There are plenty of things to contemplate when choosing a table tennis blade. Weight, thickness, number of plies, speed rating, flexibility, and price, all need to be considered. One can opt for an all wood, or some type of composite blade. Beyond that, I normally wouldn’t give too much thought to what a blade is made of. If it works for my game, and feels comfortable, that’s good enough. But, if you read marketing descriptions of blades, some will advertise the type of wood used. Precious woods are harvested from Swedish forests by a team of Chinese arborists, German botanists, and American cabinet makers. Only the finest cuts are good enough for the blade that you will eventually pay eighty U.S. dollars for.
Obviously, some types of wood work better for table tennis blades. Apparently hinoki is good. Balsa is frequently used, and some blades are made from spruce. I’ve never come across a blade crafted from priceless persimmon wood, from the finest woodlands of northern Arkansas. There might be some other options than the carefully crafted plies that are currently used by the major table tennis manufacturers.
Perhaps persimmon wood is actually ideal for blade construction. Imagine a perfect persimmon ping pong paddle with a inner ply of prized plum wood. How can we determine if there are other types of wood suitable for blade construction? Fortunately, I possess a collection of assorted woods that were given to me by an eccentric uncle nearly fifty years ago. Imagine my excitement upon opening a Christmas gift full of blocks of wood, each carefully polished, and labeled with a ballpoint pen. I’ve held on to this odd gift all these years, and never really found a practical use for it – until now.
A careful inspection of the twenty-eight wood samples reveals that each type does have very different characteristics. The most obvious is density. Oak appears to be the most dense, and balsa the lightest, and least hard feeling. A oak paddle would likely be too heavy, but it might be pretty fast. The unique qualities of balsa wood make it ideal for combining with other wood plies to keep a blade light and lively. Each wood sample does have it’s own unique color, but this in no way effects how it might perform if crafted into a paddle.
Spruce wood does seem to have the characteristics that would make a good blade. While not as soft as balsa, it is very light feeling compared to most of the other woods. The hard feeling of apple, peach, plum, cherry, persimmon, and apricot indicate that wood from fruit trees is less than ideal. It appears that most of the wood samples would not be suitable for blades, and would not have a good feel, or much control. Seven woods did appear to make the cut, and might be perfect material for table tennis blades. In addition to spruce and balsa, redwood, poplar, hemlock, white pine, and balsam fir, all seem like they would work extremely well. Each of these woods are relatively light, and it’s easy to imagine a blade made from them.
This is clearly not a very scientific study. There are players who know far more about paddle construction and types of wood than I do. One thing does become clear though, even from these basic observations. If you want to make a quality blade, you’ll need some good wood.