Cast vs Forged - A Revisit
Several years ago I wrote a couple of articles about cast vs. forged and cavity back designs versus blade designs in irons. Those articles are still getting readership and comments to me on a regular basis. These two areas of club design generate more confusion and fairy tales than anything out there.
So, once again, I’d like to dive into this subject and see if I can’t help you cut through the clutter and hype to understand just what all this is about.
Casting and forging are the two primary ways to make an iron or wedge head. Casting allows more precise repeating of the shaping and nuances of the design because it requires less hand work to finish the head. Forging has generally been credited with delivering better feel. But it’s not that simple. Casting itself does not make an iron “hard”. (Every stick of butter ever made was cast!) But when golf club companies started casting iron heads, they used a stainless steel alloy called 17-4, which IS a very hard material. Through the years, softer stainless alloys have been explored and used. And top wedges are made of cast 8620 carbon steel. While not nearly as soft as a true forging, they are darn close. We’ve tried casting irons out of steel alloys that were so soft they wouldn’t hold their lofts and lies through a round of golf.
One of the biggest influences on “feel” is the shaft of the club. Graphite shafts dramatically soften the sensation of impact compared to steel shafts. Some shafts just have a different feel of impact than others. And shaft companies have created a number of inserts for the shafts to mitigate the shock waves of impact. For years, tour players and those in the know have tricked up their irons with wood dowels and corks in the tip of the shaft to soften the feel of impact, and mitigate vibration.
Over the past few years, nearly all cavity back irons use some kind of plastic insert in the back of the face to additionally deaden or soften the shock of impact. That’s because one of the main factors of feel is the amount of metal behind the ball at impact. Blades traditionally are thick there, and whether they are cast or forged, blade designs will deliver a more solid or softer feeling of impact. Thin faced irons, whether they have a plastic insert or not, cannot match that feeling of “solidness”.
And the other attribute of the thicker face is that distance control is more precise. A thin-faced, low CG, perimeter weighted iron at the long end of the set is fine, as any shot 30 feet long or short at 175+ yards is totally OK. But as you get closer to the hole, that becomes less and less acceptable. A gap wedge shot that is 30 feet long or short is horrible, right?
So, there is a short treatise on the subject of feel, forged vs. cast and blades vs. perimeter weighting.
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I am totally sold on this idea, when I first come on OOB I read that article and have since changed to blades from 7 down and I love it, I still have my misses, but they are not that bad, what I always hated about my cavity backs was hitting a great shot and watching it fly straight at the flag thinking "Oh yeah, Oh yeah" and then it just keeps going and going, and now I'm 30 yards long, nothing is worse than hitting a good shot that should be the right distance and have it turn out 30 yards long. Now Terry when will we see some more scor golf giveaways?
Love my forged MP-60s. I prefer the feedback of stiff steel shafts and no gloves - though I know most people don't. The most important aspect of feedback that you can get from forged iron, or "blades" is the fact that the errors are diagnosable: it tells you more about the physics of impact, and helps you understand and correct. When I bought the MP-60s, I had no preconceptions; over the course of two months I tried everything in the store without looking at a price tag and paying as little attention to brand/model. Using feel, accuracy, and workability as my guides, I narrowed the field to three sets: Mizuno MP-60 or MP-32, Bridgestone J33 I think, and the Calloway forged irons. I took each set out for a demo round (Golfer's Warehouse old policy, now they do 90day exchange), and used only the 3-P from the demo set and a putter (no other wedges, woods, or driver). I teed off with the irons only all day. And so the irons were pretty similar, but the Mizuno 3-iron gave me the best results off the tee.
I looked forward to hitting that 3-iron on every tee. So the process worked well, and while I probably would have been happy with the other brands, I haven't had to switch or second guess my iron ever since - which is huge savings of money over time! This process might not serve the beginner as well as the journeyman, but it has worked with drivers. I didn't know where I'd end up, but I got right to the sweet honey in the pot solidity of forged irons. Crushingly delicious feel, sportscar workability, and I could care less how far they go.
Tim Horan says:
I have the benefit of being on both sides of the fence on both the cast/ forged and cavity/ blades debate although I do not have forged cavity backs or cast blades. I am always tinkering and rarely sell on old golf equipment. I have several sets of clubs and probably to my game's detriment I often take a set from the garage and put them in play for no reason other than that they are there to be used. I am not sure that there is sufficient difference in feel and contact cast to forged at the level that I play. The cast cavity backs are an unbranded early ping "looky likey" using SUS 304 stainless steel. These were shafted in R flex TT DG steel but I have recently re-shafted in Prolaunch Blue S flex graphite.
Tim Horan says:
This has improved the feel and due to the shaft attributes gives a much lower tradjectory. I have three set of blades all forged but in very different composite steel. MP33s - 1080 carbon steel, Kane - 304 SS and Wishon 1035 carbon steel. Having shafted the Kanes also with Prolaunch Blue this is perhaps the best comparison to use for both debates. IMO Cast v Forged - don't get hung up about it. It hasn't done Lee Westwood or Bubba watson any harm using cast clubs. Cavity v Blades - Many golfers are put off by small thin blades and conversly many more are put off by thick top edges that most cavity backs feature. If your technique is sound go with whatever suits your eye. Modern blades are more forgiving than they are given credit for.
Tim Horan says:
One last comment - get properly fitted shaft selection, length, lie and loft are more important than anything else.
Torleif Sorenson says:
Terry, has confirmed what I have long suspected, with many thanks to both Tim and OneDollarWed. After I've saved the remaining $3,600 I need to get a replacement car, I'm going to invest in a new set of forged clubs with carefully-selected and fitted shafts. These would replace my Hogan Edge forged CBs from ca. 1990. (Those Hogan shafts were reportedly better-than-average for the day, too.)
God willing, I'll even be able to affrord to drive to Victoria TX and watch Mr. Koehler and his staff *make* my new clubs!
We'd be happy to see you here, Torleif. One thing we do for golfers reasonably often is to build their set of SCOR4161s to cover the scoring clubs, then re-shaft their cavity middle irons (4-8) to blend seamlessly. It gives forgiveness where you need it, pinpoint accuracy where you want it.
Like many aspects of golf, both in the body and the equipment, any one element can be practically meaningless, or very significant depending on your thinking and how you make use of any given element. Take the ball for instance. Most people are pretty picky about their ball. But when it comes right down to it any good swing and contact will make a great result. However, in inclement weather with much on the line, knowing you ball's properties intimately will save your butt. It may or may not make any difference at all. So you can minimize the difference between forged and cast, especially if you don't work the ball in certain ways, or if shafts/ grips/ gloves/ balls/ etc. negate any properties you might otherwise gain. It's like using a high spin ball with a maximally forgiving and minimal spin driver. Or a 2-piece rock with high spin wedges.
I have a question. Why is distance/direction control so much worse with a thin-faced club vs. a thick-faced club like a blade? Perhaps there is a simple physical explanation for it, or is this finding a result of a study? If it is a result of a study, perhaps you could provide a link, as I would love to read it.
Wedgeguy has quoted in previous column about his experiments with Iron Mike using blades and cavities. But when you think about it, the thinner face creates a kind of trampoline effect which makes the clubface deform during contact. Also I find that steel shafts twist less than other materials. Shaft have torque rating or something like that.
I've always liked the feel of blades over cavity backs. I learned to play golf using my grandpa's old set of Macgregor blades, and failing to make cavity backs work for me for nearly 3 years, I now play a set of Titleist MB 670's. They're nowhere near as good of condition as the DTR's I was playing (I bought them used), but immediately I was able to tell what I was doing wrong and correct my swing. I now play much better with my irons and continue to improve every time I hit the range or course.
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