Cast vs. Forged -The Real Truth
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!!!
The Wedge Guy is sponsored by SCOR Golf, where Terry Koehler is President/CEO. He encourages you to submit your questions or topics to be considered for his columns on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each submission automatically enters you to win a SCOR4161 wedge to be given away monthly. Click the button below to submit your question or topic today.
[ comments ]
What about workability of the metal? If I want to change the loft/lie of my clubs, isn't it easier to do so with a forged iron/wedge? Or is that again, only a function of the metal used?
I agree that you should buy the club that feels & performs best for you. Whether you believe it or not, this is good marketing of "feel": media.mizunousa.com/images/video/glf09_sound-of-
If it's all about the type of metal used, why can't anyone cast a wedge out of the same metal as a highly regarded forged club? Then you'd have a cheaper production method and great feel right?
some people love their 8620 cast wedges (I've owned a few), but my hands are much happier with the feedback and results from my forged Scratch 1018 wedges, none of the cast wedges I've played are even in the same ballpark
JoeBird, I can't speak for others, but our heat treatment allows us to bend EIDOLON wedges 2-3 degrees in loft and lie - we do it every day in our custom department. SD, I agree that is good marketing . . .no more comments. ;-) And Ward, There are many other elements of feel as well; the shaft, shaft/head tolerance, epoxy used, amount of expoxy . . . sounds like another article. Thanks.
That's a pretty in depth explanation of the manufacturing process. Forgings are much stronger than castings. Production automobiles use cast pistons because they are cheap to make. Race cars need forged pistons because cast pistons are heavier and fly apart at high rpm. Unless you have a clubhead speed over 400 mph you should be ok with cast. A good salesman could convince you that there's a different feel between the two since there's no question that the forging process produces a much denser molecular structure.
forgings right off the forge would be stronger than the metal was before it was struck due to the work hardening done while forming, but aren't most heads going to be annealed afterwards to bring them back to their original "softness"
you can do a lot to the properties of any bit of metal depending on how fast you heat and cool them
Umm... I held metal once. It felt ... metally. Seriously, this just got so deep. I think I like it.
"All jewelry" is not made by the lost wax casting method. Some jewelry is also "forged" or assembled...but then, this is about clubs not jewelry.
Until I have the opportunity to swap cast/ forged heads in and out of same dimensions and size, I'll just have to take your word for it. Obviously there are many things that can be done on a forge (folding, twisting, etc.) that just aren't a part of simple casting. One limitation of casting is mold making, and size of kiln/ oven. Other than obvious differences, I'm sure there are great and lousy forged and cast products alike. I think what makes a great club is the synergy between all of the elements and how they balance their properties constructively for shot making by a particular human.
I remember a barrel tasting in Sonoma, and it was clear the distinct difference in the wine's taste: between French and American oak barrels, as well a new/ old barrels, and stainless. It's pretty easy to notice the difference now, but which is better?
Thanks for the article, Terry. I really liked the inside scoop. I especially agree with your summary -- for a high-capper like myself, cast vs. forged is just marketing, go with the club that feels right!
Tim Horan says:
I have both cast (Eidolon) and forged (Kane)both have great feel. It isn't the method of manufacture that gives you that; it is design, shaft selection and the work that goes into face milling, how the grooves are formed and the care that is taken in assembly.
I'm not a smart man, but I know what feels good...forged
i agree that it is the metal rather than the process. the idea that you can tell the difference is ludicris (sp?). Especially when you consider you are hitting a much softer ball!!!
anyway...one question, werent the CMM wedges (cg11 & CG10) cleveland ones forged?
why 410ss is prefered for stems in gate valve.
what is differencr between casting and forging materials. for ex:4130 for forging & wcc for casting.
Glad you guys liked this post. As for the difference in materials, there are many that are chosen for golf clubs. The most popular range from the harder stainless steels like 17-4 to the 400 and 300 series which are softer. Then you have the 8620 carbon steel which is cast, and 1030 carbon, chosen for forging. The differences can be very subtle, and are mostly due to manufacturing preference, rather than product performance.
Long Time Duffer says:
Golf is all about MARKETING! The average duffer wouldn't know the difference if a cast iron or a forged iron hit him in the head, much less one he is swinging. MARKETING. That is it. The best set of clubs you will ever buy is one that was fitted for you by a Professional Club Maker. Brand name means nothing. Forging means nothing, casting means nothing. A proper fit based on your swing is all that counts. If you like throwing your money away, listen to your local club Pro who gets his clubs free in order to keep him endorsing the big name companies. The absolute subtle differences in science that apply to forging steel verse casting or so minimal at the club head speeds generated in golf, they are all mute points.
Read a golf ad from the 60's or 70's for equipment, be it clubs or golf balls. What has changed over time? Nothing? The all read the same. Straighter and Longer. You should all be able to hit a green on the Moon by now, if these improvements were all true. It is MARKETING.
Long Time Duffer says:
continued from above....
Spend your money on lessons, that is your best investment, don't buy into the Big Name Equipment manufacturers marketing pitches and doe yourself a favour and buy a reasonable set of clubs from a Professional Club Maker. If you like to show off how much money you have, then by all means, buy the latest glitz and glamour, forged clubs with matching shafts, put them in a really nice logo'ed bag and show off your wallet at your private club. They were all made on an assembly line in a factory in China. You should really be able to "feel" the difference! To your wallet, maybe, but not on the score card. ;)
I have purchased many many sets of irons in my life - many to play and many that I use as Art (OK, I am odd, but I think that some of the clubs that have been made by Hogan, Miura, Wilson and others are very attractive).
The thing that people should keep in mind is that there are three places where I find price (and in some cases reputable brands vs. cheap clones) make a difference.
1- true loft / lie 'out of the box'. In testing more expensive clubs from Adams, Wilson, Miura, Mizuno and others, their tolerances from published specs have almost always been within 1 degree on both loft and lie. In some low cost options (one being top flight, owned by Callaway, from Walmart) I have seen variances of up to 4 degrees from published specs. In one particularly terrible scenario I had a 7 iron that was so strong that it was only 1 degree off from the 6 iron, which was nearly correct, then a 5 iron that was so weak that it was only 1/2 a degree stronger than the 6 iron. (Continued in next post)
Essentially making the 7, 6 and 5 iron identical with the exception of the length of the shaft. As I mentioned, I have seen poor adherence to specs in lower-end lines from highly regarded companies, I have also seen good adherence from "good" clones, but they are generally more expensive, not the $79 sets.
2- Shafts - especially on irons I have seen graphite shafts (and especially on women's sets) break on less expensive sets, both custom made clones and lower end name brand). My father in law has been playing with a set of regular flex Callaway X18 Graphite for 4 year - he play multiple rounds a week, and he takes large divots - no problem with those shafts in all of that time. My daughter takes almost no divot and broke two shafts on a brand new set of Wilson Hope ($139 from Big 5 sports) the first time she took them to the range. Just two anecdotal examples.
3- Grips, although I believe that premium grips are very overpriced, I also think that the incredibly cheap and 'plasticy' (Continued)
grips on less expensive sets - especially on boxed sets sold in retailers like Walmart, Big 5, Target, etc. are a disservice to new players. Grips are very much underestimated, the less confident you are in the grip, the harder you are going to grip the club with both hands, and be inclined to use both arms equally in the swing.
As has been stated above, there are so many things, beyond whether a head is cast or forged, that 'make the club'. I feel it is unfortunate that the very players (new players) that would benefit from good, well fitting, equipment are the ones most likely to end up with a 5, 6 and 7 iron that are the same loft/lie because they don't adhere to tolerances. My advice is, if price is not an issue, go for a high end set of clubs from a good brand that are from LAST YEAR. You can buy these sets, new, for about half of the current year model. Also as stated above, the actual changes are going to be largely cosmetic to give the marketing engines a visible differentiation. (Continued)
Alternatively you can go for a 'top of the line' clone and make sure to have the tolerances tested and adjusted (easier on softer materials). You can also do what I do - buy lightly used sets on e-bay for about 50% of a new set.
Sorry for the length of the post(s), I have just seen golf ruined for so many people, because they go buy a cheap set of clubs (even brand name) not knowing that the quality of all clubs made by a brand are not equal. In my experience Wilson has some of the absolute best clubs (FG) and some of the worst, sold in low end retail. Remember Chevettes and Corvettes are both Chevrolet.
Darn, meant to say this at the end of my novel above. This is one of the best written, most comprehensive and IMO most accurate pieces I have found on the Internet concerning Cast / Forged clubs.
As a jeweler who hand forges jewelry, I take offense to your comment stateing "this is the way all jewelry is made". You are ignorant my friend!
With regards to FEEL, I recently abandon the Ping Gorge wedges and went back to the Tour S Rustique because of feel or lack thereof... I could never get the same results on soft touch shots around the green with the Gorge as I could with the rusty version--the ball jumps off the face with the Gorge and I was constantly blowing the ball past the hole. Same club shape, same shaft, same grip but DIFFERENT MATERIAL/METAL... Feel is real and so are results.
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