Baseball Bat Finishes

A discussion of good finishes for baseball bats for youth leagues. July 17, 2008

I have a new baseball bat making business and would like help on finishes for ash baseball bats. Is lacquer best, and what kind? Currently we stain or leave natural and clear coat. Would like to get into custom colors. What about "dipping" the bats? I have a metalworking background and would like some info on getting started with a more professional finishing process.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
Nitrocellulose lacquers and simple brushing varnish are traditionally used for their ability to get tacky with the warmth from your hands.

From contributor R:
I just saw a program on the Discovery Channel last night called "How it's made," and one portion of the program was on how they made baseball bats. Being a finisher I was particularly interested in the finishing process. Turns out all they did was brush on some varnish. Then they showed some bats being made for Barry Bonds and those were made from maple, not ash. Those particular ones were dipped into a reddish colored stain that covered half of the bat, then wiped off right away and coated with varnish. I actually thought the finishing process was primitive compared to the way they turned them.

From the original questioner:
I have seen that video. It's funny, his finishing methods are primitive to the rest of his operation with the xy machine, but he is very successful. I have wondered if that was just what they show on TV.

From contributor M:
If you are selling bats to be used to actually hit balls, I would not spend a massive effort on finishing (even though saying that seems like a cardinal sin to me). My favorite bats to use are the ones that are slightly prickly with a somewhat sticky finish. That said, just go to Lowes and buy gallon cans of gloss polyurethane. Spray or brush on one light coat, cure overnight, scuff sand very gently with a fine grit sanding sponge, and one more light coat.

If you are making bats that will be bought by soccer moms as a gift for junior, switch to spraying conversion varnish gloss. Three coats, sanded fairly aggressively between coats, to give a smooth level surface will make one shiny, nice looking bat.

Ash makes a good bat, but when it fails, it splinters and splits in two. Consider making a selection from hard maple also. Hard maple does not splinter and get weak like ash will - it is definitely the choice of pro baseball players at the moment. It just seems to take the pounding from baseballs more.

From the original questioner:
The bats we are making are for game use, youth, high school and adult amateur leagues. Currently we are using clear polyurethane on natural wood finish and Sherwin Williams stains for darker finish.

I would like to learn more about the brighter color finishes I see on other bat maker websites. Red, black, blue, orange, etc on the barrel of the bat and stained or natural handle. We are buying black lacquer in spray cans and brush-on, but black is the only color lacquer available off the shelf locally. How we get started making custom colors finishes is what I am trying to research. We are getting requests for team bats that match team colors, etc.

We started with ash because the billets are cheaper. Many players swear maple has more pop than ash, but ash has more flex in the handle... Ash does explode or splinter, but maple is real jagged sharp edges flying through the air when it breaks. But you are right, maple is the first thing high school players ask me about. We are going to start turning maple this summer, maybe birch also.

From contributor M:
As for the bright colors, blues and greens and reds, you have two options. First, just go to Krogers or whatever local grocery store and buy some RIT powder dyes. Very cheap and effective. They are waterbased (you mix them in hot water). Now, someone on here will fuss at me for recommending this because 1) they never thought of it, 2) RIT will fade over time (but who cares if the bat will be bashed over a couple of seasons anyway), 3) it just sounds different. RIT will raise the grain of the wood. Just ignore this and sand the first coat of polyurethane a bit more. Problem solved. I know a lot of wood turners who dye their bowls with RIT and it works fine.

If you are dissatisfied with the RIT, or if you want some really dark or bold colors, your solution is dye toners. Find a local ML Campbell rep and buy yourself some dye called Microton. You can spray this dye directly on to the wood, or you can add it to the lacquer/conversion varnish (not oil based polyurethane) and use it to make the bat more intensely colored with every coat you spray. For rough-and-tumble use, I'd try the RIT first.

From contributor A:
I've read about hickory being superior to ash as well. Something about the strength to weight being much higher, resulting in faster swing.

From contributor M:
They don't use hickory, iirc, because it has a higher specific gravity (i.e., heavier) than ash, which disqualifies it. Apparently hard maple is on par with ash as far as weight. Personally I'd like a baseball bat made out of solid ipe, but I am too cheap to buy an ipe 4X4 and make one. Talk about hard and heavy!

From contributor D:
Check out Lockwood dyes. Endless colors, easy to use, professional quality. If you're going to sell this product, don't buy your finishing materials from the grocery store.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I'll try the RIT and see how it works. I like trying new things. I have stayed away from hickory because I started out making youth bats and I was looking for lighter billets. There are still many makers using hickory though.

What is the difference between the Lockwood dyes and Microtron? How are they applied?

From the original questioner:
I answered my last question myself. I have been reading about some of the products that were mentioned above and I think I have a good place to start. Thanks for the info. Hope I can repay the favor sometime.

From contributor T:
As suggested, I'd try the MLC Microton dye. It has very vibrant colors that will hold their color. As an aside, where do they allow youth and high school to use wooden bats?