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Dr Ian Plummer

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Technical
Croquet Mallets
Modern aluminium shafted mallet
Modern mallet: 11" head, lower roll grip, 40" aluminium shaft

The handle of a mallet is called the shaft which joins to the head of the mallet. The head has two opposite parallel faces1 and the rounded or chamfered edge of those faces is called the bevelled edge. There may be padded regions of the shaft called grips to make the shaft comfortable to hold. A grip near the head is often called a roll grip.

Mallets - General

If you visit a croquet tournament you will see very few traditional wooden round-headed mallets, mallets are now mostly square-headed with plastic faces or made from carbon fibre tube with metal faces. The Laws of Croquet put few limitations on the form of a mallet (Law 3e). In essence it must symmetrical with identical faces. There are no other requirements on the weight, length or size of the mallet.

If you have no other constraints a standard mallet would weigh ~3 pounds total (1.362Kg), have a 36" shaft and a 9-11" head length. This is what would normally be supplied by manufactures and be a good average for club use.

The weight of a mallet should be concentrated in the head. The shaft should be as light as possible since a heavy shaft serves no purpose. The balance point of the mallet, when resting the shaft on a finger, can be anywhere from 3" away from the head (good) to say 10" away. It is considered desirable to have the weight of the head concentrated at the faces (called peripheral weighting). This feature is available from the more specialised mallet manufacturers.

Heavier mallets favour a straight swing and are hence good for hitting-in with, and they are also good for playing roll shots on a heavy lawn. They are not ideal for stop shots or delicate strokes.

Conversely lighter mallets have better touch and produce good stop shots. Heavy rolls with a light mallet can give tendon strains in wrists or forearms.

Changing the weight of a mallet: heavy mallets can be symmetrically bored out to reduce the head weight and light mallets can either have a 'sole plate' of metal screwed to the bottom of the head, or lead can be put in bored holes to make them heavier. The self adhesive 'wheel balancing' lead weights, sold for car wheels, seem practical as they can be added to or removed easily from the head. Some hollow shafted mallets can have sand poured down their shaft to increase their weight.

Mallet Heads

The material from which a mallet head is made is inconsequential, except if it is a soft material then gathering balls (trundling) with the side of the head will cause it to wear2. The faces of modern mallets are usually a hard plastic composite (Tufnol, Perspex, etc) or metal (metal faces were formerly banned). Ideally the corners and edges of the face of the mallet should have a 1/16"- 1/8" bevel. If the edges are sharp then they may crack or flake during a mis-hit or cut the ball.

Long mallet heads have two advantages; with the weight of the head concentrated near the faces, the mallet head will resist a yawing action (a rotation about the axis of the shaft). Long heads also make roll shots easy, but conversely it is slightly more difficult to play stop shots with them. Short mallet heads are good for stop shots. Many top players use 12" long mallet heads. (See discussion at the bottom of this article).

modern metal mallet head
Prototype stainless steel mallet with mass concentrated at the faces and light and low wind resistance body. 12" long, c 1987.

The 'diameter' or face area of a mallet is normally between 2.25" - 2.5" square. Some expert players favour a very narrow head. Unless you are an expert though this mallet will produce horrendous mis-hits with the slightest deviation. A narrow head can prevent you from being hindered by a hoop or another ball.

The latest 'high-tech' mallet heads are made of carbon fibre. One version (Manor House Mallets - see image below) uses a large diameter (~2") carbon fibre tube tube, faced with ~3/8" thick brass faces. The latest technology mallet head consists of a stylish carbon fibre moulded shell (Fenwick Elliott Mallets) with tungsten weighted faces to maximise the moment of inertia.

Carbon Fibre Mallet Head, Copyright 2006 Robert Fenwick Elliott
A Series 4 carbon fibre head from Fenwick Elliott Mallets

 

Mallet Faces

Traditional mallets had wooden faces, sometimes textured. Nowadays the faces will either be metal, solid plastic or 'composite'. The latter is often cloth in a matrix of plastic or epoxy, e.g. tufnol. Any face material should be flat, hardwearing and not damage the balls. The edges of the faces should be bevelled or convex. Very sharp edges can damage balls and, if the face material is brittle, a sharp edge can concentrate the forces and break the edge of the face.

The texturing on metal faces should be subtle. An early brass-faced prototype I used had a deep, sharp edge spiral milled into it. It acted like a nutmeg grater on roll shots and you could see the plastic debris in the grooves after playing a roll shot!

My personal experience is that it is more difficult to get roll shots, especially pass-rolls, with metal-faced mallets. If you are considering a new high-end metal-faced mallet it is worth practicing with a friend's mallet before completing your order. Most manufacturers give the option of composite faces glued over the metal faces.

Is your mallet face square to your mallet head?

Mallet Shafts

Broken wooden shafts - wood has problems!There are three main choices of material at the moment; wood, fibreglass and carbon fibre. The main variables are the weight and stiffness of the shaft. Wooden shafts can either be a single piece of wood or have a short strengthening splice running up from the head. Manufacturers tend to use ash, hickory or similar woods. Fibreglass shafts comprise of perhaps 12" of fibreglass rod which is recessed into the head and into a wooden handle. Carbon fibre shafts are similarly constructed although there is now a model where the carbon fibre rod or tube runs the entire length of the shaft with the grip being comprised of two sections of firm foam glued together encompassing the rod. Metal shafts (heat treated aluminium tube) were popular but these seem to be out of favour at the moment for no good reason.

As indicated above the shaft wants to be light - about 14oz (398g) is typical. The choice then really is how rigid a shaft do you like to play with. The carbon and glass fibre ones tend to be more twangy or whippy than the wood or metal ones. A metal one can smack the hands a little on very hard hits.

For club use the fibre glass or carbon shafts have the advantage that they are almost indestructible. For the problem with wooden shafts - see debris from a Balliol College croquet set opposite.

The cross-section of the grip on most mallets is either octagonal or an elongated octagon. A few mallets have round grips. It is a matter of preference which you use. A round shaft forces you to check that the mallet is pointing forward, whereas an octagonal one gives a tactile feedback as to the orientation of the head. One manufacture (Hobbs) produces a shaft which can be locked at any rotation so that when the shaft lies in your hands the mallet head can be pointing forwards.

Mallet Length

The length and girth of the shaft is a matter of personal choice and style. Unlike many sports there is no simple measurement of the body which will relate to the length of shaft which would be best for you. Some tall people have very short mallets and vice versa. If you hold the mallet using the Solomon grip (i.e. sink plunger grip) you would require a longer mallet shaft than someone using the Irish grip (golf-like grip). My general advice would be to get one an inch or two taller than you think you need - you can always saw off the excess whereas it is difficult to extend a shaft.

A prototype Manor House Mallet
A Manor House 3000 Mallet

Tips

Use lead self-adhesive car wheel balancing weights to make a light mallet heavier.

If you have a wooden mallet ...

Store the mallet vertically over winter so that the shaft does not warp. Avoid hot dry storage places as the wood will shrink and the head become loose.

If the head becomes loose, a short term cure can be to leave the mallet in a bucket of water overnight. The water will swell the wood and make the head tight on the shaft. This treatment can last for a number of weeks. Check the head is aligned before you soak it!

A more permanent fix is to invert the mallet and, holding the shaft, bang the end of the shaft on a pavement or large rock. The momentum of the head will cause it to be forced onto the shaft. The wedge should be tapped home after this.

If you make a new wedge for a mallet shaft, make it out of a hard wood. Soft wood wedges do not grip for long.

Recommended Mallets

The inclusion or omission of a manufacturer depends on whether I have seen their wares and does not imply anything else.

It is always better to have your own mallet if you play seriously, you will be accustomed to it and do not need to get used to a new mallet each time you play. You should however try as many mallets as possible before you make up your mind (e.g. use different mallets at a club). Many of the world's top players have played with unspectacular mallets - high tech or high price does not mean better. You need to find one you are happy with. Generally it is the player who defines the standard of play not the mallet! Most tournament players would be using a mallet with a fibreglass or carbon-fibre shaft; wood breaks and warps.

For club or personal use there are a reasonable number of mallets in the £150 -180 range. At tournaments in the UK Manor House mallets are extrememly popular, as are Percival Mallets which exhibit a high degree of craftsmanship incorporating exotic woods and marquetry.

The Croquet Association (CA) Shop has an excellent selection of mallet types from many manufactuers and would be a good place to view what is available. They usefully have pictures on the website.

The Manor House (Pidcock) mallets have hollow carbon fibre shafts and tactile foam handles (Catalogue here). They manufacture both wooden and carbon fibre heads. Heads can be faced with composite sheet or bare brass-faces are an option. The 4000 series have heads made from lightweight carbon fibre and are heavily end-weighted with milled solid brass ends at ~£290. Contact Alan Pidcock at Manor House Croquet for details.

John Hobbs produces a range of custom-made mallets (prices £180+). His main line is one with a rotatable aluminium shaft which has been adopted by some of the top players. Custom mallets can be made to order. See Hobbs website.

Michael Percival Mallets have a wide range of sizes and weights and materials. Mallet shafts are now adjustable for angle and are removable for transport. Weights are also adjustable by up to 4 ozs and peripheral weighting is also available. Prices start from £160+. See www.croquetmallets.co.uk

A new name in manufacturers: David Barrett Croquet Mallets (Catalogue here). Mallets for Association and hoopball (golf 'croquet') (price £148+). As yet unseen.

Remember that importing a mallet from abroad can attract customs duty, customs fee and import VAT (currently 20%)!

The Jackson Mallet is manufactured in New Zealand and can be obtained from there by mail order. The heads are faced with hard nylon, polycarbonate, Tufnol and PVC. The sides of the head do show wear if you trundle balls with them. You may wish to buy the mallet as a present for someone in which case the parcel can be marked appropriately by arrangement, and you may avoid import duty. Bob Jackson lives at 65 Goodwood Drive, Manukau, Auckland, NZ. He can be contacted at phone 0064 9 2639135.

The standard Puckett mallet from New Zealand is peripherally weighted, but Ray Puckett has developed a variety of mallet heads and shafts for both Association and Golf Croquet. Handles range from Carbon fibre "Flex" through to Carbon "Rigid".  For further information about Puckett mallets - heads, handles, grips, optional extras, and how to order - see Ray's new website, www.rpmallets.co.nz. Prices US$200+ or £125+.

Robert Fenwick Elliott in Australia produces "high-tech" mallets which have the head mass concentrated at the faces and use specially formed carbon fibre shafts. He has an excellent grasp of the physics involved in ball-mallet interactions and has designed the mallets accordingly. These mallets have been extensively prototyped and are now reaching the market. They are not cheap - ~US$550 or ~£350+. http://www.insearchoftheperfectmallet.com/

Kevin Brereton makes mallets in Australia - his web pages have disappeared.

The Australian Croquet Company supplies Dawson Mallets - these have a metal framed head: Bryan & June Dawson, Australian Croquet Company, P.O. Box 19, Littlehampton, South Australia 5250. Email: auscroquetco@picknowl.com.au

Mallet with stabiliersAs an innovation consider the illustration opposite - mallet stabilisers. The aim is to increase the moment of inertia of the head by putting modest weights a great distance from the shaft. Back in ~2000 I tried a a prototype height-adjustable arm along which weights can be clamped. It works well as a concept - providing you do not make the arm too long or high, in which cases it interferes with the body, painfully.



1 There is a Trivial Pursuits® question which asks "How many heads has a croquet mallet?" [given answer = 2] - the answer is wrong!
2 One manufacturer took umbrage when I said his mallet heads were made from soft wood. He insisted they were hardwood. Hardwood is a botanical definition, 'hard wood' is a property. As an example balsa wood is a hardwood but you can push your finger into it.


Discussion on Head Lengths from the Nottingham Maillist

I'm looking for some advice. Why does a longer mallet head improve single ball shots? For someone (not me) using a 9" mallet, who has some trouble with rushing and hoop running, would you suggest a longer mallet head (10"?) could make a difference? And do you think that a jump from 9" to 10" is ok, or would it be better to go 9" to 9.5", or conversely 9" to 11"?

Thanks, Paddy.

Jenny Clark responds

Hi Paddy,

Reasons [that a]  longer head is more effective for single-ball shots:

  1. it will twist less on an off-centre contact with the ball
  2. there is more visual feedback to the striker when they are casting to help them keep the mallet swinging in line.
  3. often with a longer mallet there is also a greater proportion of the mallet's weight in the head, which leads to a more pendulum-like swing, as it makes it harder to manipulate the mallet.

Both points 1 and 3 are about rotational inertia being increased, albeit about different axes: one through the ball-mallet contact point, while the second is through the shoulders (or wrists or elbows depending on your technique!)

Be careful with the big jumps in head length, as there is also a bit of technique change as you get longer mallet heads - the swing generally needs to get flatter, and the stance sometimes changes to accommodate the bottom arc of the mallet swing. When I was playing with a 9" head I found a 10.5" excellent, and couldn't effectively hit a ball with a 12inch mallet. That said, my first outing with my shiny new 10.5" mallet (and a significant change of grip), I destroyed the end of A baulk on lawn 8 at Cheltenham!

For a relatively new player it can be very hard, and thus disheartening, to use a significantly different mallet, and often the mechanical advantages of having a longer head are outweighed by the coordination difficulty the player has in swinging the new mallet.

I guess the bottom line is... get the person to have a go with different head-length mallets, and see what works best for them (though obviously this changes over time)

Cheers,

Jenny

Paul Billings adds:

In addition to Jenny's excellent response, I wanted to note that it is also harder to twist the head during the acceleration phase of the swing with a higher moment of inertia (that typically comes with longer heads).  This moment goes as the square of the distance from the pivot point, so a jump from 9" to 10" would have a moment increase of approximately 23%.  (This assumes a peripherally weighted mallet.)

This could be viewed as a disadvantage as well, depending on one's stroke.  While there are those who espouse the speed of forward swing should be a mirror of the backward (i.e., gravity only), I'm not one of them.  Thus, the forward swing takes less time to occur.  For this reason, any twist in the backswing will be harder to "undo" on the forward due to the higher moment of inertia of longer and peripherally weighted mallets.

There are also disadvantages to longer heads.  It may be harder for shorter players to make the required swing arc.  Stop shots are also harder (or not as effective) given the shallower face angle.  Having a long head in a hampered shot is very disheartening, when you know you could have made the shot with a shorter head.
Like most  things,  it will be best to try various heads and evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

Paul


Paul also wrote:

I performed a quick & dirty experiment with my mallet clamped to a broomstick suspended over a couple chairs.  While hardly rigorous and there are various issues one could pick at (and that seem negligible to me), it is what it is.  Perhaps someone with access to a swing machine can conduct a more rigorous test.

So what happened?  A croquet stroke with a vertical shaft at impact achieved a distance ratio of 3.5.  Moving the mallet pivot point back 4" (causing the shaft to lean backward approximately 6 deg. at impact) achieved a ratio of 8.4.  Same mallet, same backswing distance (approx. 12"), same balls and orientation, same surface, same ruler. :-)

Again, it's taken longer to write this email than it took to set up and perform the test, so it wasn't the most scientific test ever conducted. 

However, it does suggest that an angled shaft may be an important component of a good stop shot.  Since the head length limits this angle, it also suggests that head length may also be quite important.

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Updated 15.viii.14
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