30 yrs old),
cutting them into rounds, then splitting out
the clefts is an occasional luxury, as the
majority of our time is dedicated to the
actual making processes. The bulk of our
willow therefore comes from willow
specialists but each cleft is still selected
by Andrew Kember by hand. The cleft has
already been split from the round (section
of the trunk), rough sawn, the ends waxed
and then air or kiln dried to reduce the
moisture content. The waxing is essential as
it prevents quick moisture loss from the end
grain which could cause cracks or drying
'cones'. Any clefts suffering from these
cones are filtered out of production, or, if
finished, sold only as substandards directly
from the workshop.
Step 3 - Machining
[left] Machining a
cleft to width.
Once in the workshop, the cleft undergoes
various machining processes to be cut into
the basic blade shape. Even at the machining
stage, the craftsman's expertise is
essential as the blade must be continually
evaluated in order to maximise the natural
potential of the willow; for example
establishing the best end for the handle and
leaving the most suitable wood for the
driving area. There are no shortcuts as
every willow cleft is unique and must be
assessed throughout the production processes
if quality, strength and honesty of grading
are to be guaranteed. The skills involved in
machining, and its importance to the
integrity of bat production is why we have
invested so heavily in our workshops.
Self-sufficiency as a brand is paramount.
Many companies sub-contract machining and
pressing, or even buy in nearly-made bats
(we ourselves provide a restricted machining
service to a number of these brands).
Step 4 - Pressing the Blade
[left] Blades ready
Once the blade has been correctly graded and
machined, the next stage is the pressing.
The willow fibres have to be compressed in
order to strengthen the timber sufficiently
to withstand the impact of a cricket ball.
But as pressing is a delicate balance
between hardening the willow for strength
and leaving the blade soft enough to play
well (over-pressing can deaden the blade),
Salix presses each blade individually.
Generally, we press the blade up to 4 times
at up to 2,000lb per square inch. Again,
inherent understanding of the wood is
essential to determine the right amount of
pressure. The press itself, which was custom
built, is adapted for different models and
constantly developed to maximise performance
Step 5 - Fitting the Handle
[left] Handle being
spliced into a blade.
The handle, a laminated construction of cane
and rubber strips (treble sprung), is fitted
through the precise splicing of the handle
into the blade. The craftsman will set the
handle slightly forward of the blade
ensuring a perfect pick up once the bat is
made. The handle is secured using a water
resistant wood glue and left overnight to
Step 6 - Hand Shaping
[left] Andrew Kember
'pulling off' a bat at the bench.
The blade is shaped by 'pulling off' the
willow with the draw knife. The bat makers
will leave maximum wood in the driving area
whilst working the blade to establish the
balance that is associated with the finest
handmade bats. The coarse cuts of the draw
knife are smoothed using wooden planes and
the shoulders and handle are seamlessly
blended with the spoke-shave. The toe is
very carefully shaped to a distinctive angle
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 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.
Step 7 - Sanding
[left] Drum Sanding.
Once shaped, the bat will be both course and
fine sanded. Like the shaping, the sanding
is dependant upon the eye and skill of the
craftsman. The characteristic finish of a
Salix bat can be attributed to very
fastidious sanding, which has always been a
point of pride.
Step 8 - Binding, Polishing & Labelling
[left] Binding a
The handle is bound using the finest quality
twine. The bat is mounted in a lathe which
is controlled using a foot treadle; the
handle is brushed with glue and whipped with
the twine which provides strength at the top
of the splice and throughout the length of
the handle. The blade is then finely
burnished using a compound wax which
polishes and flattens the wood leaving a
Note: traditionally bats were 'boned'
instead of polished - the use of a bone or
piece of cane to compress the fibres giving
both the final finish and a final pressing.
With Salix and any good bat production, if
the pressing and sanding are correct, then
the finish is obtained though burnishing, so
'boning' is never necessary. The key to our
finish is not a bone or a clever polish, but
the quality of the sanding.
Once bound, English grips are fitted to the
handle and labels are applied to the face,
back and sides of the bat. All our bats then
undergo a final quality inspection, before
being packaged and distributed to shops
around the country. With each bat is carried
the hope that the time and effort we expend
will be rewarded by the owner's care and
attention, and great success at the wicket.