Forged Irons from Japan vs US or China – The Facts

Posted by on Sep 12, 2011 in Clubhead Design | 45 comments

If you’re into golf clubs or spend time reading the various golf equipment internet forums, there are occasional discussions from which you could get the impression that forged carbon steel iron heads made in Japan are superior to those made anywhere else in the world.

As a veteran of clubhead design and production with more than 25 yrs of head design experience including a whole lot of forged ironhead designs, I’m here to tell you this buzz about Japanese made forgings is simply not true.  But first, a brief time out – sadly as an American I have to tell you that the US forging factories used to rule the roost in this area of clubhead production, but since the late 90s, the US forging companies have either gone out of business or no longer play a significant role in the forging of clubheads.  Cornell of Chicago and Hoffman of Memphis, the two forging factories that ruled the golf industry for most of the 20th century are sadly gone.  I can’t tell you if Wilson’s forging factory in Tennessee is still in business, but as of 1998 when I last worked with them on a project related to my work on helping Golfsmith buy the Snake Eyes name, their business was pretty much gone then.

I also had a brief experience with Smith & Wesson, the US firearms manufacturer who had a short lived stint in the golf business when Snake Eyes contracted with them to make a forged carbon steel iron in the late 90s.  While the man who supervised the project for S & W very definitely wanted to continue the project, he insisted they would not do so unless S & W re-made the forging dies.  Snake Eyes had contracted with a lower cost company to make the forging dies for this project and then handed the dies to S & W to forge the heads.  According to the S & W supervisor, the poor quality of the forging dies caused all sorts of problems, such that S & W admitted these heads were not even close to showing what they could do.  Long story short, I did not re-up the project because the cost for S & W to remake the forging dies was far more expensive than we were willing to pay to continue that project.

So that leaves China as a competitor to the Japanese forging factories.  It was 1994 when I became aware of the first serious attempt by a Chinese based company to do forged clubhead production.  By 1998 this company (Virage Tech Industrial) was a serious contender in the forging production business in the golf industry.

In 2002 before I started TWGT, I served as a design and production consultant for the Virage Tech company.  Based in western China, Virage Tech began business in 1994 and now counts a number of the well known US and Japanese golf companies as customers for their forged iron head production.  During the time, I had the chance to live, eat and breathe every possible part of clubhead forging design and production.  With my experience in clubhead design and specifically in forged clubhead design, I know nothing of any other China based forging companies, but I can tell you that Virage Tech most definitely knows what they are doing and does produce forged ironheads which are every bit as good as and better than any of the Japan forging companies.  The sheer fact Virage Tech does produce forged iron heads for some of the largest golf companies is itself a strong testimony on behalf of their skills.

But time out number two here for a moment before we get into any specifics about the actual forging process.  First and foremost, with ANY clubhead design, whether forged, formed or cast, the ultimate outcome of the quality and performance of the design lies far more with the designer or the clubhead product manager of the golf company than it does with the production factory.  This is just as the software people like to say, “garbage in means garbage out.”

Design wise, if the creator of the head model doesn’t do his job to design each head in the set so all the dimensions and mass properties are perfect, doesn’t verify this on the tooling masters, doesn’t check it on the first raw forging runs, and doesn’t ensure it on the first production runs of the finished heads,  it isn’t going to matter how much skill and experience the production factory has – the head model will not perform as well as one that has been managed perfectly through all its pre-production development.   Period.

Now let’s talk specifics of the forging process itself.

Carbon Steel Quality.  Tons of the mavens on the golf forums like to say that the steel used by the Japan forging factories is better.  Malarkey.  Any metallurgist will tell you that the typical carbon steel alloys used to forge ironheads are the easiest to formulate of any metal – meaning getting the right percentages of the Carbon, Manganese, Phosphorus, and Sulfur to mix in with the base Iron are very easy to achieve.  What’s more, any decent steel supplier will always ship specification documents with each mill run of the steel which verify the +/- tolerances for every chemical and mechanical property of the steel based on international standards.  In short, if you buy carbon steel for iron head forging from a Japanese mill or a Chinese mill which possesses the proper certifications from the various international metal standards organizations, you get the same exact steel.  Period.  Having seen the shipments of carbon steel at the Virage Tech factory with their mill spec certification paperwork, I can testify that in no way is the carbon steel used by the Japan forging companies any better or any different.

Forging Die Quality.  Both the Japan forging companies as well as Virage Tech routinely make their forging dies from a very hard tool steel called SKD-61 alloy, which has a Rockwell hardness of HRC55-57.  Here again, the chemical and mechanical properties of SKD-61 steel are verified by international certifications.  As to the quality of each forging die with respect to making each head correctly, this again is a dual responsibility between the head model designer/manager of the golf club company in combination with the forging companies’ tooling supervisor.  If the raw forgings come out of the die at the correct weight, loft, lie, face progression, shape requirements and within the required +/- tolerances for each, the die quality is assured.

I remember when I worked briefly with the Wilson forging factory that had been the main supplier of the original Snake Eyes forged irons and wedges, upon measuring the weight of the raw forgings for each like iron or wedge head, I saw a raw forging weight tolerance of +/- 30 grams and more!  Inspecting raw forging quality at Virage Tech, I saw their weight tolerance for the raw forgings as they come out of the last forging step to be +/-5 grams – which is considered to be extremely tight for a raw forging.  Wide weight tolerances in the raw forgings are a product of poor die construction as well as poor control of the actual forging process itself.

Forging Process.  In hitting the most important points of the process, first of all, a quality made raw forging has to achieve the following requirements;  1) a very tight weight tolerance so that when the raw forging is processed into a finished head ready to be electroplated, no real variation has to be done in the machining, grinding and finishing processes and the heads can end up with a tight finished head tolerance.   2) the surface condition of the raw forging has to be of very high quality so that the minimum amount of material is removed in the machining, grinding and finishing processes to again achieve a very tight finished head quality.  3) the internal grain structure is as uniform and isotropic as possible with the least number of “tiny holes” which are called internal voids.

To achieve this, Virage Tech and the Japan forging companies use both an 800 ton and 1000 ton forging press in the production of the forged carbon steel ironheads they produce.  Using a higher level of forging pressure does not ensure quality in the raw forging.  Using the RIGHT forging pressure with the forging dies made precisely to match with the specific forging pressure for each forging step is what ensures the raw forgings come out with a more uniform grain structure and with a minimum of voids.

One thing I might add – to my knowledge Virage Tech was the first forging company to increase the number of forging die steps to be able to improve the outcome of all three forging requirements I listed above.  The Japan forging companies followed suit after Virage Tech inaugurated this change in their forging production.  I am proud to say that I had a hand in this decision when I was serving as a production consultant to Virage Tech in 2002.

The first project I was handed by Virage Tech was to figure out how to improve the head to head shape consistency for a forged iron model they were making for one of the larger OEM golf companies.  This particular golf company had been trying to get tour players to use this forged iron model and was hearing complaints from the pros that there were variations in the leading edge and toe profile shape of one set vs another of the same model.

In studying the model through production, I could see that after the completion of the usual 4th and last forging step to make the raw forgings, the excess flashing material squeezed to the outer edges of each head was large enough that the Virage Tech workers could make a mistake and grind too much steel off the outer edges of the toe and sole and change the profile slightly.  The workers had tried using face profile templates to guide their final grinding of these surfaces, but this was not solving the problem.

I suggested that if they added on one more forging step, this would reduce the excess flashing on the outer edges of the head to a much smaller section that could more easily be ground off by the workers without touching the actual profile edges of each head.  A 5th forging die was made for each head and the result was far less material to grind off the edges of the heads, which in turn meant all heads of the same number came out of production looking the same.

Not only did this 5th forging step improve the density consistency of the raw forgings, which in turn tightened the +/- weight tolerance of the raw forgings, but this additional forging step further reduced the number of internal voids and improved the consistency of the grain structure of the carbon steel.

Add it all up and I tend to think the one thing that the Japan forging companies actually do which leads many technically uninformed people to form the opinion the Japanese forgings are better is the simple fact the forging companies in Japan charge a much higher price than does Virage Tech for its forgings.  Marketing wise, it’s a simple but ill formed conclusion to assume when you pay more money, a product is better.  Plain and simple, the price difference comes chiefly because of the labor cost differences between Japan and China.

So those are a few of the high points in this ongoing discussion of China vs Japan forgings.  As always, if any of you have comments, that’s what our TWGT Blog is for.

Until next time, best wishes in this great game,

TOM

 

 

45 Comments

  1. Why don’t you try with a Basque foundry in Spain? They produce the finest shotguns in the world.

    • Juan:
      While I certainly agree there are forging factories that are very good at making other products, each different product has its own unique requirements for the foundry to master before they gain expertise in its production. I had a time in the late 90s when I worked with Smith & Wesson’s foundry to make a set of forged irons. While they make some of the very best handguns in the world, they had a long learning curve to be able to produce a forged iron head.

      Since I have worked very closely with this one China forging factory named Virage Tech on iron head forgings since 1995, they now are at a point where their quality is VERY GOOD.

      Thanks,
      TOM WISHON

    • Are you concerned about alleged counterfeiting of heads in China? I’ve read it’s a huge problem with OEM heads and appears to be rampant.

    • Steve:
      Not really for us because the counterfeiters always tend to prey on the brands and models that are much more heavily marketed – there’s more demand for such models from the marketing and as such, more chance of a counterfeiter being able to sell their “version”.

  2. Now if we can only get some forged component offerings for LHers so we can see what all the hullaballoo is about. Maybe we should start with driver lofts other than 10.5* and more than just Anser-styled putters, though…

    • Justin
      Left Hand clubhead options have always been a very, very tough situation for smaller companies because of the cost of the tooling dies versus the demand for unit sales. It’s been uncanny that in the 26 yrs I have been designing clubheads, never has there been a year in which the sales of a left hand model ever were more than 7-8% of the sales of the RH version. This is because in the US, the number of LH golfers has never been greater than 6% of the population – yes, in Canada it is closer to 15% because of the influence of hockey. Blending in Canadian sales with US sales and the unit sales demand is no more than 8%. So each company has to look at this 8% number and determine if their RH model sales are high enough so when the 8% is applied, it could be large enough to offset the cost of making the production tooling dies. In terms of a forged iron, the tooling dies for a 3-PW eight piece set cost no less than $40,000 – $5K per head – for a driver head it is $4,000 per driver model. Unfortunately that requires a LOT of unit sales to even begin to offset such a cost. In short, many has been the time I wished that golf equipment had evolved like tennis rackets in which the same “club” could be used by both RH and LH players – but that isn’t the way it is so sadly it becomes a financial business decision.

      TOM

  3. Tom,
    Just read the info on forging process in China vs Japan ….. I’ve had several “intellectual encounters” with customers about this subject … I now have a great resource to share with them from your article
    Thanks for all you do for Clubmakers.

    John Robinett

    • John:
      I love the tongue in cheek reference you offered for the intellectual encounters you can have with your customers!!! Heh Heh! In other words, it falls into that category of people my father advised me to watch out for – the ones who don’t want to be confused with the facts because their minds are already made up.”
      TOM

  4. Hi, I find this topic very interesting. I had thought that the Japanese sword making skills would easily translate into greater skill in producing anything metallic and therefore a better clubhead.

    After thinking briefly about what you wrote my thoughts were of course the Chinese could make great things. They have thousands of years of artisan skill in all media and it would make sense that a culture that could invent gunpowder, eyeglasses, etc etc a thousand years ago would have little trouble figuring out how to make a forged iron head. From what I see and hear the Chinese people are very avid golfers and would be highly motivated to create higher and higher quality golf products.

    It is a shame that our steel and iron making manufacturing is nearly gone in this country. My two Grandfathers were both 50 yr men at US Steel in Homestead, PA. My Dad’s Father made an axe out of tool steel that could chop rebar. It makes one wonder how many skills are lost that we don’t even know about. That factory in Homestead used to employ over 60,000 people was torn down and replaced with a shopping center with a Target with may be 1,000 employees making $8.00hr.

    Thanks Tom for all your skill

    • Dave:
      Expertise in any type of product creation and manufacturing comes from individuals who first have the passion to dig, beg and work to learn the skills and second to pay their dues to acquire the experience to be the best in their chosen product field. Each product field can be specific to its own technology for expertise – hence you would never want a skilled sword maker to create golf clubs, and you would never want a skilled club designer to make swords because even if the metals may be similar, their production and use is completely different. Whenever a craftsmanship position earns less than a service position, the number of individuals who could have the passion to be a crafts person decreases to the point that the expertise can be lost. It happened here in the US and it is happening as we speak over in Asia where more and more children of workers grow up wanting only to go to college so they can work in an office for higher pay than their parents made in a factory.

      TOM

    • I used to work at the USSteel Homestead Mill and was employed there when it was shut down in 1983. Although your facts are correct as stated above, the main reason for the closer had more to do with being able to produce the same products within the US Steel network cheaper at other facilities. The technology at Homestead was old and investments were made elsewhere. It was sad to see the mill close and watch the town become a row of boarded up businesses, but a change was necessary to remain competitive. Now – back to golf: Regarding cost to oproduce heads, I used to work at a casting company in Oregon, and being a product engineer (and avid golfer), was approached in 1990 by an R&D company out of So Cal about producing a titanium driver head. They provided the waxes, and we cast 3 “no logo” heads for this company and had them made into functional clubs. Although cast in 6-4 titanium, the heads still weighed about 215gms so the clubs were assembled (with steel shafts) much shorter than ti drivers today. Much shorter. This kept the swingweight reasonable. I kept one of the prototype unfinished heads (still has the gate pads on it). Long story short – it was a 1988 Burner Driver head (dimples on sides which gave it away) that never made it into production with a titanium version. The first TM titanium driver was the Ti Bubble in 1996. I did the cost estimates to see if our company could actually make any money casting ti heads in the golf industry. Not really. Our cost was approx $100 per head at decent production volumes (which meant pricing was much higher) and that was unfinished. Never heard back from this ‘R&D’ company. My first titanium driver? A Yamaha EOS

    • RICK

      Thanks so much for your post. I’ve always been interested in the history and evolution of golf club component production so your insights are enjoyable to read.

      Back in the early 90s when the golf industry was probing the possible move to titanium driver heads, I had a very close association with one of the largest and most experienced clubhead production factories in Taiwan that chose to jump early into the production of inv cast Ti heads. So I too got the chance to see this development from an early point. And it was fascinating to see and be a part of. In the early days, all the Ti heads were inv cast because this was the process of production that all these existing clubhead factories had been pursuing in their manufacture of steel wood and iron heads for all the golf club companies.

      But boy did they have a steep learning curve to tackle, as well as an expensive investment to acquire the vacuum inv cast furnaces required to cast titanium. If memory serves me right, I recall that even a small production size vacuum furnace cost around a million dollars. I remember seeing what seemed like countless failed trial runs of cast Ti driver heads when I would be at this one factory. But they kept at it and as I recall, it was around late 93 to early 94 that a handful of these more veteran steel inv cast factories finally got to the point that they could do this with a low enough failure rate to make it a viable venture.

      From that point it became a process of continuing to get better and better at casting thinner and thinner body walls to enable the companies to make larger and larger Ti driver heads. Through the 90s it seemed that each year, the volume size of Ti driver heads eeked up another 20-30cc until the head factories finally mastered the process to be able to make real money doing this. The evolution of Ti driver head production then began to move in a different direction in the late 90s when one of the factories that did not have the capital to invest in casting Ti heads developed the process to make a Ti driver head by press forming Ti sheet material into three pieces plus a lathe formed Ti hosel to be welded together to make the heads.

      With this, the 4-piece construction process was developed which then allowed factories with less capital to enter the Ti clubhead business. As with the evolution of the cast Ti head business, by the early 2000s the 4-pc makers had achieved a level of quality and consistently with their production that began to displace inv casting as the predominant method of Ti head production. While there still are some companies that cast certain Ti driver head models due to various intricate shape features on the head, the vast majority of ti driver heads today are made by the 4-pc process.

      Anyway, I could talk about this stuff all day but it’s time to thank you very much for your contribution and get back to work!!!

      TOM

    • My paternal grandfather retired from the Homestead Steel Works in 1978, so it holds a fond place in the history of my family. With that said, you make it sound as if the mill was closed in favor of converting the real estate into retail space. In doing so, you leave a false impression. The fact of the matter is the mill closed in 1986 (or ’87) and sat idle until The Waterfront shopping center opened on its former site in 1999, aiding a slow revitalization of the area.

    • JIM

      Appreciate the information but for the life of me, I don’t recall saying that a reason that any of the US iron head forging companies going under had anything to do with retail development. I have only said in my writings that the reason for their demise was first the lower labor rates of off shore foundries, and then later on the quality of the off shore foundries got better than that of the US iron head forging companies.

      TOM

  5. Mr Wishon I was wondering why titleist heads feel more harsh compared to other oem heads with the same metal and design? thank you Ron.

    • RON:

      There are a few things other than the metal in the head that affect the impact feel of a clubhead. The shaft’s weight and flex design are a big one. Playing with too stiff of a shaft for your swing characteristics can definitely make the impact feel harsh and boardy. Playing with a swingweight or sometimes a total weight that is too light for your swing tempo and timing can also do that because it increases the percentage of off center hits, which do tend to feel more harsh than on center hits. The only way one can know for sure if it could be the head design or the head’s material that could be the cause would be if you had an iron with a shaft and specs that you hit and detect a really good impact feel, if you took that exact club and switched only the heads while retaining every spec as the same as before, then you could be testing to isolate the head to determine if it is in fact the culprit.
      TOM

  6. Tom:

    I would like to experiment with a complete set (3-9 or PW) of same-weight forged irons that have identical lie and length but progressive lofts. Is it possible to purchase heavy enough blanks that can be ground so that all the irons are functionally the same weight after grinding and finishing?

    Many thanks,

    Bob

    • BOB:

      Unfortunately what you ask about is not really possible to do from a practical standpoint. The usual difference in headweight from a 3 to a PW is well over 40 grams and while there is a lot more weight to play with in the raw forgings, each raw forging weight still does run in the same relative progression to its finished weight within the heads in a set. Not only that, but the lies range from 3 to PW by at least 6* typically. Each iron head’s lie is in the raw forging. While carbon steel forgings can be bent a lot more than typical cast stainless heads, to equalize out all 8 iron heads to one single lie would require that some of the heads have to be bent more than even a carbon steel iron head should be bent. Lastly, taking raw forgings to run one set only, one of each head number, is something that sounds like it can be done but in a foundry production environment just is not practical to do. So to answer your question, what you ask about is really not possible to do from heads which have been designed and tooled to be produced to normal 1* lie and 7 gram weight increments from head to head. Sorry about that.

      TOM

  7. Tom:

    Thanks for the thoughtful and informative response. If I understand you correctly, the only way to realistically have a complete set of same-weight, same-lie, progressive loft forged irons is to have complete set(s) of dies made by/for a foundry. Perhaps one day this will become a reality. I guess I just have to convince a club manufacturer that there is a market for this.

    Many thanks again,

    Bob

    • BOB:

      I understand you are talking about irons made so all lengths are the same for all irons in the set. While the concept sounds valid on paper, this was done in the late 1990s on a very large scale by a former major golf equipment company and it unfortunately ended up putting the company out of business because it only worked for a small segment of golfers.

      You may remember the former Tommy Armour Golf Company. IN the 80s and 90s, they were one of the most successful golf club companies in the entire golf industry. In the late 90s they introduced with big fanfare and a big marketing budget to go along, a set called the EQL. All EQL woods were the same length, same total weight, same lie as the 5 wood. And all the EQL irons were made to the same length, total weight and lie as the 6 iron. The concept was if all these clubs were the same everything with only the loft as the difference, the golfer should be able to be more consistent with all the clubs.

      I know, it sounds good on paper, right? Very logical. Same for the many thousands of golfers who bought a set upon their introduction. 6 months later Armour Golf was out of business and in bankruptcy court. Why? Because something like 80% of the golfers who bought the EQL clubs returned them to ask for their money back because they did not like the performance of the clubs once they got used to them.

      Two main reasons so many golfers did not like the clubs. 1) with all the woods being the same length as the 5 wood, the golfers could not hit the driver as far as they hit their old driver which was much longer in length. No matter that they hit the shorter EQL driver more consistently or straighter. In this game, if you give a golfer a driver he hits noticeably shorter than his old one, no matter the consistency or accuracy he is NOT going to like that because distance is SO IMPORTANT to so many golfers.

      2) with all the irons the same length as the 6 iron, the distance difference between each iron was closer together than the golfers were used to with their old irons. This messed them up enough that it bothered them a lot. Second, with the 7, 8, 9 and wedges all being longer than their old irons, the golfers hit these scoring clubs too far and had a difficult time adjusting to just how far they hit each iron number vs what they were used to.

      Add it all up and the concept that sounded good on paper failed miserably in practice. So much so that it put a formerly successful golf company out of business.

      TOM

  8. Tom:

    Many thanks again for your insights. You really are a wealth of knowledge, and I appreciate your even-handed responses.

    I absolutely can see that a variety of problems caused the Tommy Armour EQL experiment to fail. I personally think the club design was the biggest technical factor that deterred progress for those clubs–starting with the fact that they were cast heads, which functionally pigeon-holed everyone into the same basic swing plane. It makes sense that those clubs would only work well for a small segment of golfers. Casting was certainly the cheaper approach for mass production, but I think it ultimately cost the concept the latitude of options that forged heads might have allowed for success. Similarly, I think this is the major drawback of the 1Iron clubs–and I have corresponded with David Lake on this topic as well. In a nutshell, I think a more malleable forged head that could be bent as much as 3-5 degrees for custom lie and loft adjustments might make a single-length, single weight, single-lie, progressive-loft iron set marketable enough to make an impact–certainly for a niche market. In addition, the forged iron option would also address the concern of which club’s specs to clone–the 7? the 6? the 5?–because the ability to custom adjust the lie would allow some impact tape and a swing mat to settle the question of the optimal lie for each particular golfer. No need to force everyone into the “perfect” swing–as if there were one.

    Frankly, I can’t help but think that if somebody with your expertise in forged club design and metallurgical knowledge embraced this sort of concept, the results would be fantastic. I’m just guessing that the Tommy Armour EQL heads could not hold a candle to a forged product that somebody of your skills would design with today’s advanced resources.

    As for woods (when we actually used persimmon), the majority of drivers “back in the day” were about 42″ and they were heavy, often with steel shafts; but guys were still hitting drives 290 yards. Maybe the argument that we often here that golfers must have longer drivers to hit the ball “long” is somewhat of a strawman argument, perhaps to appease marketing interests. I would contend, though, (contrary to every golf shop salesperson that I’ve ever met) that lie is actually an important factor for driver distance as well, which is a concept that has only recently begun to be addressed through the use of adjustable hosels. In fact, I have found that average golfers that experiment with adjustable drivers benefit far more in distance as well as accuracy from hosel and weight screw adjustments than they do from extended club length. And I have to tell you that all the guys I know would prefer 280 yards down the middle rather than a sporadic 250-310 yards in our neighbor’s fairway.

    Again, many thanks,

    Bob

    • Bob:

      There are LOTS of things that could be said in response to your comments, for sure. At the end of the day, the club model that any golf company decides to introduce has to be one that the company thinks can bring in the highest number of sales. Armour obviously overestimated the market for the EQL or they completely tripped in their pre release research to find out what the response might be when REAL golfers hit and used the clubs. Either way, they made a huge mistake and it cost them their corporate life.

      Making the iron heads from investment casting with a cavity on the back was NOT a mistake though. You have to remember, the Tommy Armour model 845 irons were without question one of THE biggest selling iron models in the history of the game – and they were inv cast cavity back irons. In fact the cast cavity back EQL irons looked VERY similar to the 845 design. No, what killed the EQL was that most golfers did not like the results they got when they played a single length model.

      Forged irons will NEVER, EVER be as big of a seller for a big marketed golf company as will their inv cast models – for several reasons, not the least of which are the higher costs to tool and make them and the fact that the average golfers (who constitute the industry’s largest market segment) believe in general that forged irons are for better golfers. The forged iron will always be a niche market aimed at the better player.

      You may be right in saying that there are more and more golfers who can accept less distance if it means more fairways hit. But you’re probably not going to convince the big golf companies to ever shorten their standard driver lengths. To them, if even ONE golfer out of 1000 crows loudly about how this new shorter length XYZ driver hits the ball shorter, the company will be completely paranoid that the word would spread and they would be labeled as making drivers that don’t hit the ball as far.

      At the end of the day, golfers are in general a very traditional market. You can push a few odd and different things on them here and there and they’ll accept it. But there is a limit to how strange and simply how different a club can be before it “crosses a line” and will not appeal to the majority of golfers. Single length clubs can be made to be OK if you do watch all the parameters that control distance – but they will NEVER EVER be accepted by even close to the majority of golfers for the single reason that they depart way too much from the norm. As such, they go over that invisible line of tradition that is a big part of the equipment side of the golf business.

      TOM

  9. What a great piece of information.I too fell into the Japanese forging trap.Having owned some pretty nice forged clubs over the years,and currently playing with Japanese forged clubs,I cannot truly notice the difference in feel.That’s comparing them to old Wilson staff tour blades,and some older Titleist(735 cm).What I did notice was the discrepancy in head wt.and hosel depth.The Japanese forgings had much better tolerances.Anyway thanks for the info.Mac

    • Stephen:

      Thanks for reading the information and for your follow up comment. It is unfortunate that a lot of golfers form an opinion on this simply on hearsay and without ever having the ability to compare models, nor the knowledge to know how to make such a comparison in the first place. On top of that, the leading forging factory in China has just recently moved into a brand new state of the art forging factory this summer. Since I have had experience in having consulted for this forging factory a number of years ago, I have to believe with this move into a brand new factory with all totally new forging production equipment, that means this Chinese forging factory will be unsurpassed in what they will be able to achieve in terms of forged iron head production control and quality. And the world probably will never know about this and simply choose to believe that Japan knows more than China, which is a total myth.

      Thanks much,
      TOM

  10. I started reading you back in 1987. You have taught me most of what i know. Thank You……….Also we shared a Hot Dog at the PGA show in 1990 , i think was the year.
    One of you biggest fans.
    Harold E.Lasley

    • Harold:

      THANK YOU for the kind words and for the support over the years. That’s really nice to know that you have been so interested in golf club technology. And yes, I still like HOT DOGS !!!!!!

      TOM ;>)

  11. Hello Tom. I found all this information very helpful. I used to sell golf equipment and I have been a fan of forged irons since the age of 2. One question you answered for me. China having just as good quality as anyone else. I have a few other other questions. Recently I learned some popular OEM’s such as Titleist, Ping, and I assume Wilson now have the heads forged overseas and assembled in the United States. How many and what club makers still forge irons in the United States? The MT Pro-M Irons were released before Macgregor hit another downslide and consolidated to Golfsmith. What did you think of those irons and how do they compare with what is new out the last few years? I look forward to your insight. Thank You

    • Walter:

      To my knowledge, there are no irons forged in the USA anymore. BAck when the US was the premium source for forged clubheads, there were three companies that did it – Hoffman in Memphis, Cornell in Chicago and Wilson had their own forging factory in Tennessee. Hoffman and Cornell shut down in the late 80s when investment casting began to take over as the pre-eminent form of iron production. Wilson still kept their forging factory going through the 90s, but to my knowledge that stopped in the very late 90s to early 00s – mainly because a) they did not have very good quality; b) none of the other golf companies wanted a competing golf company to make their forged heads.

      I can’t really comment with any degree of accuracy on the quality of the MT Pro-M irons you speak about because I never personally looked at them nor analyzed them when they were being made. I can tell you that when Golfsmith acquired MacGregor, all they bought were the trademarked names so that they on their own could source clubheads with the various well known MacGregor model names of the past. Golfsmith used quality vendors to make these heads so their quality was OK. But as a large company with their focus chiefly on growing their retail store division, Golfsmith never really capitalized on the MacGregor product line very much. They just made clubs with the MacG names on them, stuck them in their retail stores, hoped that people would buy them, but never cared if they sold more or less than any other models they put in their stores to sell.

      As a long time historian of the equipment side of the game, it is sad when a long time respected brand goes downhill. But it has happened several times before and probably will again because time goes on and companies’ focus changes.

      Thanks much !!

      TOM

  12. Tom,

    Thank you for the valuable insight to the club making process. This is a topic that interests me but something I know nothing about. I am a very avid golfer looking to purchase a set of forged irons in the near future and I need some help. In your opinion what is the best quality forged iron one can get today? Also are you aware of which companies today get their clubs from Virage Tech or other quality Chinese forging companies? Thank you very much for your time and help.

    Nathan

    • Nathan:

      There are several very well made forged iron models in the game today. I certainly would put ours up against any other model, anywhere, anytime. But you;re hearing that from me, so if you wish to hear it from others, I would suggest you go to one of the various internet golf equipment forums and post a question asking for opinions on Wishon Golf forged iron heads. I’ll stand on what you will hear from any of these gatherings of golfers out there.

      As to who gets their heads made where, the golf companies typically do not reveal their vendors, for whatever reasons. I can tell you since I have been working with Virage Tech since 1995 that their past and present list of customers includes several of the biggest companies and also includes a number of the Japanese domestic golf equipment companies too. Several of the biggest golf companies do make it a point to dual source all their clubhead models, including forged irons. That means that some of the Japenese forging companies customers run models also with Virage Tech and vice versa.

      TOM

  13. Tom,

    How do I go about getting fitted for a set of your clubs? I’ve read a bunch of the forums and I am much more educated on the topic than I was beforehand. Thanks

    Nathan

    • Nathan

      Go to the home page of our website (www.wishongolf.com) and right there in the center of the page, click on the FIND A CLUBFITTER locator tool. Hopefully when you put in your location, there will be a clubmaker in close enough proximity to where you live. If not, then go to one or both of these other search links for finding a good clubmaker:

      1. The AGCP (Association of Golf Clubfitting Professionals) – http://www.agcpgolf.com/locator/

      2. The ICG (International Clubmakers’ Guild) – http://www.clubmakersguild.com/index.php/membership-directory/guild-google-map

      Between all three search tools, we hope that you can find a clubmaker in your area with whom you can work to be custom fit. If you find no one close enough to you, then send me a personal email (you see my address below my avatar) and we’ll come up with a different option to help you.

      Thank you
      TOM

  14. NATHAN

    No forged iron heads are made in the US anymore for the main golf industry. From the late 1800s to the 1990s, the US used to be the ONLY source for forged iron heads, but then between Japan and China’s push to develop real quality in forging combined with high labor rates in the US, the US foundries went under in the 90s.

    So every forged iron head in the game today is made either in China or in Japan.

    TOM

  15. Mr. Wishon,
    Thanks for sharing your knoweledge and experience with us providing so much insight. I like so many others bemoan the fact that no clubs are being forged in the US anymore. However I do believe that enough of the golfing public would contact the golf club manufacturers and press the issue perhaps things would begin to change. Lastly, did McGregor in their heyday forge its club in a facility in North Carolina? Thanks Much

    • Henry:

      based on over 35 yrs in the golf equipment industry and 26 yrs in clubhead design, while I might wish myself that some of the US based head production business would return, the practical side of all that experience tells me that is never going to happen. The US golf club companies are so independent of each other and so competitive with each other that they would never band together to support any individual venture. Even if they did, with labor costs being what they are in the US compared to the rest of the world, and more importantly, with there being a much higher level of clubhead forging knowledge and expertise off shore, such a venture could never succeed. To my knowledge from those days, MacGregor lived most of their years in the Cincy/Dayton, Ohio area and did their forging there. That area in the first half of the 20th century was a key center of technology for smokestack type manufacturing expertise. When they moved to Georgia in the 70s, I do not know where their forging operation was or whether it moved to GA with them. If memory serves we well, I think when they moved to GA they then out sourced their forging to either Hoffman in Memphis or Cornell Forge in Chicago.

      TOM

  16. Tom I was wondering why mizuno irons forged in Japan feel more superior to all the other oems ?. thanks

    • RON

      It’s an absolute certainty that you can find many golfers who own other companies’ forged carbon steel irons who believe strongly that their sets feel better than Mizuno irons. Feel is a VERY individual property in golf clubs. So many times, what feels good to one golfer does not to another. In addition, a very big part of impact feel from a golf club has to do with many other things other than the clubhead itself – the shaft, the combination of total weight and swingweight and even the ball all can and do get involved to create the final, overall feel of a golf club for a golfer. All you have to do is scan the posts on some of the various golf equipment internet forum sites and you will read many comments by golfers lauding the feel of all sorts of different companies’ forged iron models.

      TOM

  17. i am interested in bettering my golf game. with a limiting budget , i have tried several different iron sets. one is a smith and wesson forged snakeeye set, missing a 9 iron. my question… can you recommend an older set of blades which you feel are still great to use today.thought i could look around for such. would i need to reshaft? thank you in advance for your insights. steve

    • STEVE:
      I would stay away from the Smith & Wesson set. BAck in 1998 I was part of the team at Golfsmith that negotiated to buy the assets of Snake Eyes when they went bankrupt. As part of that work, I had to deal with everything concerning Snake Eyes existing products, including the S&W irons. They were very poorly designed, with a very flat, sharp edged sole design that is simply a bad design. I recall talking to the S&W people about this set and they told me that the tooling was handed to them to make – they did not get to make the forging dies and they had all sorts of problems trying to run these heads correctly because of that. So save your money and look for something else.

      For me to help you I need to know more about your swing, your ability, your playing habits/mistakes/strengths. if you can get back to me with that, I can do a much better job of advising you.

      TOM

  18. Thanks for the very informative article Tom.

    What do you know about Hogan’s forgings. Were they done in Ft. Worth or elsewhere? What was the characteristic of their forgings that make their clubs feel so solid over 30 years later?

    On the manufacturing side, how many sets can be made from one set of dies?

    Thanks again and I always look forward to your posts.

    • TOM

      I had a project that I worked on with the Hogan company back in the late 80s so I was in their factory a few times. They sourced their raw forgings from both Hoffman of Memphis and Cornell Forge from Chicago, as every company did back then. But they did all the post forging machining, grinding and even chrome plating in house at their Ft Worth factory. Raw forging “science” just wasn’t at the level it is today with today’s greater understanding of forging processes vs internal grain structure of the metal. So to my knowledge from back then, neither Hoffman or Cornell did anything different on one company’s raw forgings vs what they did for any other company. Typically when one forged iron feels more solid than another that has to do more with the weight distribution and center of gravity position of the DESIGN of the head. Today though it can be said that some forged iron models which incorporate additional forging die steps in production can have the ability to feel slightly more solid than others due to compressing the grain structure more from the additional forging steps done in the making of the raw forgings.

      Typically a set of forging dies will last for 25,000 uses before it can be necessary to re work the dies. Of course this all depends on what steel alloy is being forged and its hardness as well as what forging press force is used with the dies to forge the heads. The harder the steel and the more forging force used, the more the dies will wear. But under “normal” forging procedures, at 25,000 sets, a set of forging dies will be ready to be re worked to put it back into top condition for raw forging consistency.

      TOM

  19. Hi Tom – thanks for all your fantastic work and input into the world of golf. It’s really impressive that you take the time share so much of your knowledge and experience.

    I have been collecting forged irons for a few years, and I have managed to acquire a few sets of vintage forged stainless steel irons.

    I have a few questions regarding stainless steel forgings which I am hoping you can comment on:

    Firstly, how does the softness of forged stainless compare to forged carbon steel? Because the forged stainless blades I have hit feel wonderfully soft, solid and smooth and are vastly different from traditional cast stainless heads.

    Secondly, regarding Slazenger Hogan Precision (forged stainless) – do you know why Slazenger used stainless rather than carbon for this one? I assume it’s because they were set up to forge stainless as all of their irons of the time were forged stainless. Did they use the original Hogan dies for these irons? How did the quality control of the Slazenger Hogans compare to the Ft Worth Hogans? I would imagine they would have to be high quality to bear the Hogan name?

    Thirdly, regarding early Australian forgings (East Bros/PGF stainless steel forged blades) – Do you know anything about early PGF forgings from the 50s onwards? I have read that they were well respected internationally and that from the 50s through to the 80s Australia was a leader in forged golf clubs, and I am wondering whether this was somehow reflected in the success of the early Maxfli Australian Blades? I have a set of these and they are brilliant!

    Anyway if you can shed any light on my ponderings it would be greatly appreciated. Have a happy Christmas to all the golf fans out there, and hope you can get some rounds in (It’s Summer in Australia and perfect golf weather).

    • Simeon:

      Thanks for your kind comments. I have always enjoyed learning everything I can about golf clubs and their performance, and from that, have always enjoyed sharing anything I learned along the way with anyone who is interested themselves.

      Most forged stainless irons would have been forged from softer grades of stainless steel, many which do have the same Rockwell B85 range of hardness typical to carbon steel alloys. However, as you well know, there is a HUGE range in the mechanical properties in stainless steel so there is always a chance that some set of forged stainless irons could have been made from a stainless alloy that was a little harder than carbon steel. There is absolutely no way of knowing this short of metallurgically analyzing one of the stainless forged heads – while hardness can be analyzed without doing any real damage to a head, any other mechanical property such as strength and ductility would require cutting up one of the heads, which of course no one would want to do.

      So one has to just guess that because it is more difficult to forge a harder grade of stainless, that means most of the older forged stainless irons probably were made from stainless alloys with similar hardness properties to carbon steel. Technically you can forge just about any metal. Of course the harder and tougher the alloy the more forging force is required and the stronger the forging dies need to be. Since these things cost more money to do, this is the main reason you can pretty much bet the farm that all of the forged stainless irons of the past were forged from the softer grades of stainless. That way you can make your dies from normal tool steels and they will be very durable.

      I know as an old Aussie company, I can tell you they are to be respected for a number of their older models, but outside of that I can’t tell you any specifics about their models or their production techniques. One thing that all golfers need to keep in mind when thinking about old forgings. Forging technology today in terms of die quality, forging quality, metallurgical knowledge, and post forging finishing operations are all SO FAR ADVANCED and so much better than they were in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and so on – the old days. While one certainly can appreciate the SHAPE and STYLE of an old forging, from a pure metallurgical standpoint these old forgings are very poor compared to what’s being made today.

      TOM

  20. I noticed one of these posts touting the feel of their Mizuno’s and you pointed that out as being preference perhaps & brand loyalty. I have carried titleist forged and can also attest to the hardness of the steel compared to Mizuno. The mizuno steel is softer. No other brand of forged club that I’ve ever carried in my bag gets dinged so much as Mizuno from bag chatter. I doubt that’s a matter of forging and more a matter of the steel being softer and a different tempering process. Its very obvious compared to older clubs how soft Mizunos are in comparison. Also no other forged club seem to require getting the lies checked and adjusted as often. Not discounting your genius at all Tom but anyone who’s used Mizunos knows there isn’t a softer club. Curious if manufacturers even disclose their forging and tempering process or if that is intellectual property that isn’t disclosed in its entirety. Do the manufacters share their forging and tempering steps?

    • BOB

      Most every forging factory will use what are called “10-series carbon steels” to forge their carbon steel iron heads. There are several different 10 series carbon steel alloys from 1020 up to 1070. In the AISI nomenclature for steels, the 10 means it is a carbon steel while the second two digits indicate the percentage of carbon with the iron in the steel. So 1020 means 0.20% carbon while the upper end of the 10 series of 1070 means it is made with 0.70% carbon with the iron to make the steel. The higher the percentage of carbon, the harder the carbon steel will be.

      So if you have noticed one set of forged carbon steel irons happens to “ding” more, then you can be pretty darn sure it is made from a lower carbon content steel than the irons which don’t ding as easily in the bag. With this difference in surface hardness from the carbon content also comes a very slight difference in the properties that dictate how easily the forged iron will be to bend, or to get banged out of spec during heavy play. So yes, if you hit a lot of balls off mats, or if you are a very high clubhead speed player who also hits large divots with shots, then the softer the carbon steel in the head, the more often you need to have your loft and lie specs checked.

      The big companies do not typically divulge anything about their alloy ID or heat treatment used in the heads they make. Some do, many don’t. Then there is the matter that if you called them to ask, would the person who you get on the phone really know or would they have been told to tell you something that isn’t really the truth. That happens because the companies know that there are golfers out there who equate quality of a forging with the softness of the carbon steel alloy, so it has and can happen where the golfer will be told the alloy is a lower carbon content steel when in reality it isn’t. Companies can do this because how many golfers are ever going to send one of their irons to a lab to have it cut up and ID’d?

      There are a lot of things that go into determining whether one head FEELS softer when hit than another that have nothing to do with the actual carbon steel alloy they use. Biggest one is the actual process of forging – how many forging hits did the company employ in making the raw forgings? Most use a 4 step process, some of us use a 5 step process. Typically the more hits, the fewer voids and inclusions in the steel so there are fewer microvibrations at impact to alter the feel of the impact. What is the force employed by the forging press for each step” Here again, the higher the forging force, the fewer voids and inclusions in the grain structure of the head? But the higher the force, the sooner the forging dies will wear and begin to result in spec variations.

      What is the weight distribution of the head design itself and where exactly is its CG located in the head relative to the player’s impact with the head? This too has a big effect on what some players feel when they hit shots. What ball is being played, what shaft is in the club and how does that play into the feel aspect? These too are key elements in what the feel of the heads may be.

      Bob, this is not rocket science and so often I have found in my 30 yrs of design and testing experience that golfers do form perceptions and opinions based on completely non scientific reasons more related to marketing than to science. Two times in my career I have been part of a test in which identical iron heads were made, one from soft carbon steel, one from stainless steel, then built with the same exact shaft and specs and hit tested by a tour player with the same ball and both times the player could not tell the difference.

      For me, I have typically used both 1035 and 1045 carbon steels in my forgings but when I made the change in 2002 to go from a 4 step process to a 5 step process, it seemed from that point on that comments about how solid or how soft my forged designs felt seemed to increase. Subsequent lab tests were done which was what showed me that this additional forging step did reduce the voids and inclusions in the grain structure of the steel, which is what I felt to be the reason for the change in opinions of the models.

      Anyway, as an avid designer who is totally into this stuff I could go on and on ad nauseum about this stuff, but I’ll cut it off and hope this helps. BUt as always we are always here to help with any information from the many decades I have been into this stuff.
      TOM

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