Steel vs. Graphite

Advantages of Steel Shafts

  • Mechanical Consistency. Steel is a homogeneous material that stays uniform throughout the shaft. The steel shaft is drawn through an extrusion process which allows the weight, the flex, or any other mechanical properties of a shaft to be tightly controlled.

  • Stronger material than graphite. Steel has the strength to handle multiple mis-hits solely because of the fact that steel is a stronger materiel than graphite and because the steel shaft is a homogeneous structure throughout unlike the composite make-up of a graphite shaft.

  • Relatively Inexpensive. Steel shafts are produced very inexpensively because of their molecular make-up that allow for very consistent prices from manufacturer to manufacturer. Graphite shafts and the variances in the technologies and production techniques cause for a great variance in their prices. Prices may range from just above the cost of steel shafts to up to 5 - 10 times the cost of steel.

    Since consistency seems to be the greatest performance-based advantage, steel shafts are recommended for the stronger and better player. The better player is looking for mechanical consistency where he/she has the confidence that there is not any mechanical differences from one club to the next.

    Advantages of Graphite Shafts

  • Graphite shafts are lighter than steel shafts. The overall weight is less than steel because the density in graphite is much less than steel. The number-one factor that controls the weight of a golf club is the weight of the shaft; therefore, the overall weight of the club may be reduced through lightweight graphite shafts. Although lighter clubs would allow for faster swing speeds, the difference in distance acquired from graphite shafts is not substantial enough to notice a consistent increase in distance.

  • Graphite dampens vibration from club-to-ball contact. Because graphite is a composite material and is made up of hundreds of graphite fibers, vibration caused from mis-hits is mostly absorbed in the shaft and dampens the unpleasant feeling to the player.

  • Lightness of the shaft allows for longer lengths for drivers and fairway woods. The new trend in golf is the introduction of overlength drivers which would be too heavy for the average golfer if they had the heavier steel shaft. Lighter graphite shafts allow for the production of overlength drivers with desirable swing weights for golfers of all physical levels.

    The advantages of graphite shafts tend to focus on traits desirable for beginners, seniors, young kids, and players with strength problems. Graphite allows players to maintain desirable swing speed without extra exertion which is good for seniors and young children. For beginners that have several mis-hits, graphite dampens the disliked vibrations caused by these shots. Graphite also allows flexibility for the production of longer drivers and fairway woods; for a player wanting a longer driver with a light swing weight, a graphite shaft would be the answer.

    Production of Steel Shafts
    Steel is an isotropic substance meaning that it is molecularly consistent throughout its structure. A steel shaft is produced through an extrusion process that allows the manufacturer to tightly control the weight and flex of a shaft, as well as other mechanical properties such as torque and kick points. Therefore, manufacturers are able to produce steel shafts very consistently.

    Production of Graphite Shafts
    Graphite shafts are a composite material, made up of graphite fibers that are held together by various forms of epoxy resin. This process of rolling sheets around a mandrel is an inexact process that is not very mechanically consistent. Filament wound graphite shafts are produced through a different process acquired through aerospace technology that winds a carbon fiber strand around the mandrel. It is more expensive than sheet rolling and the result is a higher level of consistency. This process allows more freedom in changing some of the mechanical properties that are so easily manipulated in the production of steel shafts. This more expensive process is much better than sheet rolling graphite but still not as good as steel for mechanical consistency. There are several other types of graphite technologies being experimented with right now such as using aluminum for the core and using pressure and heat to mold graphite to an internal mold diameter, but none have been sufficiently developed.

    Shaft Flex

    Shaft Flex Ratings
    Shaft flex ratings vary from manufacturer to manufacturer because there is no uniform set of standards that every company has to abide to. Although each company has the freedom to rate shafts as they please, the majority do in a similar way.

  • The most flexible shaft might be labeled with an L, for ladies or children.

  • The next most flexible shaft might be labeled with an A, usually for seniors.

  • The next shaft would be marked with an R, for the average player with average swing speeds.

  • Some companies label their next shaft with an F for firm best suited for players that are found in-between the regular and stiff shafts.

  • The next highest stiffness is the stiff shaft marked with an S. This shaft is usually for advanced players with higher swing speeds or people of more strength.

  • The shaft with the highest stiffness is the extra stiff marked with the letter X. This shaft is designed for some professional players and very strong players with extraordinary swing speeds.

    Another advantage to steel shafts is that due to their mechanical consistency, the variances in flex between manufacturers does not vary as much as do flexes in graphite shafts. Because of the makeup of graphite shafts, there is a larger spectrum in flex with graphite. Because of this larger spectrum, it has been generally noted that graphite shaft flexes are normally more flexible than their steel counterpart. For example, a graphite R will usually be more flexible than a steel R.

    How flex is rated
    Most shaftmakers rate flex through measuring its frequency. Frequency is the number of reverberations or cycles per minute(cpm) the shaft will register when its end tip is pulled and then released, while the butt is clamped in place. The more reverberations the shaft makes per minute the stiffer the shaft.

    Kick Point
    Kick point or the bend point of the shaft is the point where the shaft flexes the most. It has been argued that a low kick point aids the player trying to get the ball into the air and a high kick point aids the stronger player trying to keep the ball down. The kick point on a shaft does not vary more than an inch from shaft to shaft. Due to this minimal variance, kick points really do not reveal significant difference in ball flight and/or performance. Although kick points can be slightly manipulated in the manufacturing process of shafts, the kick point is more a function of the stiffness of the shaft. In other words, the stiffer the shaft, the higher the higher the kick point, but this difference is a negligible factor. Therefore, kick point should not be the determining factor when buying a shaft.

    Torque is the slight, rotary twisting movement of the shaft through the hitting area. This differs from flex because it is a rotary movement not one of bending along the length of the shaft. Torque is measured in degrees and can range anywhere from 1.8 to 12 degrees although some of the better manufacturers hold there upper range at about 7 degrees. Generally, the rule is that the stiffer the shaft, the lower the torque.

    Is torque a desirable trait in a shaft?
    Although it can be easily conceived that torque might be an undesirable trait, this is not necessarily true. A shaft with little or no torque will have a very stiff feeling at impact. A shaft with more torque will produce a better feeling at impact. There is a trade-off: the greater the torque, the better the shot might feel through impact, but the increased clubhead twist creates slightly less control of the shot.

    Do graphite shafts have more torque than steel shafts?
    Since the range in torque with steel shafts is so low (maybe 1.5 degrees from the most flexible to the stiffest shaft), there is no real need to worry about torque when purchasing steel. Graphite shafts, on the other hand, offer a great range of torque from most flexible to stiffest and from manufacturer to manufacturer. Therefore, when purchasing graphite, you should take note of the torque and decide where in the trade-off you want to be. Remember, the greater the torque the better the feel, but a slight loss in control.

    Frequency Matching
    A frequency matching machine measures the number of oscillations a shaft will have after it is excited under load. When a set of clubs is frequency matched it means that each shaft has been tested and they all had the same number of oscillations (hopefully within 1-2 oscillations).

    This process is very easy when dealing with steel shafts because of their uniform make-up, but it gets a little more difficult with graphite and at the same time more important. Graphite shafts vary much more in quality and composition than do steel shafts therefore, there is a greater possibility to have a set of ten shafts with completely different frequencies, thus affecting the consistency within a set of golf clubs. Graphite shafts need to be tested several times under the machine and in different angles to make sure the shaft has the same frequency under different angles ensuring the consistency within the shaft and to make sure that it is compatible with the rest of the set. If graphite shaft frequencies vary by more than 4 oscillations when testing different angles of the shaft then it is a poor shaft, and if they also vary among the other shafts in the set, then there could be consistency problems from club to club.

    Titanium and Ultralite shafts
    Titanium has been used in an effort to make a shaft that is lighter than steel. Titanium does not have better performance characteristics than steel, but it is a lighter material. Although it is lighter than steel, it does not handle the vibration feedback problem and it is too expensive to ever see a large market for these shafts. Ultralite shafts are mostly designed to be put in longer clubs that would be too heavy with conventional steel shafts. Graphite shafts can handle this problem and are used for overlength clubs to keep them with playable weights.

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