Ever hear about the term “stepping” iron shafts?
To put it simply, when you’re stepping iron shafts you’re cutting the tips of your shafts away from the standard set by the shaft manufacturer. We’re going to talk about both “hard-stepping” and “soft-stepping” iron shafts, and what that actually does for you.
Before you dive too deep down the rabbit hole, let’s stop to take a look at this picture:
This is the specs chart for Hireko Golf’s Apollo Phantom Steel iron shafts (non-affiliate link; these are good, affordable iron shafts, though!). It’s what’s called a combination flex shaft, where there’s enough material that you can make both an “R” and “S” flex from the same shaft.
To start, take a look at where it says Parallel Tip, the third box from the right. For the Phantoms, the Parallel Tip section (PTS for short) is 9.75 inches.
Why is this number important?
It lets you know how much play you have in trimming, while still allowing for both playability and safety. We’re discussing playability in this article, so let’s take a break for a second and work on the safety part.
Focus on Safety When Stepping Your Iron Shafts
Most hosels have a depth range from 1″ to 1.25″. Like this:
The top picture is from a Titleist 735 CM 6 iron, and its hosel depth is close to, but not quite, 1″. The second picture is a Cobra FP 6 iron; as you can see, the hosel depth is a hair over 1″.
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFO: as a rule, never trim your shafts so you leave the PTS less than 1.5″. The reason: a shaft’s PTS is where the walls will be the thickest, to protect against breakage when you hit the turf.
That means, for our example shaft, you can safely remove 8.25″ and it’d still be playable… kind of.
There’s a practicality that comes when you step your shafts. Sure, you could take 8″ off the tip of the shaft… but did you notice the length? It’s only 43″ in its “raw” state; remove 8″ and you have, at best, a shaft that’ll go in a wedge. Maybe a 9-iron. Good luck with that if you wanna put it in a 3-iron!
The How and Why to Stepping Iron Shafts
There’s another chart we need to look at:
This chart is for the same Phantom shafts we’ve been discussing. If you go back to that picture, in the last box, there’s a “tip trim chart” with two alpha-numeric codes. One is for creating “R”-flex shafts, the other, which we’re using here, for “S”-flex shafts.
Make no mistake: almost all parallel-tip shafts can be made to a different flex. Some use it as a selling point like the Phantom does; some don’t… but that doesn’t mean you can’t! That, in all reality, is your first example of stepping your iron shafts.
If you’re curious about stepping shafts that aren’t sold as a combination flex (like the Phantoms), you can still do it. Especially hard-stepping.
Take a look at the PTS of the shaft in question. Doesn’t matter what it is, just find that number. Now, look at the tip-trim instructions for the PW. If, for example, you have a set of Dynamic Gold X-100’s and you wanted to hard-step them 1″, do some quick math:
PTS – (Tip Trim Suggestion + Amount to Hard-Step) = How Much Is Left
If we’re going with the DGX100’s, that’s 9″ – (4″ + 1″) = 4″ left over. That’s plenty to still make a PW, and if you can make the shortest iron in the set you can make the longest. But let’s examine this, just a little more…
The DGX100 has a raw length of 40.5″. If you cut 5″ off the tip, you’re left with 35.5″. For many, that’s plenty to still make the PW (whew!). You could theoretically make an XX-100 shaft!
Cool, huh? How many of you could handle an XX-flex shaft?
You can’t do this with taper-tip shafts, though. There’s a way around it, which I’ll discuss later, but under no circumstance should you tip-trim a taper-tip shaft. You won’t be able to fully seat it into the hosel if you do!
How to Hard-Step Your Iron Shafts
When you hard-step an iron shaft, you’re cutting more off the tip than what you’d normally take. You’re creating a firmer flex-feel.
In our example, the 6-iron requires 4″ to be cut off the tip in order for the Phantom to create an “S” flex. If you wanted to hard-step it, you’d have to take 4.5″, or even 5″ off instead.
How to Soft-Step Your Iron Shafts
When you soft-step an iron shaft, you want to take less than what the tip-trim chart says. By doing so, you’ll create a softer flex-feel.
Using the same 6-iron, instead of taking 4″ off, to soft-step it you’d have to take 3.5″, or even 3″ off instead.
Notice that, when you hard-step a shaft, you leave more of the butt section, and when you soft-step, you’re leaving less?
Since you’re taking more from the tip end to start with on a hard-step, when you cut the shaft to its playing length you don’t have to cut as much from the butt section. When you soft-step, you’re taking less, so you have to take more from the butt section when you get it down to its final playing length.
- Hard-step: a firmer feel, taking more from the tip section and less from the butt section
- Soft-step: a softer feel, taking less from the tip section and more from the butt section
Kinda says something about how more important the butt end of the shaft is for feel, doesn’t it?
Stepping Your Taper-Tip Shafts
I wrote earlier that you should cut your taper-tip shafts. Just don’t do it.
What you can do, however, is alter where they’re inserted.
For example, if you wanted to hard-step your taper-tip shafts, you can get a similar result to cutting off .5″ by moving each shaft up in the set. That means, instead of installing the 6-iron shaft in the 6 iron, you’d want to install the 7-iron shaft in the 6-iron.
To soft-step, you’d install the 5-iron shaft into the 6 iron.
The problem becomes: what do you do when you get to the wedges? If you’re hard-stepping your shafts, you’ll either have to buy an extra wedge shaft from the same set, since the PW shaft is now in the 9-iron, or go with something entirely different for your wedges.
If you’re soft-stepping, you’d have to buy extra long-iron shafts. Either way, it can get pricey.
The how of stepping your iron shafts isn’t a terribly difficult thing to discuss. It’s the why that can be…
Why Would You Step Your Iron Shafts?
Let’s start with “how much”. Would chopping off or leaving an extra half-inch on each shaft really, truly make a difference?
This is straight out of the catalog for Tom Wishon Golf Technologies. Page 76 if you have one at home.
As I alluded to, stepping iron shafts creates a different flex-feel. Some believe it also creates a playability difference.
That. Is. False*.
The flex of the shaft doesn’t truly affect the ball in any way. It’s not like swapping out your 10.5° driver for a 9° model or going from using a 31° 6-iron to a 28° model. That will most definitely change the ball flight.
*- There’s never an all-inclusive answer to most golf club fitting questions. There’s always going to be some outliers. As Wishon says, for those that have that pro-style late release, they can start to see some ball flight benefits to hard- or soft-stepping their irons… once they get to the 1″ and above mark. But he even uses the term “slight”. As in, not much.
For most golfers, what it does have an effect on is you.
You see, the golf shaft is a lot like a timing device. When coupled with the swing weight (head heft), the correct flex-feel of a golf shaft allows you to feel the head throughout the swing. This will have a positive effect on your release timing.
When you start getting the release correct, you’ll start getting that ideal ball-then-turf impact, which will in turn help create the ideal launch conditions: longer and straighter!
On to you…
Have you ever experimented with hard and/or soft stepping iron shafts? How’d it go?