Since ski poles are basically impossible to find in Memphis, everyone has started to rely on the pre-fabbed junts. Since I've had/played with (at least) one of each of the major offerings (old and new eighth inch, black and silver fixcraft, green and orange MKE), I thought a review was in order. So let's break it down...
|Milwaukee: Regal and Majestic|
Basic question - how much is this gonna run me? Keep in mind, I figured all this based on being shipped to Memphis, TN. So if you happen to live really close to one of the various companies, that'll reduce the price a bit. But any way you slice it, fixcraft has got the best deal goin'. A single shaft is 14.99, and when I got mine, shipping was $10.80 - this was February '11; I couldn't get a current quote online since they're plumb out right now. Eighth Inch is next with $26.87 shipped (though they have the highest base price, $19.99), and MKE will pick your pocket (jay kay) for $30.34 (base price $15.99). Of course, eighth inch offers free shipping on any orders over $50, and MKE does on orders over $75*, so if you're bout to drop a bunch anyway, fixcraft might not be the way to go. But still, Fixcraft wins the cheapwad's choice award.
Fixcraft and MKE both use the same material on their shafts, 7075 T6 Series 4 Aluminum, while Eighth Inch uses 6061-T6. What does this mean? Hell if I really know, but I've noticed that 6061 seems to bend more than 7075, which might sound like a bad thing, but it also seems to bend back into shape easier. Personally, I'd just rather have a shaft that bends less. Score for MKE and Fixcraft.
|Fixcraft: Beloved of Frogs|
Now, to me, this is pretty much moot. I've found my preferred mallet length to be around 37", and all three shafts are plenty long enough for that. However, I've seen people with mallets WAY longer than mine, so if you're one of those people, you'd probably be better off avoiding the eight inch, which is listed at 105cm (about 41"). MKE cuts 'em a little longer, at 43", and Fixcraft even longer at 49.5". Fixcraft wins again, although I do wonder if they're trying too hard to compensate for something like small feet.
For us weight weenies, MKE managed to make their shafts just a bit lighter somehow, at 3.54 grams/inch. However, the difference is pretty slight: Fixcraft manages 3.84 grams/inch and Eight Inch 3.87 grams/inch. I do wonder if this has changed since Febrary, as all this information comes from each company's website - the main reason I got a fixcraft shaft to start was because I calculated it to be a little lighter than MKE. Course, this all gets to be a bit wonkified anyway when you consider...
Eight Inch shafts are completely straight, meaning their weight is going to be consistent throughout the shaft. MKE and Fixcraft, however, both have tapering ends of 15" and 16" respectively. In theory, the more taper you leave, the lighter the grams/inch will be. Taper is also important to some people who claim that the taper is actually stronger than the straight section, and from my experience I have to concur. On the other hand, right now the taper is nearly moot for me personally, due to my method of mallet building. I always make a half inch hole in the top of the mallet head and force the shaft through it as far as it'll go, all but eliminating the taper. Even though it's all pretty much the same for me, I suppose it's better to HAVE the taper for the people that want it, and fixcraft has got the edge, if only by an inch.
|Eighth Inch: R.I.P.|
Finally, the big one. All that other stuff won't mean diddle if your shaft is gonna bend/break during the first game. While that might sound unrealistic, that very thing happened to me the first night I took out a mallet - and this was practice, mind you, not an actual game. It's nearly always the same thing that gets every mallet: the dreaded cross-the-wheel monster shot that whacks your shaft into your front wheel. So which shaft yeilded to the wheels of steel (or, well, aluminum) the quickest? The answer, surprisingly, was fixcraft. In spite of having the edge in pretty much every other area I can think of, I've found that they just don't wear as well as the other brands. While they probably bend and dent just as much as the Eighth Inch ones, it's much harder to bend them back, and snapping them is a real danger if you get too energetic with it. My MKE mallets, in addition to wearing better, just FEEL more solid. I know this is subjective, but I feel like intangibles like this are just your brain figuing something out that you just can't put your finger on.
Roasted, Toasted and Burnt to a crisp.
Hands down, MKE shafts last the longest and stay the straightest for me, and that's what really counts - maybe it's that coat of paint they slap on it. Perhaps if fixcraft was noticeably better in terms of weight or price, I'd be tempted to use them instead, but really the differences are mostly cosmetic. The shafts are nearly identical on paper, one just plays better than the other for some reason. Still, once fixcraft launches their new XT (Extra Tough) shaft at the end of the month, I'll definitely give it a try. Since they are a bit cheaper, if they can make a shaft that resists bending, I'll gladly make the switch. I regret to say that Eighth Inch just isn't for me, again because of the bending, but also because of the weight. In theory it's not that much heavier than fixcraft, but it somehow feels that way - could be that taper difference. Of course, they do have the benefit of having mallet heads that screw right on, making them a little more appealing for an absolute beginner, but at this point I really enjoy the process of making mallets. For now at least, it's MKE ftw.
* - Originally, I had said MKE offers free shipping on orders over $100. Ooops!