Updated Advice & Information on Choosing a Mallet
by Michael Rumbin · 10/20/2014
This article was first published by Dr. Ian Plummer, author of www.oxfordcroquet.com in the Croquet Gazette December 2005. I have updated the content to current material and designs available with moderately priced mallets. Much has changed in the world of croquet equipment since 2005, but the basics principals remain the same.
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.
A “standard mallet” traditionally would weigh 3 pounds total (1.362Kg), have a 36” wood shaft and a 9-11” head length. This is what would normally be supplied by manufacturers 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 depending on how heavy the shaft is in comparison to the head. The lighter the shaft, the closer the balance point to the head. With these “traditional mallets the shafts weigh around 14 ounces and the head itself about 2 pounds, two ounces.
Heavier mallets favor a straight swing and are good for hitting-in a long distance, 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 is possible but requires excellent technical wood/metal working skills and should not be attempted by an amateur. Heavy mallets can be symmetrically bored out to reduce the head weight or replacing the shaft with a lighter material. 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.
There are three main choices of material at the moment; wood, aluminum and carbon fiber. 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. Aircraft grade aluminum tubing much like ski pole material is as strong as wood, at about half the weight. Lightest and strongest of all are carbon fiber tubes that run the entire length of the shaft with the grip being comprised of two sections of firm foam glued together encompassing the tube.
As indicated above the shaft weight does not add to the energy imparted into the ball. A typical wood shaft weighs about 14oz. Aluminum shafts typically weigh about 8 ounces. The carbon ones are lighter still at about 4-5 oz. The next choice then really is how rigid a shaft do you like to play with? All wood shafts are generally made to be stiff for strength. Aluminum tends to be slightly flexible with a bit of resonance after impact. Carbon fiber behaves much like wood and can have a hollow “twang” sound. These are distant secondary characteristics to the weight differences.
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.
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. baseball bat grip) you would require a longer mallet than someone using the Irish grip (golf-putter grip). In general , people under 5 feet 4 inches use 32 inch shafts; up to 5 feet 10’ a 34 inch shaft and above 5’ 11” a 36 inch shaft. Lengths below 32 inches and above 36 inches are rare.
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 wear. Many mallets are made of dense hardwoods, some common, others more exotic. These differences are more cosmetic or stylish than meaningful to the physics of the head. It is currently considered desirable to have the weight of the head concentrated at the faces to increase the moment of inertia that will prevent the mallet head from twisting during the swing. This feature is achieved by adding metal faceplates or lead weight behind a plastic composite face.
Mallet heads start at 9 inches and go up to 12 inches. 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 and jump shots with them. Many top players however use 12” long mallet heads. Short mallet heads are good for stop shots. The ‘diameter’ or face area of a mallet is normally between 2.25” – 2.5” square.
If you are looking for something traditional, crafted like a piece of fine furniture then the George Wood Original is your best value. The George Wood Original Mallet was designed by former World Champion Joe Hogan some 30 years ago and is the UK Croquet Associations biggest selling mallet. It has a classic croquet mallet look and excellent performance characteristics for both Golf Croquet and Association Croquet.
Mallets have octagonal wooden handles with a turned lower section and 9 1/4” long rectangular heads. They’re available in weights from 2.00lbs 6oz through to 3lbs.04oz and overall lengths from 28” up to 42”. By far the most popular mallet specification is 3.00lbs in weight with an overall length of 36”. These mallets are available in the US through the WoodRanch Custom shop in Phoenix Arizona.
When buying a mallet today, one should consider the weight of the head itself separate from the total weight. That 3 pound “traditional” worked with all wood heads and shafts. Today a mallet can have the same 2 pound, 2 ounce head and a total weight of 2 pounds 10 ounces with an aluminum shaft, or 2 pounds 6 ounces with a carbon fiber shaft! These mallets would be lighter and easier to swing but still deliver the same energy into moving the ball as a traditional 3 pounder.
WoodRanch Custom Shop has developed a light weight Egyptian-style mallet that is based on design specifications of golf croquet mallets used in Egypt. These mallets are lighter overall and therefore easer to swing, and swing fast if required. They have excellent stop/stun shot characteristics and are easier to control on a fast court. These Egyptian style mallets, Horus and ISIS are made with modern materials that take unnecessary weight out of the design and put it into the head where it counts. This produces more head speed and momentum with a lighter mallet, improving stun and jump shot performance.WoodRanch Mallets
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.
Michael Rumbin is the owner of WoodRanch Custom Shop and is the Western Area Representative for George Wood in the USA.