Like so many others I got into club building out of necessity and curiosity. As a kid, I loved to take anything and everything apart — from skateboards to old lawnmowers — so when I starting playing golf clubs were next. It started small, learning how to grip clubs with a Black & Decker workmate with my dad, and then slowly I moved into the more intricate aspects of building clubs. I’ve always joked that I was probably the only 16-year-old who asked for a lie-loft machine for his birthday.
In this article, I’m going to share with you my favorite tips, tricks and tools that I’ve used as a professional golf club builder. I hope to benefit those interested in building their own golf clubs at home, as well as relay valuable information about club building in general to knowledge-hungry GolfWRXers.
One of the most important things about building clubs is doing it properly with the right tools, and doing it safely. After setting up up multiple build shops over the years, from small hobby shops to large multi-station build shops, having the opportunity to build my own home shop from the ground up was something I always looked forward to. My shop is in my basement, and because of the limited space, it was imperative to find as many space saving-solutions as possible.
Like many people with a hobby they are passionate about, I look forward to one day having a stand-alone garage for all of my tools (and maybe a hitting net), but for now my basement gets the job done. I’m lucky to have access to a much large machine shop where I do wedge grinding, finishing and sand blasting, which are all jobs that make a lot more noise and create a lot more dust. I can’t get away with doing those things in a confined space, but we’ll touch on that later.
Although not a tool, arguably the most important piece of equipment is the work bench. Having a quality workbench is needed because of the amount of abuse that it will take over its lifespan. Also, just like a great kitchen design, you need counter space and a good workbench provides that. Dropping a clubhead (especially a driver or fairway wood with nice paint job) can be costly. The next extension of the workbench is a good vice that has been properly attached to the bench with bolts. Like I’ve said in previous articles, I believe when you do something you should take the time to do it properly. I once saw a vice screwed into a workbench with 1.25-inch screws, and as soon as someone went to use the vice it ripped out and took a club with it.
Not every surface needs to be as stable as a full-scale industrial workbench, but having counter space is important. My personal solution to this was IKEA (honestly, who doesn’t love IKEA?). I recommend checking out Ikea Hacks (just Google it) for space-saving tips. If your space is really limited or needs to be multi-use, flip-up table ends are a perfect solution. As much as I like finding quick solutions to problems, it’s way more satisfying to build things yourself if possible. That way, at the end of the project, you have something that is exactly the way you wanted it.
As seen in the pictures below, I re-purposed two Ikea BEKAN desk bases from the As-Is section into a full workbench after getting a 4-foot by 8-foot piece of 0.75-inch plywood cut to size. This saved me hundreds of dollars and got me close to 30 square feet of counter space to mount other tools including my bench ruler, chop saw, belt sander and frequency machine. And since these desk bases have adjustable heights, I was able to get them to a comfortable workbench height.
There are lots of kits available online to build benches to fit almost any space. Get creative, and customize it to your needs.
One of the other things that’s very important is organization. Having a few small organizational tools can make a difference: think storage bins, trays and component drawers, which are especially useful for ferrules and tip weights. Make sure to put labels on them, too, so it’s always easy to find what you need.
Unlike a golf bag where you are limited to 14 clubs, your build shop is only limited to the amount of space you have (and your budget). For me, every trip to the hardware store or to various tool supply shops has me finding another small tool or bit to help make things just a bit easier. Let’s put it this way; I have a lot of LED flashlights and finishing tools lying around.
What I’m trying to say is that what you should really focus on when building a shop from the ground up is quality over quantity. Having the proper tools will make building clubs and doing repairs a lot easier. There are very few things as frustrating as having a club not turn out the way you wanted because you weren’t prepared and didn’t have the right tools for the job.
A good cordless drill is a necessity, so make a quality purchase. I’m not an expert on drills, but any of the big name-brand drills that use an 18-20V battery have always done well for me. Make sure the drill has variable torque settings and, if possible, having one that has a built-in flashlight under the chuck makes it super easy to check hosels for debris while drilling. It’s also more ideal to find one in a kit that has two batteries with the charger — that way, if you’re drilling a lot for a single job, you will always have a fresh battery. You should expect to pay $119-$200.
I have seen many shops use a drill press, but personally I never found a real need for one on a day-to-day basis (plus they can take up a bunch of space). Drill presses can be useful for porting wedges, but that’s really not home-shop use.
Metal Drill Bits
Here’s where things get personal for me. I had an inexpensive drill bit break almost instantly and go right into the palm of my left hand (and off to the ER I went). I was not a happy camper, but I did learn a very valuable lesson; don’t buy cheap drill bits and never drill toward another body part. I still have a small scar to remind me of that mistake, and it also serves as a reminder to never take what you may consider a simple repair for granted. Bit sets can often be found on sale, but a small collection of proper bits will run you about $100.
Also, make sure to purchase proper metal drill bits. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen people try and use either masonry or wood drill bits with little success.
A good chop saw is worth every penny. There’s nothing worse than using a crappy saw and having it splinter the butt section of an expensive driver shaft. My personal favorite, and the favorite of many professionals, is the Gryphon Miter Saw. Almost any video in a tour van features one of these saws… and for good reason. They are compact, durable, use relatively inexpensive blades,and also make very precise cuts at high RPM. The better the blades and higher the RPM, the better the cut.
I don’t do that much volume in my basement, so I went with a more basic chop saw from GolfWorks that uses 6-inch blades. I did my research. It is still a good quality saw and worked with my budget, but compared to the Gryphon that I used in the past it is louder. The Gryphon is $260 direct from Gryphon, while mine was in the $80 range from GolfWorks. I’ve had my saw from almost eight years, and although is doesn’t see anything close to an industrial workload it performs great.
Side Note: Just like with drill bits, be sure to buy quality cutting wheels made for steel and other fibers. The thinner the better, because they will help keep dust down and reduce noise.
Who doesn’t love the look of a properly turned-down ferrule that has just been shined with acetone? To me, this is one of the most important aspects of finishing a club. It seems simple, but it took me a long time to get really good at it.
To properly turn down a ferrule you need a belt sander, and don’t skimp on a cheap one. The best ones use 42-inch belts, and I prefer the DuraBrite Felt belts since they don’t take too much material off the ferrule at once. This makes them more forgiving, especially for beginners, and I find them much cleaner, which makes final finishing easier. You can use a belt sander with a inexpensive motor for around or under $100, but you can’t go cheap on the attachments. The attachment shown here is the most widely used and reliable one that I’ve found and costs around $200 from most suppliers. Some of the most reliable tools found in shops have Baldor Motors that alone start around $350. Since grinders are very common tools, you can often get a good deal on a used one if you stay patient.
You can’t cut or sand at any volume without creating dust. I don’t know what the long-term effects of breathing in graphite and steel dust are, but I’m not ready to be a test subject either. You may have noticed the ugly looking box around my chop saw. It’s not only a catch basin for shaft ends, but is also used in conjunction with a shop vac to keep airborne dust to a minimum in my basement. I designed it to act as a mini-negative air system.
Most tool shops like Harbour Freight (or Princess Auto/Busy Bee Tools in Canada) have some type of inexpensive dust collector, and even a shop vac can do the trick. When purchasing a dust collection system, look out for CFM, or cubic feet per minute, which explains how much air/dust the system can collect as once. The more air that the system can pull through the filter the more dust it can pull out of the air. A simple cyclone system is about $100, but you can find mini 1HP systems (lots of power for a saw or small sander) for about $175 on sale or between $200-$250 full price.
When it comes to gripping clubs, the best solution is a proper gripping station that will collect and recycle grip solvent and safely hold a club “square.” The nicest shop I ever worked in had foot-activated pneumatic clamps that automatically adjusted pressure, just like a tour van. Starting with solvent, it’s never good to run that stuff into a drain or have it sitting in an open container, especially with children or pets kicking around. My setup, although not perfect, is very effective at not wasting solvent and allowing me to get grips on in a timely fashion. The picture shows exactly how I recycle my solvent. Like I said, it’s not fancy, but it is very effective. This exact system from GolfMechanix is $185 before the cost of solvent or tape.
Graphite Shaft Puller
So you want to pull a graphite shaft? Like I mentioned in my last article, Avoid These 5 Club Building Disasters, there is a right way and a wrong a way to do it. Using a proper shaft extractor is necessary for graphite because of the fibers and the way the graphite sheets are wrapped. If you plan on doing a bit more than just the occasional shaft pull, I ALWAYS recommend using one with either a spring or hydraulic mechanism. Maltby makes a few really nice ones, as does GolfMechanix. I’ve had my Golf Mechanix shaft puller for more than 10 years now with no problems and hundreds of shafts pulled. The model in the photo retails for $350.
Loft-lie machines are pricey, but just like a belt sander a good one is very much worth it. If you’re entrepreneurial, loft-lie machines can be a good little money maker, too, since the golf shops that have them can be few and far between, depending on where you live. Do good work on a few clubs for friends and word will spread. Believe me.
The cream of the crop loft-lie machines are digital. I wish I had one, but know that a well-machined loft-lie machine can be just as effective. Just like with the shaft puller, a great one can be had from Maltby and Golf Mechanix. On top of a loft-lie machine for irons, a separate loft-lie machine for putters is a really nice thing to have. Mine is from an older Wilson Staff unit dating back to when Kirk Currie was still making putters. It’s most effective with blade style putters, but can be used with most styles. Again, you don’t need to completely break the bank to have an effective shop with the right tools.
Don’t forget to make sure to get a good, non-maring bending bar tool, too. Bending marks are almost unavoidable for certain iron heads, but to make as few marks as possible a good bending bar is key.
A professional-quality loft/lie machine starts at around $550, but prices can get into the thousands. On top of that, a proper base usually add about $100-$200 to the cost. Putter machines are about $300 to start, but remember, bend a few putters for friends with great results and you will start getting phone calls.
This is a tool that certainly falls under the category of a luxury build shop item. My personal machine is a older model that was built and designed by Fujikura, which has a pneumatic pressure controlled clamping system to ensure consistent results. The age or model of the frequency machine has little impact on the reading that are put out (as long as it’s a quality, properly calibrated machine). The other specification to pay attention to is clamp length. You will get vastly different readings depending on the clamp length used, and if you’re using a computer-based formula your entire set could be off because of the clamp length.
Some newer machines have clamps that can be adjusted from 3-5 inches. I wouldn’t build a set of irons without it, but then again, club building was my livelihood and I’ve gotten used to the luxury. A frequency machine is by no means a necessary tool when it comes to doing home builds and repairs, as they start at about $550. A nice one from Maltby goes for $650, and a top-of-the-line model from GolfMechanix will set you back $750.
An air compressor is a tool that falls under the category of “not just useful for a custom shop.” An air compressor has an abundance of uses including blowing on grips, cleaning out hosels and powering a plethora of pneumatic tools. I always charge mine up when building iron sets for use with my frequency machine, as well as making sure clubhead hosels are clean and ready to go for gluing. I selected mine based on three things:
- Size. This was important, because it needed to fit in my smaller shop.
- Volume. It needed have a tank big enough that it didn’t have to charge every time I used a tool. Also, pay attention to CFM (cubic feet per minute), which is how efficient the compressor is at filling the tanking and keeping up with demand.
- Noise. Most small compressors have a decibel rating. Try and find one that’s not too loud. Some are even advertised as being more quiet. It’s not always a big deal, especially if you’re working in a larger space, but can be key in a smaller shop.
A nice, simple compressor will go for around $150.
So what am I missing?
I realize that I haven’t even begun to cover cover all the small tools that can be very important when building clubs. In attempt to offer a complete list, I have compiled the items below.
- Bench ruler designed to measure golf clubs.
- Swing weight scale. Digital is best, but conventional is still very good.
- Digital scale that reads to +/-0.1 grams.
- Wire brushes for cleaning out hosels.
- Ram rod for removing old stuck tip weights and epoxy.
- Ferrules of all sizes, shims and tip weights.
- Sanding belts for prepping shafts (80 or 120 grit works well).
- SHARPIES! You can never have enough.
- Small pliers and clips.
- Sand paper of varying grits.
- Gloves for using acetone. It can be nasty on the skin.
- Safety glasses. I can’t stress this enough.
- Calipers (digital are best, but analog can do the trick).
- Grip tape.
- Sharp hook knife and straight blade.
- Butane torch with extra fuel.
- Flash lights.
- Metal trash bin
Questions, concerns or comments? Let me know in the comments section below. I’ll do my best to answer all I can.
Autumn golf is the best golf
For many, golf euphoria occurs the second weekend of April when the flowers start to bloom, courses begin to open, and the biggest tournament of the year is on television. But I believe the absolute best season for golf is the fall.
Let me explain.
Spring is the season of hope and rebirth, and for most golfers, it’s the first opportunity to break out new clubs or take the game you’ve been working on all winter to the course for the first time in many months. Depending on where you are in North America or around the world, golf courses are just opening up and the ground is drying out from a winter filled with snow and ice.
Yes, spring is fantastic, you can shrug off the occasional mud ball since it’s probably your first round in four months and you’re willing to cut “the super” some slack for the slow greens, because you’re just happy to be out on terra firma chasing around a little white ball. Your game is rusty. Courses aren’t quite there yet, but it’s golf outside, and you couldn’t be happier.
The dog days. This time of year is when golf courses are the most busy thanks to the beautiful weather. But high temperatures and humidity can be a real deal-breaker, especially for walkers—throw in the weekly possibility for afternoon “out of the blue” thunderstorms, and now you’re sweating and drenched.
Unless you are a diehard and prefer the dew-sweeping pre-7 a.m. tee time when the sun breaks on the horizon, rounds tend to get longer in the summer as courses get busier. And you’ll often find more corporate outings and casual fairweather golfers out for an afternoon of fun—not a bad thing for the game, but not great for pace of play. Summer makes for fantastic course conditions, and with the sun not setting until after 9 p.m. for almost two months, the after-dinner 9 holes are a treat and you take them while you can.
As much I love nine holes after dinner with eight clubs in a Sunday bag and a few adult beverages in June, nothing compares to the perfect fall day for golf.
The sun’s orbit, paired with Mother Nature, allows you to stay in your warm bed just that little extra, since you can’t play golf when it’s still dark at 6:30 a.m. The warm, but not too warm, temperatures allow you to pull out your favorite classic cotton golf shirts without fear of the uncomfortable sweaty pits. We can’t forget that it’s also the season for every golfer’s favorite piece of apparel: the quarter zip (#1/4zipSZN).
Courses in the fall are often in the best shape (or at least they should be), since player traffic and corporate tournaments are done for the season. As long as warm afternoons are still the norm, firm and fast conditions can be expected.
Last but not least, the colors—reds, oranges, and yellows—frame the green fairways and dark sand to make them pop in the landscape. Fall is the final chance to get in those last few rounds and create happy thoughts and mental images before the clubs go away for the inevitably cold, dark days of winter.
Fall is meant for golf! So take pictures, smell the smells, and make great swings, because golf season is quickly coming to a close, and now is the time to savor each moment on the course.
On Spec: Interview with gear junkie & club designer Weston Maughan
Ryan hosts gear junkie and club designer Weston Maughan on the show, to talk about club building, designing, and what it was like to be on Wilson Golf’s Driver vs. Driver. We also get into testing clubs, tools, and what it’s like to play at altitude.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
Breaking down The Challenge: Japan Skins—pros and cons for each player
For the first time in over a decade, the PGA Tour will have a skins game event on its calendar, with Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, and Rory McIlroy participating in “The Challenge: Japan Skins.” With the abundance of star power in their foursome, here’s a quick look at why each of them may or may not walk away with the most skins at the end of their round.
PROS: The skins game system and exhibition match atmosphere will be a new experience for his competitors, but Woods has played in these types of events before. The excitement and pageantry from the event will be a familiar setting for him, and he may have an intimidation factor in his favor. The reigning Masters champion still can catch fire during a round, as well. For the 2018-19 PGA Tour season, his five-hole streak of scoring birdie or better during a single round was the longest such stretch among his fellow skins game participants. If he creates a similar streak on Monday, it may result in a profitable day on the course.
CONS: Tiger hasn’t played a competitive round in over two months, with his last start coming at the BMW Championship in mid-August. The competitive juices may take a while to get going, and coupled with his recent knee surgery, the rust on his game may be on full display.
PROS: With the skins game format rewarding aggressive play, Day will look to capitalize with his par-breaking ability. During the 2018-19 season, he made birdie or better on 22.9% of the holes he played. Additionally, he seems to like this time of the year; over the past couple of seasons, the Aussie has played very well in the month of October on the PGA Tour. In 2017 and 2018, his worst finish on the Asian swing of the schedule was T-11. He continued his good play in Asia with a T31 finish at The CJ Cup in South Korea this week.
CONS: While he a solid season on tour, it wasn’t to the same standard Day normally displays. He missed five cuts, the most times he missed weekend play since 2010. Prior to The CJ Cup, he missed the cut in two of his past four PGA Tour starts.
PROS: Playing in his native Japan, Matsuyama looks to continue his great success in his home country. While he has enjoyed international success, he’s even better at home, with eight of his 14 professional wins coming in Japan. Additionally, Matsuyama can fill the scorecard with red numbers with the best of them. The Japanese star was third-best on the PGA Tour in total birdies during the 2018-19 campaign. His birdie barrages helped him finish tied-fifth for most sub-par rounds for the most recent season. Spurred on by his countrymen, the golfer representing the host nation will look to put on a show, and he has the firepower to do so.
CONS: The support of the crowd in Japan may be a double-edged sword, and the pressure to perform well may throw Matsuyama off his game. If the skins come to a putting contest, he will have the biggest challenge of all the competitors. His strokes-gained-putting statistic was the worst of all four competitors for the previous PGA Tour campaign.
PROS: The reigning PGA Player of the Year may be the favorite on Monday. He played well throughout the season, with wins scattered throughout the calendar. His most recent play was hot, as he finished the campaign with a win at the Tour Championship. Among the leaders in nearly all the scoring categories, his competitors will have to be on top of their game to win skins from the Northern Irishman. McIlroy was the best on Tour in scoring average, helped by his making birdie or better on nearly 26% of all holes he played. His scoring average was even lower during later tee times, and with the finish to be set under floodlights, the bulk of the competition will occur during McIlroy’s favorite time of day.
CONS: Like Woods, this event will be McIlroy’s first since August. Not having played in nearly two months, coupled with this event being his first foray in an exhibition skins match, may be a disadvantage.
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