Design and construction of Underwater Hockey Sticks



Making your own underwater hockey sticks can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. The information on this page should help you through the process

Tools:

A bandsaw or similar cutting tool is used to cut the rough shape of the stick out of the wood or plastic. There are a variety of alternatives if you don't have access to a bandsaw - anything with a narrow blade that can cut tight curves will work well. In a pinch, you can even use a circular saw or table saw, though these tools will require you to perform some more creative cutting procedures.
A sander is used to remove excess material and thus fine-tune the shape of the stick after cutting out the rough shape with a saw. The sander shown is a combination sander, having both a disk and a belt. The disk has an attached tilt table which is very useful for making consistent, reliable bevel angles.
A planer is used to smooth the faces of boards and make them thinner. Using the thickness calibration on a planer, you can reliably plane boards to the same thickness before cutting out your sticks so all sticks will have a consistent, uniform thickness.
A jointer smoothes and flattens boards, one face at a time - in this respect it is similar to a planer, but unlike a planer, it doesn't cut boards to a pre-set thickness, so you can use a jointer to achieve non-uniform thicknesses on different parts of your sticks. A jointer is particularly useful for 'undercutting' stick handles to a desired depth.
A drill press, while not strictly necessary, is very handy for certain stick designs. When fitted with a small drum-sanding bit, a drill press can be used to smooth tight inside curves on a stick's perimeter. A drum-sanding bit in conjunction with a tilt table (some drill presses have a tilt table, or you can build you own) can be used to make consistent, reliable bevel angles on the hook side of your stick (which is very difficult on a disk sander). A drill press can also be used to drill holes in sticks to reduce their effective surface area and make them faster in the water.
A router, especially one mounted in a router table as shown, is very useful for creating consistent round-overs on stick-handle edges.

Materials:

According to the latest Underwater Hockey rules (those adopted at the 2008 World Rules Committee Meeting), Sticks must be made of wood or plastic. While an increasing number of stick-makers are producing molded plastic sticks, a large number of sticks are still made by cutting out shapes from wooden boards or plastic sheet stock. Molded sticks are beyond the scope of this webpage, so the materials, tools and techniques shown here will all be for cut-out sticks.

When choosing wood for underwater hockey sticks, there are a number of variables that must be considered:

  1. Wood type. There are many, many species of tree in the world, and each one produces different wood. Hardwoods generally produce denser, harder, longer-lasting sticks while softwoods have the advantage of being easier to cut and sand. Different players prefer different characteristics in their sticks, and the best way to determine what's best for you is to experiment with a variety of different woods. Personally, I use primarily hard Maple and Poplar.
  2. Board thickness. The thickness of the finished sticks is best determined early in the design process. Purchasing boards that already have the desired thickness (or planing entire boards before cutting out the sticks) is much easier than planing individual sticks, and also leads to very consistent thicknesses from one stick to another. Generally speaking, thicker sticks are slower in the water and more forgiving, while thinner sticks permit (and in some situations require) scalpel-like precision of movements and quick, snappy passes. For the beginning stick-maker, three- quarters of an inch (about 19mm) is a good starting place, as boards are often sold in this thickness. Ideal thickness for the average player is probably a little thinner than this, so you may want to start by planing three-quarter-inch stock down to more like five-eighths of an inch (about 16mm)
  3. Board Grain. The 'grain' of a board refers to the orientation of individual fibers within the wood. With most species of wood, you can tell a lot about the grain just by looking at the surface of a board. Always choose boards with long, straight, parallel grain lines and avoid imperfections that interrupt those lines (knots, holes, cracks, etc.) Furthermore, when deciding how and where to cut each stick from a given board, make sure the layout is such that the grain lines run parallel to the long dimension of the stick (never across the short dimensions). This will dramatically improve the strength of the finished stick.
  4. Board Condition. Boards often have hidden imperfections that only become apparent after you cut into them. As a general rule, avoid boards that are badly warped, cracked, weathered, etc. If a board has been kiln-dried (this is common for commercially available wood) or has sat out in the sun for an extended period of time, it is generally best to avoid using the very ends (last 6 inches or so) of the board, as they frequently have hidden cracks or splits in them.

When choosing plastic for undewater hockey sticks, there are also a number of factors to consider:

  1. Plastic Type. There are many kinds of commercially available plastic that work for underwater hockey sticks, especially now that the requirement that sticks must float in water has been abandoned. Polyurethane, Polyethylene, Nylon, and many other readily available plastics can be used, and most are available in sheet stock of various thicknesses, making them ideal for cut-out stick manufacture.
  2. Plastic Color. Many plastics are resistant to paints and dyes, making them difficult to color, but this shortcoming is more than made up for by the fact that most plastics are available in a variety of colors, including both white and black. Choosing appropriately-colored stock to begin with simplifies the stick-construction process by eliminating the painting step and generally guarantees that the finished sticks will retain their color indefinitely, even once the surface has been worn away by use.

Shape and Size:

One of the most fundamental considerations when making underwater hockey sticks is the overall shape of the stick. The rules of the game specify some broad constraints (for example, overall stick dimensions cannot exceed 100mm X 350mm x 50mm, and sticks may not have sharp edges or pointy ends), but within those constraints, there is plenty of room for players to customize the shape of their sticks to match their own preferences and playing style. Experimenting with different shapes and sizes of stick will often help a player determine his/her preferred shape and size, and so it's helpful for clubs to have a variety of sticks available to new and developing players. When making sticks, it can be helpful to have a few designs on hand for reference. Tracing an existing design on paper, then modifying part of the shape, can be a useful technique. The picture below shows a few different designs:

Tracing and rough-cut:

Once you've chosen the overall shape of you stick, the next step is to trace the design onto the wood or plastic and cut it out. Having a rigid template can be enormously beneficial in this step, as it is much easier to trace from a rigid template than from something less substantial, like a piece of paper. Materials for rigid templates can vary from stiff carboard to fiberboard to plastic... anything that holds its shape well and doesn't warp will work. Don't be tempted to skimp on the template... spend some time and effort choosing a suitable material and getting the shape of the template exactly the way you want it, as that will dictate the shape of all your sticks. When you're happy with the template, place it on the workpiece (the wood or plastic you've chosen to make your stick from) and clamp or firmly hold it in place while you trace the perimeter. If your workpiece is wood, pay attention to the orientation of the grain - ALWAYS run the grain along the long axis of the stick, never across the short axis - failure to do this will result in very weak sticks that break easily. With wood workpieces, a pencil will usually suffice for the trace, but with some kinds of plastic, a felt-tip pen or paint pen may work better. Some plastics resist most writing utensils - in that case, use a sharp object to scribe the tracing instead.

After tracing your template, cut the stick out using a band-saw, scroll-saw, jig-saw, coping saw, or similar tool (saws with narrow, flexible blades work best). If you're not comfortable with the saw, do some practice cuts first on scraps of wood or plastic to develop some familiarity. Take your time, and err on the conservative side of your traced line.

Fine-Tuning the perimeter:

After cutting out the rough shape, you'll want to clean it up with a sander. A combination Disk/Belt sander (see picture above) works very well for this, but other tools (even hand tools, loose sandpaper, etc.) will also work. Basically, the goal is to remove any material that extends past your traced line, all the way around the perimeter. As with the cutting, go slowly and err on the conservative side, gradually working closer and closer to the traced line. Be careful to keep the cut edge perpendicular to the surface (since your traced line is only on one side, it's easy to drift away from it as you go down through the workpiece). Inside curves (like the hook of the stick) can be tricky - a spindle-sander or drum-sanding tool in a rotary drill is a useful tool for these areas. Depending on the exact method and tool used for the tracing, you may find that working to the INSIDE of the traced line (sanding off the line itself) produces a more faithful replica of your template than working to the OUTSIDE of the traced line. Obviously, practice will give you a better sense of exactly what works best for you.

Bells and whistles:

Now that you have the overall shape cut and sanded, it's time to spiff up your stick with a few nice extra features. Start by 'undercutting' the handle of your stick - the idea is to remove some material from the bottom of the handle, providing some space for the fingers and allowing the stick to sit closer to the pool bottom when you're holding it. The lip where the undercut ends will also help to prevent your hand from slipping down onto the blade of the stick during play. How much material to remove is a matter of personal preference. Even a very mild undercut (perhaps 0.1 inch/ 2.5mm) will provide significant benefit. Removing material closest to the blade of the stick (under the index finger) will have a greater effect on the feel of the stick than removing material near the handle's tip (under the little finger), so one strategy that works well is to make a mild undercut along the whole length of the handle, then cut away more material under just the index finger. Be aware that the more material you remove, the weaker (and more likely to break) the stick becomes. If you're using a soft material (pine, poplar, etc.), it's probably best to leave at least 0.5 inch/ 13mm of material at the thinnest point. Several tools work well for undercutting - a jointer planer is particularly nice, but a band-saw, belt or spindle sander, or even a hand rasp can be used.

With the undercut finished, spend some time working on the handle edges... If you like sharp pointy edges sticking into your hand (some people do!), you can just leave them as they are, but if you prefer a softer feel, use a round-over bit in a router or a sander or hand rasp to smooth the edges a bit. You might also want to use something very rough (like a very coarse rasp) to 'rough up' the handle edges and surfaces for extra friction between the stick and your glove so your stick stays where you want it to during play.

Next, turn your attention to the stick's blade. A few simple things can be done at this point to improve the performance and longevity of the blade. Thinning the blade towards it's tip by removing material from the top and/or bottom with make it move faster in the water and might help the puck track more cleanly off the end for better, more consistent flicks. A blade thickness of 0.5 inches/ 13mm at the tip is a good starting point. The same tools used for the handle undercut work well for this process. Drilling large holes through the blade will also improve the stick's speed in the water, although some people feel that this adversely affects certain stick-handling characteristics. If you choose to drill holes, do it near the tip of the blade and be sure to stay well back from the edges so you don't leave any very narrow sections around the hole(s). If your overall stick shape if narrow enough that you can't fit a 0.5inch/ 13mm diameter hole, you're probably better off without holes. Finally, if your stick material is wood and has an extreme hook, you might want to 'dowel' the hook to prevent it breaking off. This is tricky, especially if you've thinned your blade down near its tip, but it will drastically improve the strength of the hook. Using a drill press (or a hand drill and a VERY steady hand), drill a hole through the hook of your stick, parallel to the flat surfaces (top and bottom) and perpendicular to the longest dimension of the stick. The hole should start at the tip of the hook and come out on the front (passing) edge. Be careful to drill straight and avoid coming out on the top or bottom of the stick. Use a sharp drill bit and a relatively slow drill speed, and back the bit out several times during the operation to allow the cuttings to fall out. Choose a drill bit size that matches the dowel you plan to use (wooden dowel is often readily available in 0.25inch and 0.1875inch diameters) and that seems reasonable compared to the stick thickness (if your stick is 0.75inches thick at the tip, you can easily use a 0.25inch drill and dowel, but if you've thinned down to 0.5inches, you might want to go with a smaller drill and dowel). Once your hole is drilled, cut a piece of dowel that's slightly longer than the hole, check it for fit (if it's too tight to slide through the hole, ream out the hole a little with the drill or sand the dowel down a little). Once it fits smoothly, put some waterproof wood glue on the dowel and slide it all the way through the hole (you may need to tap it gently with a hammer if it's a snug fit). Let the glue set and then trim off the protruding ends of the dowel.

Bevels:

Bevel the front (and back if you're so inclined) edges of the stick for improved flicking. A bevel angle of 10-12 degrees is a good starting point - more bevel angle will make it easier to get the puck off the pool bottom, but too much can cause the puck to flip up and over your stick when you don't want it to. A sander with an adjustable tilt-table is the best tool for bevelling sticks - just set the tilt table to the desired bevel angle, place the stick on the table, and grind until the entire face is bevelled (be sure to grind with the stick appropriately oriented - you should be removing more material from the TOP of the passing surface than from the bottom - for the most common tilt-table design, this will require the stick to be upside-down while grinding). Some disc-sander designs will allow you to bevel both the front and back edges of your stick, even if they have concave shapes, but usually a belt or spindle sander will be much easier for the concave surfaces. Of course, if you don't have access to fancy powered sanding tools, you can always resort to hand rasps and sandpaper, though getting consistent, reliable bevels can take a lot of time and effort with hand tools. When the bevels are finished, lightly sand all the edges of the stick just enough to remove any dangerous sharp corners that could injure other players.

Done! almost..:

That's it! You're finished and can now enjoy your new sticks... except that your team-mates (or more likely your opponents) will cry foul when they can't tell whether your sticks are white or black. Black aniline dye dissolved in alcohol is far and away the best method for coloring your black sticks, as the dye will soak in and won't rub off when the surface of the stick wears away from use. Sadly, white dye does not exist (there's actually a joke among paint/dye specialists that white dye is called water... google it when you're bored sometime), so you'll need to use some kind of white paint for the white sticks. My preferred product is original oil-based Kilz primer, thinned with mineral spirits, and applied in several light coats, allowing ample drying time between coats. It's a major headache, and still only lasts a few months, but I have yet to find a better solution.


Go Back to the Equipment Page
Go Back to the Main Page