I'm writing this because my experiences with clubs in the UK has been dire regarding shuttles. I feel like I have to write this to bring some people up to speed on why you need the right shuttle.
What makes up a shuttle?
The shuttle is a piece of cork, coated with a slightly rough lamb-skin like synthetic material, with 16 goose feathers forming a cone on one side.
You will get shuttles that will use duck feathers, or use different materials in the cork (sometimes in combination with natural cork). This affects the flight of the shuttle to varying degrees.
You also get plastic shuttles, which are an entirely different game. Plastic shuttles do not fly like feather shuttles do, and often have a cheap cork head made of something like plywood.
The ideal shuttle has goose feathers and a full natural cork.
What is the shuttle speed?
The shuttle speed is not explicitly how fast a shuttle will travel. Rather, it is how far the shuttle will travel from an equal hit, in an equal amount of time.
A speed 77 shuttle, and a speed 79 shuttle, will cover different distances with the same stroke.
What affects the speed of the shuttle? Factors within the shuttle:
- Weight of the shuttle
- Balance point of the shuttle (or tipping point)
- Feather gradient
- Weight distribution
Factors outside of the shuttle:
- Temperature (and to an extent, humidity)
- Hall size
How can you tell what speed a shuttle is?
The tube the shuttles come in will be labeled. There are two main rating systems - the Yonex system, and the system everyone else uses. The latter has speeds like 77, 78, and 79. Yonex's system has ratings 3, 4, and 5 (which are 77, 78, and 79 respectively).
There is also a test you can conduct to test the shuttle speed (Paul has a video on this I've linked below), but it should be noted that this test is an acquired skill.
So why is shuttle speed important?
As previously mentioned, different speeds of shuttle will travel different distances with an equal hit. As the temperature falls, you need a faster shuttle because the air becomes more dense. Using a slow shuttle can result in:
- Smashes being slower
- Clears and lifts being too short
- Net shots being too easy to perform
The best metaphor I can think of for this, is that it's like playing football (soccer) with a flat (deflated) football. It won't feel or play quite right. While most players can compensate for a slow shuttle to a degree, it is becoming a common practise to use the same shuttle in both winter and summer. If a shuttle is 2-3 speeds too slow, then you begin to shrink the court because the back boundaries are being removed from play.
How do I know which shuttle speed to use?
Until your elevation starts to exceed 1000 feet, or unless your hall is extraordinarily large, you can base it pretty much on temperature. Manufacturers have released speed charts for temperatures.
I have the wrong speed of shuttle!
If you have shuttles that are too slow for your area, or too fast, there's a way to alter the speed of a shuttle by purposely breaking parts of the feathers. That said, you are literally breaking the shuttle a little to adjust the speed. If you play a lot of badminton, it's probably better just to stick them to one side until it's appropriate to use them.
This breaking process is called 'tipping'; you break around half a centimetre of the feather at the end of the shuttle. You then bend this section inwards to make the shuttle fly faster, or outwards to make it slower. Tipping must be done evenly - your shuttle should always be symmetrical if you've tipped feathers. With 16 feathers, it's common to start by tipping every 4th feather.
The Skirt (feathered area) Skirt stiffness:
For some reason, Yonex have very squishy, mushy skirts to their shuttles. This isn't necessarily good or bad as of itself, but I prefer shuttles with a stiffer skirt because it gives you more control. If like your string bed, the shuttle compresses too much, you'll lose an element of control in your game.
Most manufacturers these days manufacture shuttles with a stiffer skirt. It seems to be Yonex, and cheaper shuttles that use a softer skirt - the latter comes from a lack of feather thickness more often than not.
The skirt colouration can be indicative of shuttle quality. The difference in tones (some shuttles are a more yellowy colour, some are whiter) is not the main factor - this is likely just the bleach they've used.
Rather, it is better to look at the consistency of the bleaching. Is the colouration patchy? Are some spots whiter than others?
Feather shuttles can be quite brittle, we therefore want nice, thick feathers that are going to be durable. This is a case where you'd have to eyeball it, but generally speaking higher quality shuttles will use a more consistent, thick set of feathers.
The Cork (the not feathered area)
As previously mentioned corks can have different materials in them. You have three main types of cork material.
- Natural cork (the good stuff)
- Compressed cork (someone correct me on this if I'm wrong on the name, but that weird flakey cardboard like material)
The more natural cork, the better. We have four easy ways to look at shuttles:
1 - Full Natural Cork - the ideal
2 - Tri-layer Cork - two pieces of natural cork, with compressed cork between them, stacked vertically.
3 - Composite Cork - Compressed cork at the top, with natural cork at the tip of the shuttle. This material is noticeably easier to deform than natural cork.
4 - Anything with plywood in it - Probably not worth using too seriously.
The cork composition affects the weight of the cork and the balance of it a little. It's not as big of a difference as the skirt and feathers make. I find that shuttles with a tri-layer cork will fly slightly further at the same speed rating - but that's empirical, I haven't run experiments with it.
Why buy expensive shuttles?
There's an element of 'you get what you pay for', in a more premium shuttle you'll get thicker feathers, a nice natural cork, and the consistency is likely to be better than in cheaper shuttles. Buying cheaper shuttles is sometimes referred to as a false economy, because while it seems like you're getting a better deal, the shuttles deteriorate faster. The corks are more likely to deform, the feathers are more likely to break faster.
This isn't to say a mishit can't ruin a premium shuttle, but on the whole the premium shuttles will last longer. They'll also provide a more consistent experience, with better speed accuracy throughout the tube.
Let me know if I've missed anything important!
Last edited by Charlie-SWUK; 10-28-2015 at 10:56 AM.
No problem, like I said it's driving me a little crazy playing with slow shuttles, so much so that I go into my bag and get my own out. I've had everything from people thinking speed changes how fast a shuttle moves (rather than the distance it'll cover), thinking the 40 in AS40s was the speed... More than anything it's getting sore trying to hit 77s because they're too slow.
Great guide thank you. Would winter/summer make much difference where the internal temperature of a hall is regulated?
So, all of my halls are unregulated. To the point where I've never played in a regulated hall. I've never even had the opportunity to test it. My understanding is that it's ambient air temperature, because that's what affects the air density outside, and in turn, inside. While the air might move more inside in a regulated hall (with convection currents and the heaters), the air will still be denser than it would be when it's hot outside.
Don't take that as fact. That is just what I think would happen. Someone else might be able to provide information. If someone else can provide that information, I'd be happy to include it.