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Hardwood forests in the U.S. are vibrant and growing due to sustainable forest management and efficient utilization of all the materials that come out of a forest during harvest operations. The range of species and grades find their way to different forest product industries. While the wooden packaging industry is quite familiar with the industrial grades coming out of these forests, a different grade of material finds its way into the hands of today's Major League Baseball stars. The next time you see a baseball game, just think, your pallet and that bat may have come from the same forest. PC PalletCentral March-April 2014 41 Play Ball When the game of baseball was first played, sticks were used to hit the ball. By the time the game had been officially organized as a team sport, the players either whittled their own bats or bought them from a wood turner. That was 1863. Modern day baseball rules only made changes to the bat dimensions; baseball bats must still be made of wood. Maple and ash remain strongholds for Major League Baseball because of their strength, flexibility and light weight. There are only a few companies like Louisville Slugger, Rawlings and Carolina Clubs that manufacture baseball bats and actually control the total process from standing timber through finished bat. Carolina Clubs owns a sawmill in upstate New York and typifies the vertical integration of bat manufacturers. They begin the production process by walking through wood lots and carefully selecting trees that meet their criteria. Logs are then transported to a sawmill, where they are cut-to-length, sorted and stacked and then prepared to be split. A log will naturally split along the grain with the help of the 60 ton hydraulic ram. The end result from "splitting" is high quality wedge-shaped blanks ready to be turned into a rough billet. This process is obtained by using a lathe, which incorporates a cutter head equipped with 24-48 knives that spin at approximately 3200 rpm., removing excess wood from the blank until a rough round billet is produced. These high quality billets are then palletized and ready for drying. Dry kilns are filled to capacity and the 30-35 day drying cycle begins. Precise measurements of kiln conditions including billet moisture content, kiln temperature and humidity are monitored daily. As orders are filled, the billets are selected and loaded into a wood turning lathe. No more bat whittling today, the lathes are capable of turning one bat every 38 seconds. However, Carolina Clubs does take time to hand-sand every maple and ash wood bat produced. High quality finishes are applied and once properly cured, each custom wood baseball bat is individually bagged and ready to ship. In a sport steeped in tradition, it is doubtful that Major League Baseball will ever allow anything but pure wood for bats. For now, that means ash and maple. PC Truckload of hard maple baseball billets are ready for drying. Photo courtesy of Vacutherm Lumber Dryers Inside the Bat: Ash and Maple going Strong

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