NHL Hall of Fame forwards Paul Kariya and Joe Sakic pioneered the use of composite hockey sticks during the 1990s.
Kariya and Sakic discovered early on the new technology helped them control pucks better and shoot harder. When it came to wood versus composite hockey sticks, wood got burned.
Skaters of all levels who champion the composite hockey stick cite its flexibility, how much lighter it feels, and how much easier it makes handling the puck.
What makes composite sticks so strong, so durable, so popular? A quick answer is the construction of these high-tech ‘twigs.’ Let’s take a closer look at how they’re made.
The Composite Hockey Stick Manufacturing Process, Explained
Hockey sticks possess three primary elements: the blade, the handle (butt end), and the shaft. A composite stick can be made with separate blades and shafts, or as a one-piece stick, the most popular type of stick among elite players.
The production process begins with a synthetic cloth. Next, graphite—the stick’s main reinforcing fiber—is applied to it, along with small amounts of Kevlar and Nomex. How much stronger do the additives make the products? Kevlar hockey sticks are constructed with bullet-proof vest material, and fire suits worn by race car drivers contain Nomex.
To manufacture the hockey sticks, long sheets of composite materials are wrapped around molds of a blade or shaft, allowing a machine to compress the material until it forms the intended design.
Three Possible Methods for Composite Stick Manufacture
- A shaft-shaped mold wrapped in the composite material is put inside a duplicate split mold. After the outer mold is closed, the composite material inside is compacted by hydraulic pressure.
- Another possible method is similar to the hydraulic press method, but uses vacuum pressure instead to force the composite material against the mold until it takes form.
- Or, an inflatable bladder to be used as an inside mold is wrapped in the composite and put into an outer mold. Then, the mold is inflated to forge the elements into shape.
Later in the manufacturing process, oxygen is added to help epoxy, nylon, urethane, and polyester adhere to the new creation. High-end composite sticks are made entirely of carbon, with a mixture of Kevlar to add strength. They contain no wood or fiberglass elements.
When the newly molded shaft is completed, it is attached to a blade.
At nearly every level, two-piece sticks are becoming virtually non-existent. Elite players, especially, favor the one-piece models because they are lighter weight and have more favorable flex points. At the start of the 2017-18 season, sportsnet.ca reported Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were the only players in the NHL to use two-piece sticks.
Can You Cut a Composite Stick?
The short answer is, yes. For nearly two centuries, all shafts were made of wood, and players easily rectified the problem with a sharp saw blade. But you can also cut a composite stick, with careful preparation and the right tools.
How to Cut a Composite Stick
Cutting a composite stick can be accomplished in about 15 minutes, following these steps:
- Strip the shaft’s handle of any tape.
- While the best length comes down to personal comfort, a good rule is the stick should come just below your chin.
- Mark the stick with a permanent marker to show the cut line. Some players make a second mark one inch above it, allowing a little leeway when cutting the shaft.
- Take off the stick’s end cap if you can. Sometimes it can be hard to take out, so removing it isn’t necessary.
- Place in a vise or have someone hold the shaft of the stick on a bench or chair.
- Use a hacksaw and make short, clean strokes to cut through the shaft.
- Making sure your cuts are square, continue cutting all the way through the shaft.
- After loosening the vise and removing the stick, check its length. If it’s good, replace the end cap, and then re-tape the handle.
One or two inches likely will not affect the flex of the stick, but altering the size of the stick might make it stiffer.
Why Are Composite Hockey Sticks Better?
Starting with Kariya and Sakic three decades ago, skaters insist composite sticks make it easier to stickhandle pucks with more confidence, and to shoot them harder.
In the wood versus composite sticks debate, composites have emerged as winners in terms of flexibility, so much so that they come with kick point ratings: high, mid, and low. Lightweight one-piece composite sticks generate lower kick points because the tapered shafts and blades are designed to be stiffer.
When shopping for a new composite hockey stick, find one with the right feel. Take your time, do some research, and experiment with different brands. Consider these questions before you buy a new stick:
- What is the correct length?
- Is a round or a square shaft better?
- What’s the best blade curve and lie for me?
- What flex and kick point should I choose?
Consult our hockey stick blade and flex guides for more detailed information. And if you can, visit one of our retail stores that offer a shooting range, so you can experiment with different stick models before you buy.