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Antique Clubs: In Hickory Veritas

Retrofitting
Replacing the shaft on an iron is relatively straightforward. There will be a pin through the neck of the hosel; drive it out with a straight one-eighth-inch pin punch. A soft block of lead makes a nice cushion when you hammer down on a recalcitrant pin. After the pin is removed, and if the head is already loose, you may be able to twist it off. Otherwise you can persuade it with a rubber mallet.

Your rat-tail and flat bastard pay for themselves now. With the former you clean the old glue out of the cavity in the hosel. With the latter you shape the tip of the replacement shaft to fit the cavity. Before you glue it in, align the grain perpendicular to the clubface. "If the grain is parallel to the face," Livingston says, "the shaft can break."

A shaft can be spliced to the neck of a wooden clubhead by making two long flat diagonal cuts and matching the surfaces exactly. Flat bastard is your man here. Then apply Elmer's, fasten the two sides together with strapping tape and tighten hose clamps over the tape. While it dries, grab an iron, break out the steel wool and turn on a ball game.

Handle With Care
Grips are a gray area. Some of the earliest clubs had bare handles. In the eighteenth century, strips of wool were fastened with cord and nails. Late-nineteenth-century grips were sheepskin wound over a listing of wool. After 1900, the fashion was for hard-tanned leather or suedelike gusset leather, with friction tape as the listing, though crepe paper and linen were also used for listing.

Since grips can be expected to wear out faster than any other club component, it's not unusual for a grip to have been replaced on a hickory club that is otherwise original. Hobbyists can generally live with that, if the replacement is faithful to the materials of the time. Those materials are not always easy to come by. Livingston says that most leather skins today are polycoated for use in furniture and clothing and make for slippery grips. He buys "deer-tanned" calfskin, which is processed with oil and comes out slightly tacky.

Livingston spreads the skin over mat board and cuts "across the width, from the back to the belly" with a razor knife and a four-foot steel ruler. If he does it right he gets a twenty-nine-inch strip that steadily tapers from one and five-eighth inches to one and one-fourth inches. Of course, he's a pro. For the rest of us, precut strips from golfforallages.com will suffice.

They do not necessarily have to be brown. Livingston has a 1920s catalog from something called the St. Andrews Golf Co., in which precut calfskin, pigskin and rubber grip strips are offered in red, violet and green in addition to black and brown. When he unwraps old grips that have darkened with age, Livingston often finds similar colors lurking underneath. In that way his work with old hickories' handles is a microcosm of the subtleties of club restoration: You can't judge a grip by its cover.

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