Shaft University – Design 101, Part 1
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Shaft University – Design 101, Part 1

Shaft University – Design 101, Part 1

Last week we invited our readers to tell us how we can do a better job of helping you with your golf game. While replies varied from basic (course management strategies) to more complex (year over year comparisons of Most Wanted equipment winners), it was clear many of you have a long list of shaft questions you’d like to see answered. Good news – we’re on it.

Class is back in session!

In the first edition of Shaft University, we tackled the material makeup of carbon composite shafts and had you ponder the esoteric question of “What’s a shaft before it becomes a shaft?”

Because this time we’re delving into shaft design, if you’re not immediately pulling terms like CFRP, polymer, and pre-preg from your short-term memory bank, maybe a quick refresher would help. Also as this is a meaty topic, we’re breaking it up into two segments to give your grey matter some time to absorb and reflect so if you feel you’re drinking from a firehose, at least it’s not on full blast.

OBJECTIVE: I can list and define the major developments in shaft design

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HISTORY and EVOLUTION

Cue the filmstrip. It’s 1974, and Fujikura just entered the world of graphite shafts. At the time, the technology was rudimentary, but in point of fact, represented cutting-edge thinking and engineering. Consider your family grocery-getter or the Dodge Monaco of Blue’s Brother fame as a point of reference.

Technology is a matter of context. Most adults don’t consider a light-switch a major technological achievement, and many under 30 have only known a world of smart-phones. All of that is to say, graphite shafts today are as far from their predecessors as a 2019 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is from a 2nd generation Chevy Camaro.

The earliest graphite shafts served the industry with a single benefit. Whereas steel shafts got stiffer as they got heavier, graphite shafts could change weight and flex independently. Basically, graphite shafts gave players performance and feel similar to steel, but in a lighter package.

Though materials were wrapped with intended precision, the final product lacked the concentricity and balance which is understandable given that early shaft designs were built using a small number of large size plies (pieces of material) from only a couple of material types.

To make a section of the shaft stiffer, additional layers of material were added, similar to wearing several pairs of socks to keep your feet warm. It’s effective, but not necessarily efficient, and moreover, it gave the shaft an isometric quality (changing one part of the design invariably changes other pieces of the design).

Today, the industry has an exponentially higher level of understanding of the geometry required to create shafts with different performance profiles. It used to be chocolate vs. vanilla, and now it’s 31-favors. Simply, shaft companies have a better understanding of to apply materials to create a desired performance or benefit. They also have a much larger arsenal of material types, sizes, and software design capabilities from which to pull.

Shaft performance is affected by the clubhead to which the shaft is attached. So, picking on specifically on drivers, as equipment OEMs have worked to increase head size (460cc is the USGA legal max), and tweak mass properties (weight, CG location, and MOI), shaft technology has had to adapt. Once upon a time (rest in peace 983K) bore-through hosels were a thing (mainly for Titleist and Callaway), and now with adjustable tips and 45.5” stock driver lengths, the balance point of a shaft has shifted, so golfers don’t feel as though we’re swinging telephone poles.

Another evolution is how shaft companies have been able to achieve lower torque profiles, particularly in lighter weight shafts. Previously, lower torque designs required large amounts of material in the tip and mid-sections, increasing the total weight of the shaft. If you wanted shaft with low torque properties, it was likely going to be quite heavy.  Now with higher tensile modulus and tensile strength composites (remember those two dandy bits of vernacular?) shaft OEMs can create low-torque designs in nearly any weight class.

Composite shafts aren’t just for metalwoods, and one has to think we’re only a major-winning graphite iron shaft or two away from a tipping point. Remember, for a lot of us, 43” playing drivers with steel shafts doesn’t seem that long ago. In the old days, if a golfer wanted irons with graphite shafts, they would have to be built .5” long to achieve reasonable swing weights. One-half of one inch might not sound like much, but unnecessarily playing over-length irons is buying a pair of shoes in size 10, when you actually wear an 8.

Another way to think about this – pick out your favorite pair of running shoes and run a half-marathon in a pair two sizes bigger. The problem was to get the benefits of graphite in a set of irons, golfers had to make some serious compromises, none of which seem all that reasonable today. Through the advent of technologies like Fujikura’s HDCC (High Density Composite Core) and MCT (Metal Composite Technology), proper swing weights can be achieved through shaft designs which use heavier materials to add weight towards the tip section.

SHAFT DESIGN

This is at least a four-course meal, so let’s continue the food analogy and use this little appetizer as a good place to take a break.

Shaft design isn’t unlike choosing a restaurant for dinner. It’s outcome-based thinking which starts with a basic question, “What sounds tasty?” or in the case of shaft design, “What do we want this shaft to be able to do?”

Needs range from simple to complex, and therefore, the destination can be McDonald’s or Peter Luger. As specific and unique as the requirements are of a particular player (or group of players) shaft companies are more capable than ever of designing products to address those specific performance characteristics. The more accurately a player can express what he or she wants a shaft to do, the easier it is for engineers to determine a priority list of performance attributes. Every shaft does something, but no shaft can do everything. There’s always some sort of trade-off, though companies on the very forefront of shaft R&D are working to mitigate that reality.

That said, there’s no reason to eliminate every trade-off when it’s more cost and resource-efficient to offer several shaft lines with unique performance characteristics. When a truck tries to become a mini-van and simultaneously a sportscar, it’s probably none of the three.

Every company has a variety of technologies and tools at its disposal to aid in the design process. For Fujikura, a proprietary motion capture software called ENSO gives it the ability to capture thousands of data points throughout a single golf swing, not just at impact. Think of ENSO as an MRI for golf shafts, and because there are only three ENSO systems in existence (Fujikura has two and PING owns the other) it’s fair to suggest Fujikura has a method of data collection which sets it apart from other shaft manufactures.

That’s the 20,000-foot view. In Shaft Design Part 2, we’ll delve into the finer details and processes involved in moving a shaft from the ideation process to the final product.

So with that, ruminate (and post your thoughts) on this…

Considering the vast amount of data ENSO is capable of gathering, what are the implications for R&D? Consumers? OEMs? Tour Professionals?

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Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris is a self-diagnosed equipment and golf junkie with a penchant for top-shelf ice cream. When he's not coaching the local high school team, he's probably on the range or trying to keep up with his wife and seven beautiful daughters. Chris is based out of Fort Collins, CO and his neighbors believe long brown boxes are simply part of his porch decor. "Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different."

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel





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      John

      4 years ago

      Strikingly well written.
      I learned a lot.

      Reply

      Regis

      4 years ago

      I’ve been fitted many times, on occasion by top ranked fitters. But the issue for me is I don’t have a real repeating swing. I also make changes to that swing more than occasionally.. I had a Tour AD shaft that should have been perfect. It dissapointed.

      Reply

      Bob Pegram

      4 years ago

      Just curious when the next shaft article is coming out.

      Reply

      333pg333

      4 years ago

      I’d imagine that the problem for the majority of golfers when asked what they want from a shaft is that they don’t actually know? We all want the ball to go far, straight and feel like we’re hitting out of the middle of a massive tennis racquet with fresh Cat gut strings. But how is that achieved via different shafts? So that’s why we either drink the Kool-aid and go and dump $$$ for the latest / greatest or just play hit and miss with whatever is off the shelf. When you go to one of these experienced fitters you’re relying on their honesty too. There often feels like you’re at least 3 upsells from where you started when you pass them your credit card to place the order. 

      Reply

      sloswingspeed....

      5 years ago

      been floing for about 19 years….way back….when twanging in the 3-9o’clock plane, I could bounce TM heads on my bench, the oscillation was so wild. Today….while my tip laser might swing a oblong or round circle….shaft creation has moved ahead by huge amounts. The difficulty in determining whether Flo or non-Flo matters, must be testd under controlled conditions on a quality launch monitor and/or excellent range setup. For me, Aerotech filament wound shafts perform as consistently as many high priced ‘premium’ models….at a fraction of the price. Just sayin !

      Reply

      Chris

      5 years ago

      Hi

      Hope this is the stat of greater learning about shafts for me…I went in to see a local pro about some lessons, and he firstly he needed to see my clubs.
      Irons Taylor Made M4 with graphite shafts purchased mid last year
      Driver / Fairway wood Cobra F9 speed back purchased early this year

      After a few swings of the irons then the driver he said that the reason I was struggling a little with the driver was the shaft tech…news to me as both were fitted by ‘expert’ fitters. He said the irons had a low kick point while the driver had a mid kick point…I looked confused so he explained the differences, and he helped me adjust my swing to cater for both…but he suggested considering switching to a different shaft in my $600 (AU) driver at an undisclosed cost…to improve my driving…I took it under consideration. I guess what all this means is that even going for a professional fitting means you may not always end up with what’s best for you, but best the the fitters sales numbers. I hope the next part of the article will help exlpain, in simpler terms what was being conveyed to me…great start, but now more detail please
      Cheers Chris

      Reply

      Robert

      4 years ago

      I don’t doubt the instructor is being honest, but he’s not exactly being truthful either. I mean that for the swing he wants to teach things need to change. Maybe that wasn’t the swing the fitter was working with. As a fitter I struggle with the industry, we have so many tools to tell you what should be used that they don’t always agree. One thing is great for a tighter dispersion, the other for more distance. Move this and you need help getting the ball airborn, move this and you need help bringing it down. Decrease spin, but not too much or it falls out of the air. Lots of things to educate a player on during a fitting, without burning them out in the process.

      Reply

      ~j~

      5 years ago

      It’d be nice to have MGS do independent testing on shafts through standard measures of EI profiling and what-not. I’ve used golfshaftreview.com the last few years to get familiar with what types of shafts and profiles work and feel best for me. Without that, and Russ’s site, it’d be next to impossible to know the true differences between shafts, models and profiles.

      With that being said, Shaft University ought not to be focused on Fuji only, it should be a broad-based explanation of shafts in general.

      Reply

      Nancy H

      5 years ago

      I guess the question would be what sets it apart. And can it offer something to enhance performance. If ultimately nothing is gained in quality and accuracy then it’s more of a nice to have. Subtle nuances won’t be noticeable and/or negligible to the average golfer

      Reply

      RoyMac211$$

      4 years ago

      I am 65 and left handed.
      I was fitted for an M4 driver when they 1st came out.
      Picked up 20-25 yards consistently, but all proximity to center graphics
      was 10 yards left of center?
      Switched to a Stiff shaft, proximity to center moved 2-3 yards
      right of center?
      After several months of exciting drives, thought about changing woods and hybrid shafts to Stiff.
      Results were the same, no more push left, straight or little right of center which is perfect for my shot shape as ball has a tendency to roll left when hitting greens??
      Fujikura Fuel mid torque-high kick-Stiff- 60g
      Surprisingly, I was able to find all my upgraded shafts Online, e-bay, amazon or golf discount stores for under $20 a piece.
      Well worth the cost, enjoy the game more and lowered my handicap from 22 to 16.5 in 6 months??

      Reply

      Bill Brahm

      5 years ago

      I am 78 YO, in great shape, and have enough science in my background to understand the terms being used. Bottom line is when the golfer is “fitted” “correctly” he is getting the very most out of each head and shaft for his unique swing and priorities. So happens I’m in the market for a new set of sticks, so this subject is very meaningful for me right now. Advice for: What TO DO and What NOT TO DO?? Thanks in advance. Bill B. lifeluvr62gmail.com

      Reply

      john young

      5 years ago

      THANKS.. great start… unmasking the process and end product will be very interesting. Looking forward to the next chapter..

      Reply

      Jmarkus

      5 years ago

      definitely 101.

      Reply

      wbn

      5 years ago

      Being a shaft nut, I am glad to see some attention being given to shafts. I just got fitted with the proper driver shaft and added a solid 15 yards. Looking forward to the rest of the articles on shafts.

      Reply

      Greg

      5 years ago

      Well we have opened Pandora’s box
      Driver golf shafts,. I have seen them all , steel shafts ,wooden heads ,stainless steel heads . Small heads big heads.boron shafts titanium shafts fiberglass shafts $1000 shafts ,shafts spines EI profile and guess what it is all a fraud.
      The only good things I have noticed as a engineer . Spines (bent shafts) were not good but you soon learnt to eliminate one side of the fairway. EI profile I would dare say came from bent shafts and the motor car industry would bend the harden shaft of a output shaft in a gearbox to stop vibration. A lot of the early pros bent the shafts of their drivers by hand on the range when they went straight that was it.
      Loft and lie done. Today that is not possible.
      I have just recently put a steel shaft 100g $40 shaft and back weighted it and hit it as good as any graphite going .
      Now you might wonder why . Well here is something to think about . The game is about rhythm and timing. Your driver gets longer and lighter the mass in the club is giving way to velocity. Feel and timing is a nightmare . You can’t make birdies out of the trees. Today’s pros will verify that this is happening each week the pro who drives it straight wins. So $1000 shafts or a $40 back weighted steel.
      Try it and see .I am 70 yrs old and can still hit it out there 260 with steel on the fairway . I have never hit so many fairways in 20 yrs of fraud to sell bigger and better drivers.

      Reply

      Steve S

      5 years ago

      Like your comments Greg. I, too, think shafts are overdone. The physics say you need the lightest, stiffest shaft you can swing: regardless of material. The weight needs to be at the end of the shaft to maximize momentum.

      Reply

      Chris Nickel

      5 years ago

      Steve – The problem with generalities relative to shafts/fitting is that by definition they can’t always be true. The lightest/stiffest shaft will not be the best shaft for every golfer. That said, you also have to take into account what parameters a golfer is looking to maximize – Is it distance? Accuracy? Front/back dispersion, etc?

      Fortunately, we’ll dig into some of these topics moving forward.

      Steve S

      5 years ago

      Chris, I get where you are going but the physics are indisputable. If you could get a shaft that was infinitely stiff and 0 weight, the only thing that would alter the flight of a struck ball would be the face angle and attack angle. From that information you could optimize your swing. So the closer to “stiffer and lighter” you can get the less you have to mess with “fittings” and the more you can spend fixing your swing. Let’s face it the whole “fitting thing” is about compensating for swings that are less than optimal.(I can’t wait to hear the comments)

      Doug

      5 years ago

      With all things reaching parity in drivers for the most part, and irons too in a way, shafts are the next area to get super high tech- looking forward to part 2 as well

      Reply

      John Muir

      5 years ago

      Very good introductory article, looking forward to the rest of the series. Re: lightweight/low torque shafts. I used to specialize in AJ Tech shafts. Even today most super light shafts clock in a 5, 6, 7+ torque.. About 25 years ago AJ (Al Jackson) designed super low torque (mid 2”s) lightweight (low to mid 50g, lighter for the really creative “gripless” design)) shafts that the major OEM’s to this day can’t match (or could but would have to charge $1,000+). Even at mid 2 torque the feel was unreal.
      They were unbelievable shafts.
      Keep up the good work.
      John Muir

      Reply

      STAN ENSZ

      5 years ago

      Interesting, I really got into shafts 90’s and 00’s. You learn a lot, variety will teach you there is a correct one for you.

      Reply

      GG

      5 years ago

      Ignore the haters….I am enjoying this series and the deep dive on shaft tech…..please continue your work on this

      Reply

      Walt Blore

      5 years ago

      When I graduated from Golfsmith’s Club Maker School in 2000 , I began a long study of the various graphite shafts that started were coming on the market then. After testing several varieties with mixed success, I discovered Grafaloy’s several SteelFiber shafts and was pleased with the results. The following year after they hit the market, Grafaloy came out with Claymore shafts and I’ve been using them every since. There are several weights and my customers that have them haave shown no remorse for the shafts. I’ve been using the Claymore in my woods ever since they hit the market. I find them to be very responsive and consistent.

      Reply

      sloswingspeed

      5 years ago

      think you mean Aerotech, who provides Steel Fibers, Claymore, Volant, TiFiber, and other filament wound composite shafts…

      Reply

      Don

      5 years ago

      I wish I could say I learned something from this article, but I did NOT. Nothing new here really. Nothing about how the grain of the layer effect the flex or torque of the shaft was mentioned. or how easy it is to lower the torque of a shaft by adding a layer of graphite with the grain at 90 degrees to the length of the shaft. I really hope you point out how important spine and FLO alignment of the shaft is the to performance of the shaft and the finished club.

      Reply

      NH Golfer

      5 years ago

      Seems to me you’re assuming that the spine and FLO alignment are important. I bet this study shows them to be hogwash. We shall see.

      Reply

      Tony Covey

      5 years ago

      I think this one is ripe for a thorough test, but I suspect that if we used reasonable quality or better shafts – the kind of stuff a fitter would put you into, we probably wouldn’t find much. I can tell you that I’ve yet to speak to anybody in golf club R&D who believes it’s anything more than a placebo (even for their tour guys). It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the guys inside the major shaft companies also think puring is snake oil.

      A couple things I think are important to the discussion:

      As Chris noted in the article, shaft manufacturing has come a long way within the last several years. It’s much more precise than it was even a decade ago, so while once upon a time there was enough inconsistency (even among reputable shaft OEMs) to warrant spin, flo-ing, or puring, shaft quality and consistency have improved dramatically. If you start with quality components you shouldn’t need to do anything.

      The other thing that’s critical to understand is that whatever method you’re using, essentially the stated goal is to align the shaft to its most consistent orientation as it relates to bending at impact. Cool.

      The thing is that throughout the entire swing, the shaft is bending and twisting across several points and several orientations. At impact, you have lead deflection, which I suppose is what puring covers, but you also have droop (or toe down) and you have twisting or closure. Effectively, the head is moving ahead of the shaft in one direction, drooping in another, and turning in a third. All 3 play a role in the quality of the strike as do all the other points of movement over the duration of a swing. With the emergence of systems like GEARS and ENSO we’re getting a better sense of how the shaft is moving through the entire swing – and it’s way more complex than anything you can address or account for by aligning to a single plane.

      Skip

      5 years ago

      SST Pure is border-line fraud, always has been.

      Bob Pegram

      4 years ago

      As you stated, the quality/consistency of graphite shafts is way ahead of what it was years ago. That being said, it is easy to test a shaft to see which orientation causes it to oscillate in a straight line rather than wandering when a usual amount of weight is put on the tip end. Using the PUREing system isn’t necessary to do that. Using a little piece of small diameter rubber band and twisting the head on the shaft will simulate a normal; install with the actual head you will use. It is rare to find a shaft where it oscillates in a straight line regardless of the orientation. I have seen a few high end shafts like that – very few.. Most better shafts are tested before the graphics are put on the shaft so the positions of the graphicvs is often a good indicator of oscillation direction.

      Geno

      5 years ago

      I personal been using Graphic design DI shafts for 10 years and I have not found any shaft even close..all there shafts are made in Japan the Quality is far superior to any shaft I have worked with check them out.The new Z shaft is huge on the tour..GM

      Reply

      HDTVMAN

      5 years ago

      Amazing that the USGA tests everything except shafts.

      Reply

      Bill

      5 years ago

      Well they do monitor shaft length, so there’s that. As for “testing” shafts, I’m not sure there would be any reason to. Changing the characteristics and size of a driver head or a golf ball can have dramatically different effects that would greatly alter the playing experience and competition aspect of the sport. Changing shafts just doesn’t have that large of an impact on the grand scheme of things.

      I think there was an anecdote in a recent article about consumers perception on what mattered more, head vs. shaft. Not sure if it was on MGS or another site, but the general consensus was that while shafts are important, the VAST majority of golfers would see more variability switching heads. I was at the range recently with one of my students who uses a regular flex 60g shaft in his M2 driver. I use an Evenflow White extra stiff 65g shaft in my M5 tour. I hit a few balls on the range with each shaft and really only noticed one major significant takeaway. My shots were more consistent with the Evenflow. On perfectly timed strikes I probably launched the ball further and higher with the regular flex shaft, but misses were much worse compared to my shaft. All in all not too much variability though in the grand scheme.

      I then hit both shafts in his M2 head and there was a dramatic difference in ball flight/shot shape. I definitely was hitting my shaft better in the M2, but nothing felt right and I was getting a lot of low slicing shots, rather than the penetrating fade I usually hit. Frankly it was bizarre. I’m going to chalk it up to the fact that I just wasn’t used to the head weight, the visual appearance, and overall experience of using that club. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I don’t know how a shaft OEM could make an “illegal” shaft. I don’t know that aside from length, there would be any characteristic or trait that could impact the golf swing that much to create an adverse effect on the fairness and competitive nature of the game. Obviously more length equates to more distance, but there’s nothing else that would really create a substantial impact on one’s performance.

      Reply

      daviddvm

      5 years ago

      I’m going to chew on this article for a while and try to digest this information!
      Thanks Chris

      Reply

      Bob

      5 years ago

      Great start toward a better understanding of shaft technology. Looking forward to part 2.

      Reply

      Handanlon

      5 years ago

      Great article so far. For we mere mortal amateur golfers, hopefully a discussion of how various characteristics like kickpoint, grams, stiffness, etc all should affect the decision making process of selecting a shaft. This is especially true now as most major club manufacturers give many options for the shaft to choose from. I know the mantra for most is always get professional fitting, but it would be nice to know the trade offs.

      Reply

      Chris Nickel

      5 years ago

      Absolutely – we will have an entire section dedicated to fitting and how to account for all of the variables you mentioned. Stay tuned!

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