The timber we use is Salix Alba Caerulea (Cricket Bat Willow), grown in England. The willow is renewably harvested across the whole of England and sold through the wood yards of Essex and Suffolk.
Only the highest grades of willow are hand selected by willow merchant Jeremy Ruggles, Director of J.S.Wright & Sons (www.cricketbatwillow.com). The density of the wood and consistency of the grain through the playing area of the bat is of vital importance to the end balance and performance.
Salix Alba Caerulea – Cricket Bat Willow
Willows grow to a maximum height of 21-27m (70-90ft) with a diameter of 0.9-1.2m (3-4ft). The tree will be encouraged to branch out at about 3m (10′) from the ground and are generally grown in plantations at about 12 yard centres (10 yard centres if they are on river banks). Trees grown for manufacture of cricket bats are felled when they reach a circumference of about 56″.
The quality of the timber is considerably affected by the general habit of the tree it comes from. Cricket Bat Willow is characterised by extremely rapid growth and a shapely habit, these two factors combine to produce straight grained, lightweight wood ideal for high quality cricket bats. Unfortunately, under less favourable conditions, timber of inferior quality may be produced. Colour: Heartwood – Pinkish Sapwood: Nearly white. The width of the sapwood varies according to species and growth conditions, being particularly wide in fast growing willow. Grain: Straight textured fine and even. Weight: Average about 450kg/m3 seasoned. High quality cricket bat willow is rather lighter in weight – 340-420kg/m3.
Cricket bat willow values
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There is little movement in cricket bat willow – 0.5% radial movement in 60% relative humidity. The willow dries well and quite rapidly, however local pockets of moisture sometimes remain in the timber. Special care is needed when testing the moisture content to ensure that reasonable uniformity is achieved.
Only the best boles of cricket bat willow are used for cricket bats. Other material of this species and timber of other willows is used for a variety of purposes requiring a lightweight, easily worked timber. Uses include artificial limbs, toys, chip baskets and other basketwork.
Cricket bat willow is grown mainly in the Eastern and South-Eastern counties of England, although it will grow successfully in other parts of the country, if the site is carefully selected. It grows well near running water, but not in marshy, waterlogged ground. This species of willow is fast growing and it is possible to obtain trees of suitable diameter with a 7 – 10ft clear bole in 18 years from the time of planting the sets. The trees are tended very carefully as they are subject to disease and defects which detract seriously from the quality of the timber for bat making: buds are rubbed off the stem regularly to prevent the formation of lower branches which can cause knots in the timber.
After felling, the lower 3.5m length of the trunk is sawn into 3 or 4 rounds each of about 700mm long, these are then split longitudinally into clefts in a process known as riving. This process is highly skilled and only experience will determine the best way to split the timber so as to avoid any imperfections and maximize the amount of top quality timber that will eventually make up the finished bats.
The cricket bat industry differs from most other timber users in requiring abnormal width of white or light coloured sapwood. This is produced by an exceptionally fast rate of growth in rich, moist soils. The other quality most desired is freedom from defects. This is due to the fact that straight grains combined with resilience, toughness and lightness is essential. Major defects that occur in the billets can be avoided when it is cleft, but others such as small knots are allowable in second quality bats.
Most manufacturers obtain their willow from suppliers in the south of England; the largest of which are J.S Wright and Sons. The willow is supplied as clefts. Nowadays usually kiln dried, although J S Wright & Sons offers traditionally air-dried willow, which is seasoned for about a year. When first cut, the clefts can weigh up to 10kg but they lose more than half that weight through the drying process.