18 Nov The journey of a Pod Shaver continues.
The long and winding road of a Pod Shaver…
Some time ago I wrote about my humble beginnings as a “wannabe Pod Shaver“, intrigued by a craft and inspired by someones passion for it. Years later there’s still plenty to learn and I thought it would be good to find out a little more about Pod Shaving, from the point of view of someone who’s given so much to it.
A few emails have been exchanged with Julian Millichamp and as always, we’ve learnt something new. I’ve always been puzzled by the lack of a clear definition between the names or terms often used to describe the production of cricket bats, and I’m referring almost exclusively to the term Pod Shaver. Perhaps the slightly murky interpretation of this word is a fair reflection of not only its prevalence in the modern industry but also the way in which it has been valued as a craft over the past few decades.
The other terms are seen more frequently, and despite their use occasionally leading to the odd raised eyebrow, they are relatively self explanatory. So I asked Julian, What makes a Pod Shaver different?
A podshaver is a custom maker of bats and each bat is shaped to an individual cricketer’s requirements. i.e. weight, balance, handle, shape, selected grade of willow etc. These bats are shaped to suit a player’s strenghs such as a front foot driver or back foot player. In regard to just about all of today’s manufacturers, approx. 98% of all bats are mass produced so the potential buyer has to make do with an “off the shelf” range of bats with no input into his/her needs.
I’d always understood that it was a name given to describe the techniques involved, to draw down the “Pod” of Willow. It seems that it’s even more specific, a way of defining an approach and attitude to making cricket bats whilst using traditional techniques. I feel the distinction between mass production, bat making and Pod Shaving has definitely been lost or at the very least blurred, simply because it hasn’t been a topic of conversation. Possibly not even a topic of concern?
With this in mind I asked, You’ve said you want to “bring back the tradition of Pod Shaving”, what do you think has happened to it during your career?
It all comes down to economics. Over the 34 years I have been making bats, major companies have, over the years, outsourced their manufacturing to the cheapest labour to increase their margins. Another major change I’ve seen over the years has been the sponsorship fees to major players going through the roof. Many young cricketers feel that if a particular brand is used by a somebody, that it must be a good bat. This could not be further from the truth.
Whilst I would like to add that not all major companies have outsourced all their manufacturing, it has become more common in the last 3 decades. The difference in manufacturing costs and ease of with which outsourcing can be employed was surprising to me when I discovered more about the cricket industry. Money is always going to be a factor, it would be naive to think profit margins aren’t going to influence the direction in which the industry moves. However, what’s worth noting here is that outsourcing and mass production’s prevalence gives the impression that being a Pod Shaver is not a viable option. It is though, and I suspect that this perception is the result of a lack of a distinction being made between a Pod Shaver and other manufacturing methods.
I think it’s fair to say a Pod Shaver isn’t the small scale manufacturing of cricket bats, it’s a different process that in itself is something unique. Whilst in the strictest sense a cricket bat is still the end result, I don’t feel this does justice to the craftsman and the skills they’ve embraced. Neither does it illustrate the opportunity the consumer has to select something individual. The craft of Pod Shaving facilitates this and surely we should support that?
I’m going to end this article before I wander off into an ethereal argument about the craft and fail to coherently encompass the multi faceted nature of the Pod Shaver within an industry that’s benefited from them. But we’ve got more coming on Pod Shaving with posts about Sponsorship, Willow Grading and The Wider Impact of the Size Obsession. The long awaited/expected Part 3 of “Why do we make bats?” will give a little bit more about the position and perception of the Pod Shaver.
PLEASE NOTE: I would like to make clear I have omitted parts of his answers that concerned the grading of Willow. This is partly because I am writing another post about grading and also because what he said could be misinterpreted. I actually found some bits to be initially confusing and had to email Julian again to get clarification. However, all will become clear soon.
Thanks for reading.