How To Remove A Graphite Shaft
There are many instances where you might want to save a graphite shaft intact. First of all, it is much easier when re-shafting a driver that the customer broke or simply did not like. One method to remove a graphite shaft is to remove the ferrule, cut the shaft off at the hosel and drill the remaining part out of the hosel. However, on modern drivers, fairways and hybrids which are nearly all hollow inside, could potentially could push material into the cavity of the head and cause it to rattle. From that standpoint alone, it is worth removing the entire shaft intact.
A more obvious reason is monetarily. Graphite shafts can be quite expensive; some costing several hundred dollars each (at least from a retail price, not necessarily a production cost). Many golfers will go out and purchase a new driver only to find out they don’t particularly like the stock shaft that came with the driver or they will read on the internet or in a golf magazine that a new graphite shaft by the XYZ-company came out and was the winning shaft on the PGA Tour that week. Whatever reason, golfers are never happy with their equipment and are always experimenting in quest for greater distance and accuracy.
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Golfers are now getting accustomed to walking into a club repair shop and wanting to pull the stock shaft out and put in the popular shaft of the week to try, knowing full well if the new shaft did not work, that the old shaft could go back in. Well, in theory that is correct, but let me explain a few things first.
Rule #1 – Never promise that a shaft can be saved
What is the reasoning for this statement? First is how a shaft it manufactured. A graphite shaft is made from many layers of graphite pre-preg or long continuous strands of carbon fiber wrapped around a forming mandrel. To hold the layers or strands together, an epoxy resin is used. This same epoxy resin is not much different from the epoxy that is used to hold the head onto the shaft. In order to remove the head from the shaft, a heat source needs to be applied. That same heat can transfer or permeate into the shaft and potentially break down the epoxy matrix holding the shaft layers together.
Secondly, chances are you weren’t the person who put the club together. The shaft may have been previously installed by another clubmaker or an individual who did not put the club together with the proper supplies. Urban legend or not, dumping gunpowder down a graphite shaft and securing it somehow is not a good method for increasing swingweight. But more commonly is the type of epoxy that was used to secure the head. Golf club manufacturers and component supply companies use only a handful of different epoxies because they work well to hold the head onto the shaft, but also this allows the club to be removed without excessive or a long duration of heat. Believe me; removing a club that had been affixed with JB Weld is not an option, especially a graphite shaft that you want to remove intact.
Continuously reusing graphite shafts is not a good habit either. Each time the shaft is exposed to a heat source, there has to be some effect to the shaft. We are not talking about leaving the club in your truck of your car on a blacktop surface in Phoenix Arizona during a hot, steamy summer day, rather from the trying to remove the shaft with high heat. Buying shaft pull-outs is a risky proposition as you cannot verify how safely it was pulled or how many times the shaft was exposed to heat previously. Any club you put together or repair, ultimately you are liable for.
Rule #2 – The shaft needs pulled off straight
Most importantly, when removing a clubhead from a graphite shaft it is imperative that the clubhead be removed by pulling it straight off of the shaft. Twisting and pulling on the clubhead to remove it from the shaft (like you would on a steel shaft) will result into a shaft tip failure. A graphite shaft puller is an absolute must for this job. Shaft pullers can range anywhere from around $20 for a devise that looks like a modified pry bar (you still need a vise and shaft clamp) to several hundred dollars for a hydraulic model. Regardless, invest in a good shaft puller if you are repairing clubs in any sort of volume. Remember how much shafts cost again. Potentially saving just one that can be reused in another club that you can the charge full retail price will more than pay for itself!
Not that we established why we need a shaft puller and the potential pitfalls from a warranty / customer service stand point, now we need to look at a few other things before getting started.
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Rule #3 – Have a magnet handy
Here is a little trick, try to stick a magnet to the hosel of the head. If it sticks it will take less time to remove the shaft than if it doesn’t stick. Why? A magnet will stick to both carbon and stainless steel, where it won’t on titanium or aluminum. A magnet will also not stick to a “wooden” or head made wholly of carbon graphite / epoxy either. However, those two materials are rarely seen in the market that we will not talk about them in this article. If you heat a stainless steel hosel, it remains hot in the area that it is heated. Where as titanium and aluminum are very good conductors of heat and the heat will transfer to the other parts of the head. Thus it takes a longer duration of heat to break the epoxy bond loose. On a titanium head, it may or may not say titanium on it, but have numbers like 6/4, SP700, DAT51, etc. Heads made from aluminum, will not have aluminum engraved on them, rather stamped Ti Matrix or Ti Alloy. Aluminum heads are normally found in inexpensive boxed sets, equipped with very cheap shafts and are normally the hardest to work on.
Rule #4 – Before you heat, take a peek
Before grabbing the propane tank, take of peek of the finish because this will tell you what type of heat source to use. If the hosel is a satin or high polish finish, you should have no problem using a propane (or butane) torch or heat gun. However, if the hosel is painted or tumbled with a clear urethane coating, then caution should be made to protect the head as best as possible from discoloration.
Take a peek at the top of the crown as well. If it has a carbon crown, then you have to worry that the heat will transfer past the hosel and possibly damage the carbon shell. If this is the case, go to you local welding supply center and get a bottle of a product called Cool Gel. This is very cool stuff! Just spray it on the carbon surface only and it will protect it from any wayward heat like an accidental pass with the torch. When you are done, you can just wipe the head with a wet paper towel or rag to remove the gel.
I get several questions on what is the better heat source; propane or a heat gun. Both do a good job, but in my opinion one is not better than the other. The torch may discolor the head if you keep the heat in one place too long. A heat gun will take about three times as long to produce the same amount of heat to break the epoxy bond. During that time you still can discolor the head. On light colored heads (champagne, baby blue and light coppers) or the clear urethane coated heads (like the original Callaway Big Bertha titanium) I will avoid the propane torch like the plague. But before grabbing a heat gun, there is an alternative.
During the time I taught at the Dynacraft Clubmaking Institute, Forest Sands (a fine gentleman who volunteered his time to help teach each group of students) came up with a rather simple solution to avoid discoloring the heads. Getting the idea from going to the ophthalmologist (fancy name for eye doctor) who submerged the lens of his glasses in hot sand to make adjustments, Forest poured ordinary play sand (that you would use in a child’s sand box) into a deep fryer he had lying around. The hosel area of the clubhead could be submerged into the heated sand at 300° and left there for 20 to 30 minutes while you were doing other tasks. (Tip: keep a candy thermometer in the sand if it doesn’t have a heat regulator) The only concern was to make sure the graphite shaft didn’t touch the side of the deep fryer. For those that are health conscious, there is not better use for the deep fryer!
Once we have determined the material and the type of finish on the club, now it is time to heat the head. At this time I will have the shaft puller set up in the vise, but I don’t install the club in the shaft puller. For reference a Mitchell STEELCLUB© shaft puller is what I normally use. However, if you have a hydraulic puller, it may be best to set the club into the devise.
Rule #5 – Read the directions to your puller
Each puller is slightly different so follow the directions that came with it. After a while you will get the hang of it and find the most efficient method for yourself. I personally like having the club out of the puller for now as I am able to spin the hosel in the propane flame or in the direction of the heat from the heat gun. I can see better as the work up close and at hand, plus I am usually less likely to discolor the head when it is not stationary. However, if you do heat the club with it in the shaft puller, make sure to heat the rear of the hosel. If you do discolor the head, at least it will be on the back side that it least likely to be seen by the golfer when the club is at address.
You are now ready to apply heat to the head for the purpose of removing the head from the shaft. It is best to remove the shaft as soon as the epoxy breaks loose. By doing so, this will limit the possibility of heat penetrating into the shaft and causing it to break down.
Another tip, if you are heating the club when it is not in the puller, I would suggest leaving the ferrule on shaft. If the heat source accidentally moves away from the hosel and onto the shaft, the ferrule could protect the shaft from the flame. Plus it is easier to cut the ferrule off if it is warmed up.
Use a torch as the method of heating
Apply heat to the backside of the hosel or rotate the hosel in the flame for only a period of 15-20 seconds. If this is a stainless or carbon steel head, this short of duration can break the bond loose. If the clubhead does not come off at this point, reheat for a period of 10 seconds. Remember, you can always reheat the hosel, but you can’t remove heat if you heat the club too long. Continue this method of heating for 10 second intervals until the shaft puller has forced the clubhead from the shaft. Again, be patient. Sometimes these steps will have to be repeated as many as 3 or 4 times (or more) before successfully removing the graphite shaft from the clubhead, especially for titanium and aluminum clubheads. The more pressure that the shaft puller applies the less heat it takes to remove the shaft from the clubhead.
Use a heat as the method of heating
If you use a heat gun instead of a torch, then the duration of heat will be longer. Again, apply heat to the backside of the hosel or rotate the hosel in the flame for only a period of 45-60 seconds. If this is a stainless or carbon steel head, this short of duration can break the bond loose. If the clubhead does not come off at this point, reheat for a period of 25-30 seconds. Remember, you can always reheat the hosel, but you can’t remove heat if you heat the club too long. Continue this method of heating for 25 second intervals until the shaft puller has forced the clubhead from the shaft. Again, be patient. Sometimes these steps will have to be repeated as many as 3 or 4 times (or more) before successfully removing the graphite shaft from the clubhead, especially for titanium and aluminum clubheads. The more pressure that the shaft puller applies the less heat it takes to remove the shaft from the clubhead.
Use a sand pot as the method of heating
The sand pot provides the luxury of time. As stated before, you can leave the club in 20 to 30 minutes at 300°. I once had an expensive Japanese driver that belonged to a real finicky customer. Knowing full well I didn’t want to discolor the head, I decided to use the sand pot method. Sometimes you get distracted with a phone call or two and next thing you know that 20 or 30 minutes turned into 3 hours! After realizing the club was still being heated, I rushed over to the deep fryer expecting to find a club devoid of any finish. To my amazement, the paint and urethane were not harmed in any way. But it was a good lesson learned and luckily for me I didn’t have to reach into my wallet to replace it. The other part of using the sand method is the portion of the shaft that was in the hosel was relatively cool that you could safely touch it with your fingers right after if was removed, even though the head had to be handled with thermal gloves.
Rule #6 -Check the shaft tip
Once you are able to extract the shaft from the head, immediately put the shaft tip on the ground and push down on the butt end to deflect the shaft. If the tip crushes or looks like one of those exploding cigars, then you applied too much heat and the shaft is ruined and become a tomato stake. However, if the shaft tip stays intact, take a closer inspection of the tip section to see if you notice any longitudinal cracks or delaminating, or basically anything that you think would be considered damage. If not, there is a good chance you could reuse the shaft into another head or the same head later on.
At this time, clean to tip of any old epoxy as it is easier to remove when it is warm rather when it cools off. Another thing to do is remove any lead / brass tip pin that may be present for swingweighting in the tip of the shaft. Usually a pair of pliers will suffice. You may also have to remove any epoxy core that is inside the tip of the shaft as the hole needs to be clear to allow the shaft to seat the next time. A long 1/8” drill bit works well for this purpose, although I have found shafts that had as much as 20” of junk inside the shaft, but I will leave that for another article.
Successfully removing graphite shafts is not that hard of a skill to learn. All you need is a good shaft puller, patience, the proper heat source for the type of material as well as the club head’s finish and of course good common sense. You may not be able to save all of them successfully, but following these tips will put you on the path to proficiency.