When Old Tom Morris needed to put a finish on a hickory golf shaft he couldn’t run down to the Home Depot to pick up a can of Min Wax stain and polyurethane. The stains and finishes available to early club makers were made from natural resources.
A common stain originally used on hickory shafts was made from a material called gilsonite. Discovered in 1860, gilsonite is a sticky, black semi-solid form of petroleum found primarily in the Uintah Basin of Utah and Colorado. Gilsonite can be thinned with alcohol or other solvents and used as a wood stain. This is what we use to stain our hickory shafts.
After the shaft was stained, a protective coating needed to be applied to protect it from moisture. This was especially important in the UK and Scotland where a lot of golf was played in wet weather. A common material used to protect the shaft was shellac.
Shellac is a natural resin that is secreted by female lac bug on trees in the forest of India and Thailand. The insects suck the sap of the tree and excretes the resin constantly. The shellac is scraped from the bark of the tree and processed into dry flakes. It is estimated it can take between 50,000 and 300,000 lac bugs to produce just over 2 lbs. of shellac.
Shellac was once very common anywhere paint or varnish were sold. In modern times, less expensive and more durable finishes, such as polyurethane, have almost completely replaced it.
We manufacture Louisville Golf traditional clubs with gilsonite and shellac for a couple of reasons. The first and most important reason is that these components were used to craft traditional clubs. The other reason is that no other stain and finish will give you the look of an original hickory shaft.
We recently re-shafted a hickory shafted iron for a customer. This person called in said it looked like we put an original shaft in his hickory iron. He didn’t see this as a bad thing, but a good thing! I told him it was a new shaft and that we work hard to finish them so they look like an original.
The shellac finish does create a little bit more work for traditional golf club owners. We recommend that you apply a fresh coat of shellac at the end or beginning of each season. This will ensure that your shafts are protected from moisture. This little bit of extra effort is worth the experience