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Preparing Your Cricket Bat - Knocking In

By James Laver - World’s foremost cricket bat crafstman

Almost all new cricket bats require knocking in before use. Knocking in, is the process of hardening and conditioning of the blades' surface. There are two reasons for knocking in;

  • Protecting the bat from cracking and increase its usable life
  • Improving the middle of the bat so the middle is bigger and better

The nature of the game of cricket is that a hard ball is propelled at high speed toward the batsman who swings the bat hitting the ball. This contact will cause a bat that is not prepared correctly to crack up very quickly, and have a short life.

Cricket bats are pressed in the bat-making workshop using a mechanical press. The mechanical press applies up to 2tons/square inch of pressure to the face of the bat through a roller. Willow is a very soft timber in its natural state. It has to be pressed to form a hard, resilient layer on the surface. Once this has been done, the bat can be shaped.

The finished bat still needs a final hardening, as the mechanical presses are unable to completely protect the bat, or get the perfect performance required from the blade. This requires knocking in by hand with a mallet. While it is possible to prepare a bat solely by pressing, this compresses the wood too deep into the blade, which dramatically reduces the performance of the bat. A bat pressed heavily will have a small middle and the ball will not travel as far as with a bat pressed lightly and knocked in by hand.

The Knocking In Process

At the stage when the bat is purchased there are different ways of preparing your bat for the knocking in process. We recommend the following process - repeated trials in bat factories have shown us that this works far better than all other methods.

Raw linseed oil should be used to moisten the surface of the bat and enable the fibres to become supple and knit together, forming an elastic surface. This is more likely to stretch on impact, rather than crack. Raw linseed oil is used, as it stays moist for longer than boiled linseed. About a teaspoonful should be applied to the surface of the bat.

I recommend that oil should be applied 3 times before the process of compressing the face begins. Each coat of oil should be about a teaspoon full. Spread the oil over the face of the bat using a small rag or your fingers (always discard the rag after each application as it can spontaneously combust). Spread leftover linseed oil over the edges and toe of the bat. Let each coat of oil soak in overnight and repeat the process.

Preparing Your Cricket Bat - Knocking In - Laver & Wood - How to - Bat MalletWhen the oil has been applied the knocking in process can begin. This should be done using a Hardwood bat mallet.

Start by hitting the middle of the bat just hard enough to create a dent. [This is surprisingly hard]. Hold the bat up to the light to see if you are making a dent.

Gradually compress the face of the bat around this dent so that the face of the bat is level and you cannot see the initial dent any more. The bottom of the bat toe (the part that is in contact with the ground) should never be hit with the mallet.

 

 

Cricket Bat - Knocking In - Equipment - How toThe edges require special attention; they need to be rounded off so that the hard new ball cannot damage them too much. The edges should be struck at 45 degrees to the face so that the mallet can compress the willow. Similar to the face, make one dent on the edge, and then gradually even out the edge so that the whole surface has a smooth, rounded appearance. The back of the bat should never be touched with the mallet (or the ball).

If the bat is hit at 90 degrees to the face on the edge it reduces the width of the bat and is covering an area not mechanically pressed. The likelihood of cracking increases and you should not be hitting the ball flush on the edge in any case.

With a hardwood bat mallet the knocking in process should take from between 10 to 15 sessions of about 10 minutes each. Once you have completed this process, as a guide to see if the bat is ready for play take it into the nets and play a few shots with an old ball. If the bat is showing very deep seam marks to the point of almost cracking the face of the bat then it needs more compressing. One will always get seam marks on the face of the bat; they should not be too deep.

The price of a bat does not have any effect on whether a bat cracks or not. The best bats are usually more expensive, but liable to crack more than cheaper bats because the willow is often softer. When a bat has expired buy another one!

Back in the late 1800's the bats were subjected to huge amounts of pressure at the pressing stage to make the willow very hard. If the blade started to show signs of cracking during this process it was rejected. Linseed oil was very often used to saturate the blade in order to soften the wood, make it more comfortable to use (over pressed bats jar on impact), and get a bit of performance out of it. WG Grace would have a few of the junior members of his club using his linseed soaked bats for a season or so before he would deem them ready for use. Bats soaked in oil generally break up and don’t perform!

When a bat is pressed very hard it is very difficult to hit the ball off the square. The thin protective layer of hard (pressed) willow is becomes a thick layer that is too deep into the willow. Hard-pressed willow does not have the desired elastic qualities of the soft pressed willow, meaning the ball does not 'ping' off the bat.

Laver & Wood strongly recommend to have your bat knocked in professionally when you purchase it. This helps to get a better performance and generally extends the life of the bat. It also relieves you and your family members of a time consuming, noisy and monotonous process. Ask at your local cricket dealer if they can have your bat knocked in by a batmaker - it should not cost too much.

Caveat: Damage can never be totally eliminated due to the hard nature of the ball and the speed of contact with the bat. A good bat correctly knocked in ideally would last about 1000 runs including net use.

Laver & Wood sell hardwood knocking in mallets and offer a knocking in service. All Laver & Wood bats come with a hardwood mallet.

For more advice on bat preparation from experienced cricketers and coaches from all around the world, visit our Coaching Forum where you can get excellent advice on bat preparation, bat repairs and the best bats to buy. The coaching forum is like a live answering service for all your cricket questions.

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