Which steel is the “best”?
That’s a helluva question. Remember when I wrote about the different titanium used for drivers? Well… don’t expect anything much different now, when we discuss carbon steel golf club heads.
The Variations of Carbon Steel Golf Club Heads
There are typically three different versions carbon-based steel used in making forged iron heads:
There are more, like 1025, but we don’t need to split a lot of hairs. Or atoms, in this case.
There are three major standards for steel composition in the world: the JIS (Japan), AISI (US), and BS (UK). As Tom Wishon points out in a GolfWRX article about equipment myths:
Uniformity of the chemical composition of metal alloys has been in existence around the world for many years. The chemical composition of the 1020 and 1030 carbon steel alloys most typically used in the production of forged carbon steel irons is the same whether produced under the JIS standards in Japan, the AISI standards in the USA, the BS standards in Great Britain and so on around the world.
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So what are they? Based on the tables given by the article:
- Carbon, 0.17-0.23%
- Iron, 99.08-99.53%
- Manganese, 0.30-0.60%
- Phosphorus, </= 0.040%
- Sulfur, </= 0.050%
- Carbon, 0.27-0.34%
- Iron, 98.67-99.13%
- Manganese, 0.60-0.90%
- Phosphorus, </= 0.040%
- Sulfur, </= 0.050%
Without even getting into the 8620 version, we can already see that the percentages of chemicals, namely the Carbon and Manganese, is “insignificant”, as Wishon puts it.
But for giggles, let’s look at 8620, based on a PDF file from Steel Grades:
- Carbon, 0.18-0.23%
- Iron, 96.89-97.99%
- Manganese, 0.70-0.90%
- Phosphorus, 0.040%
- Sulfur, 0.040%
- Chromium, 0.40-0.60%
- Nickel, 0.40-0.70%
- Molybdenum, 0.15%-0.25%
What we’re looking at here is a few extra elements, between 0.95 to 1.55 percent.
In Layman’s Terms, there’s no more than roughly one and a half percent of different elements compared to the 1020 and 1030 versions of carbon steel golf club heads.
Do you honestly believe anyone could tell the difference?
People will swear up and down that they know the difference… but that’s only if they get to see what each club is made of in the catalog.
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Pop Quiz time! Do you know what metals are used in these two clubs?
How about the three from the top of the page? And no peeking! I’ll give you a hint, though: they’re all carbon steels…
I don’t know if I’m going to give you the answer, honestly. Maybe there’s a part of me that wants to think you’re sitting there reading this and getting uncomfortable…
The point is, without seeing the specs, you wouldn’t know what kind of steel was used.
Tapping a fingernail on the sole won’t tell you anything.
Squeezing the topline between your thumb and index finger won’t help.
Even looking at it under a magnifying glass won’t provide a clue.
So what do you do? Easy… just play what looks best to you.
Let’s Talk About Steel Myths
How many of you believe that Japanese steel is superior, because of the katana? I’m sure you’ve heard this:
Katana’s are so strong because the smiths forged them with 200 “folds”.
But what if I told you that was a myth?
- A, the 200 number is not real. That was a number some movie director, known for his sensationalism and over-the-top behavior, threw out.
- B, the reason they were folded many times was because Japanese steel was not of the highest quality. To quote from the source (emphasis mine):
(Considering the contruction of a katana): (T)he blade was not folded because that made it a superior sword. The reason katana were originally folded was that Japan had very poor iron and steel of large quantities could not be made, nor consistently in their carbon content, so they steel had to be folded to create a stable solid. It took a professional swordsman to be able to care for these swords and use proper technique for these swords to survive battle.
There are seemingly countless forums going back and forth between European longswords and Japanese Katanas. It’s a lot like the “forged v. cast” debate we have in golf, actually. But a prevailing thought across all the longsword v. katana debate:
The skill of the weilder is the determining factor in the weapon’s effectiveness.
This is exactly the same statement we can make in golf. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 1020 carbon steel golf club heads, 431 stainless steel, “Japanese” steel, “American” steel, a “player’s” model, or a “super game improvement” model- the skill of the golfer determines how effective the club is.
No matter what kind of club is used, if the golfer can apply the face of the club squarely to the ball with a high swing speed, s/he’ll get an excellent combination of distance and accuracy.
If you lack said skill, there are ways to improve. One, most especially, is lessons. The other is to alter the club’s specs to be more in-line with your swing characteristics.
In other words, get your clubs fitted.
The basics for irons:
- Lie angle
- Grip size
- Swing weight
- Shaft flex
- Overall weight
Not what kind of metal used. Not whether it’s Japanese or American steel. A good point Wishon brings up: why isn’t there more Damascus steel being used? If Japanese steel has been used since the Samurai era… wouldn’t Damascus actually be better, since they’ve had even longer to “perfect” it?
Maybe that’s the next “evolution” of golf equipment… if they can get people to pay for it, I suppose.