Cast vs Forged

My new favorite golf hangout is The Hackers Paradise, it’s a forum/blog/golf store, etc.. It doesn’t have quite as many amenities as, but I really like the community. If you have a moment or two, go check them out, I think you’ll be presently surprised.

JB, owner/blogger of the site, started a thread regarding the age old argument of “Cast vs Forged.” He used a blog post written by OOB Golf’s “the wedge guy,” Terry Koehler. Terry is also the owner of Eidolon Golf Wedges.

If you recall, last year I won three Eidolon V-Sole Wedges (52, 56 & 60) in one of OOB Golf’s Mystery Bags, when they arrived, regrettable they were the lame-handed (righty’s) clubs. I contacted Terry about it and he was more than happy to send me some awesome-handed clubs (lefty’s). I’ve been playing with them for about seven months, and I don’t believe I’ll ever go with a different brand, I love these clubs and the grooves appear to be as sharp as the day they arrived.

But, I digress.. here’s the post.

One of the questions we get more often than any at EIDOLON Golf is “Are your wedges cast or forged?” There is so much misinformation and misconception about the two that golfers are usually and mostly totally baffled by the realities of the difference between these methods of shaping metal into a wedge or iron head. So let’s explore the difference between casting and forging and dispel the myths.

We’re talking about shaping metal into an iron or wedge head. Our options are to make a mold and pour molten steel into it (casting), or pound a superheated billet of steel between a sequence of molds to get it to the shape we want (forging).

Forging was traditionally the way iron and wedge heads were made. The forging process takes a superheated billet of steel and hammers it under thousands of pounds of pressure into a sequence of shapes, each production tool getting it closer to the final shape of the iron head we desire. After the final forging step, the head goes to the polishers, who grind and shape the head into its final form. Graphics are stamped into the head, as are the grooves in the face. The skill of the craftsmen largely determines the final quality and consistency of the finished product. This is a very labor intensive method of making something, and the tooling is very, very expensive. Because of the forging process, a relatively “soft” carbon steel metal was chosen. And because carbon steel will rust, heads required chrome plating as a final step to protect them.

But, as long ago as the 1950s, Kenneth Smith was making irons of forged stainless steel, and they were highly regarded for their feel and performance. Though many of you many not remember that brand, Kenneth Smith can be credited as the pioneer of custom made golf clubs.

When cavity-back, or perimeter-weighted, irons were designed, the only way to create the intricate shapes was to utilize the “investment casting” process, also known as “lost wax”. This is the way all jewelry is made, by the way.

This process is different from forging, as it starts with the making of a “master model” of the head – what it should look like it minute detail – with a slight over-sizing to allow for shrink in the process. This master model is accurate in every detail and is precision machined out of aluminum. From this master model, a mold is cast of epoxy or soft metal. In production, molten wax is injected into the mold, which then produces an exact replica of the master, accurate in every detail – shape, graphics, etc. These wax “patterns” are then combined into a “tree” that contains 30-50 of them, with “gates” engineered to facilitate the flow of molten metal later in the process.

These “trees” then are subjected to a series of “dunkings” in a liquefied ceramic and then dipped into sand. Over a series of weeks, with daily “dunkings”, a thick ceramic mold is created around the wax. Then this mold is superheated to melt and burn out all the wax, and superheated steel (2800 degrees) is poured into the mold. When cooled, the ceramic is broken away, and the individual heads are cut off the “tree”. They are very accurate and detailed, and only require minor polishing and finishing. The mold, rather than the grinder/polisher, mostly determines the final shape of the product.

So let’s get to the big myth surrounding the differences between casting and forging.

“Cast clubs are harder than forged.” Or “cast clubs don’t feel as good as forged.”

When investment casting hit the golf scene, making golf clubs was new to foundries. For these new and intricate shapes, they selected the 17-4 stainless steel alloy because it was “foundry friendly”. In other words, the foundries knew what it would do, how much it would shrink, and it cast with high reliability. But 17-4 stainless cools to a very hard and brittle state. That gave the earliest cast clubs the reputation for being hard – THEY WERE!

Over the past 40 years, however, the foundries have developed and applied much metallurgical science to develop softer and softer alloys, and we have some very good ones. Some, such as the 300 series stainless steels, make wonderful putters, but are so soft that irons and wedges bend in normal play, so that constant lie and loft adjustments have to be made. And they began to cast carbon steels as well.

Think about it for a minute. Sticks of butter are cast, and they are not hard!!! Concrete structural beams are cast and they are very darn hard. It’s not the process that makes an iron hard or soft, it’s the material it is made of. Tour players overwhelming adopted Cleveland® wedges in the 1980s, and they’ve never forged a wedge in their history. Same for the Titleist® Vokey® designs – every one of them cast of 8620 carbon steel.

The main contributor to the “feel” thing is the shape of the golf club, much more than the material or process. In the 1980s, blind tests were conducted with tour players, having them hit identical unbranded irons – some cast, some forged, but all made of the same material and featuring the exact same muscle back design. None of them could tell the difference!!!

So, forget the forged vs. cast thing. If you like the shape of an iron or wedge, and you like the way it feels and performs – BUY IT!!!

Me personally, I don’t have an opinion on the matter one way or the other. I will say and it’s probably all the marketing getting to me, but it feels “sexier” to be hitting forged irons and it sounds cooler to say.. 🙂

This post has sparked another great debate over which is better, if you have a moment take a look.

Here’s a link to my profile over at THP.

Hope you all had a great weekend!

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