Craft Culture: MaxBat

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Photo by Lucas Sjostrom, edited by Aaron Davidson

The process

Life for a MaxBat begins in the space behind the minimalist show room, which is spare save for the bats covering the length of one wall. There are natural-finish bats; bats with blue, red, and pink barrels; and, the customer favorite, gleaming all-black bats. An engraving machine sits in one corner and a few shelves of other merchandise—gloves, bags, clothing—fill the rest of the room.

MaxBat makes a total of about 1,000 models of bats; of those, only 50 are offered to the public. The rest are custom orders, carefully calibrated to players’ specifications, sometimes down to the ounce and centimeter. The top public seller is the G191 series, an all-black bat made from pure maple. Ash, long regarded as the strongest wood for bat-making since the late 1800s, is disappearing from the business due to the proliferation of the emerald ash borer. About 80 percent of major league bats are made of maple now, although MaxBat also uses yellow birch and northern white ash for certain models.

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Photo by Lucas Sjostrom, edited by Aaron Davidson

This summer, a debate over whether maple should replace ash ensued after a piece of a broken bat hit a woman at Fenway Park. The bat was made of maple, prompting those who believe maple is weaker and therefore more dangerous than ash to call for a ban of maple bats. The ban didn’t—and likely won’t—happen, largely because experts like Paul say it’s the straightness of the grain, not the species of wood used, that determines a bat’s strength.

In the warehouse behind the store sit thousands of billets—40-inch-long cylinders of wood ready to be shaped—stacked in crates. The end of each billet is marked with the species and weight of the wood, which is sourced from Pennsylvania and New York. MaxBat receives the billets pre-treated in kilns to suck out the moisture. There’s no way to test their strength, but Paul says there’s no need to. “If you test it, it would make it weaker and put too much stress on it. Once in a while something unseen may be in there, but it’s pretty rare.”

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Photo by Lucas Sjostrom, edited by Aaron Davidson

Each billet gets run through the CNC Lathe, which shaves the wood—or “turns” it, in woodwork-speak—into something looking like a veritable bat, aside from the little block on top that will later be shaped. After the lathe, the bat gets weighed again, sanded, cupped—a half inch-thick puck is hollowed out from the center of the tip of the bat—and ink-spot tested to ensure it adheres to Major League Baseball standards. (Bats must have a slope of three degrees or less from barrel to handle; MaxBats have no more than two-degree slopes.) From there, the bat is finished, painted, dried, and sent to the show room for engraving.

The biggest difference between MaxBat and its competitors, like Louisville Slugger or Marucci, is simple: MaxBat is more personal. They encourage over-the-phone custom orders as opposed to a series of “choose your color and weight” clicks on a website. Instead of giving in to expectations of lower prices and thereby offer a lesser-quality product, MaxBat remains focused on its commitment to quality—and to chasing the dream of obtaining the unknown. Based on the company’s growth over the last 14 years, there’s no saying what could happen in the years to come.

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