Metal can be mental.
Not the music, though I suppose that can be, as well. I'm talking about actual metal, like 8620 carbon steel.
With golf clubs, connoisseurs can be very... particular. They want a "soft" metal, for "soft" feelings at impact.
But what is a soft metal? Why is it soft?
This article focuses on 8620 carbon steel, but I'll go over some of the other metals, to give you an idea for comparison's sake.
What, exactly, is 8620 carbon steel?
Outside of golf, it has many uses. Per Sciencing.com:
The steel alloy of grade 8620 is also called nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. It is a sturdy alloy, largely composed of carbon, with many uses in the manufacturing trades. Properly hardened and formed, it can be used to make hard-wearing machine parts.
They're talking about stuff like crankshafts and gears. Crazy that it could be used in a golf club, isn't it?
So is 8620 a "soft" carbon steel, or a "hard" carbon steel?
Honestly, they're all "hard". It's steel, remember?
I've written about carbon steels before, and not much has changed, really. Here's what's known as the Rockwell Hardness Scale:
8620 carbon steel falls into the "Carbon Steel" category. Compared to something like 1025 or 1035 carbon steel, you'd never know the difference.
I'd bet you wouldn't even be able to tell the difference between 8620 carbon steel and 431 stainless steel, to be honest.
So, if there's no real difference between a 1035 carbon steel and 8620 carbon steel... why do companies use both?
The answer lies in the manufacturing process.
Forging, Casting, and What it Means for 8620 Carbon Steel
According to the GolfWorks' Britt Lindsey, the difference between 8620 and something like 1035 is in how they're formed into a golf club.
Ever hear of "form forging"?
First off, like many other things golf, it's been used as a selling point. How many people are gonna look up what "form forging" is? It sounds cool, though...
Anyway, form forging as it applies to golf club heads is first casting the head in a mold, then giving it a smash in the forging die. Basically, you already have the shape of the head already done; the one smash from the forging machine does... something.
Best guess? Enough to say it was "forged" without being misleading.
On the other hand, something like 1025 carbon steel is forged from a "billet"
Every step to make it a golf club head is done from this starting point in a normal forging process.
The question to ask, then, is: so what? Well, it's a cost issue.
An iron head forged from a billet has more hand operations at the foundry, so the OEM will charge more for it. A cast iron head doesn't have the same amount of hand operations, so theoretically they shouldn't charge as much. Form forging I wouldn't say is "sneaky", but it is a way to make a less-expensive club head while charging a premium for it.
No matter the metal, what you feel can be altered
As crazy as that sounds, what you feel is actually what you hear.
Put on some noise-cancelling headphones and you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Seriously, if you have a pair, or even just earplugs or headphones, try it. It's a totally different experience!
There are many "tricks" a club builder has to alter what you hear/feel at impact:
The trick, from a fitter's perspective, is asking "what does the customer know?".
I'm not saying we're trying to fool you. Absolutely not. But if you're in the know about carbon steels, and specifically want something like an 8620 carbon steel wedge or iron, you'll likely not be happy unless you get that.
And trying to "fool" you into something that isn't would be an egregious mistake.
Don't rule out the playability factor
There are just some golfers that need more help from a club that might be cast from stainless steel. Be it a higher bounce angle, more offset, or the confidence a thicker sole/topline offers. These workarounds can help there, as well.
And then there's the cost factor
If your budget doesn't allow for something like a forged carbon steel club head, these workarounds can help ensure you can have the softest-feeling (sounding) heads you can.
Let's face it: a $40 carbon steel head isn't as palatable for some golfers than a $9 stainless steel head is. That doesn't mean they don't deserve a set that feels good to them.
You just try to give the customer the best product you can, right?