Making Birdies: How Shuttlecocks Are Made
Making birdies (shuttlecocks) of high quality is an art and requires skill. It is not just a case of getting a cork and sticking sixteen feathers in it!
Shuttlecocks, are made with an open conical shape with a rounded cork base which is covered with either leather or plastic into which sixteen overlapping goose feathers are embedded. Once the feathers have been thrust into the cork, glue is used to secure the feathers in place. The glue used on some of the professional birdies can take up to a week to dry. Once the glue has dried, the feathers are evenly bound with thread which is also glued into place. The threads can either be placed using machines similar to sewing machines or completed by hand.
Recreational players often use birdies with a nylon or plastic skirt as they are more economical and less liable to break. Nylon birdies also come in three varieties for use at different temperatures and speeds. Slow speed shuttlecocks are green, medium speed are blue, and fast speed are red. The speeds are indicated by appropriate color strips which are fastened around the cork. The shuttlecock actually can be fired at a very high rate of speed, reaching over 200 mph (90 meters per second - twice as fast as a baseball can be thrown) just off the racquet1. Shuttlecock speeds can be adjusted by "tipping the feathers". To slow a shuttlecock down, bend one in four (of the sixteen feathers - alternating every four) outward. If it is not slow enouch bend four more. To speed up the shuttlecock, bend them inward2.
Most professional shuttlecocks are made with white goose feathers which are usually between 1.7 and 2.1 grams each. The feather's angle is then measured to ensure that the birdie doesn't wobble during its flight and Grade 1 feathers have 14 very slightly different angles, although all sixteen feathers are the same length when measured from the tip to the base. The feathers are then thrust into the cork usually by a compressed air machine.
Shuttlecocks for amateur players and cheaper models quite often have the feathers placed into the cork by hand, but with this type of manufacture, there is the potential that accuracy and consistency in flight will suffer.
The better quality corks are generally produced in Taiwan and are classed as Grade 1 corks. These corks have an approximate diameter of 28mm and are rounded on the bottom. Consistency as the the size of feathers, as well as the weight and effectiveness of glue are part of the engineering process in creating a quality shuttlecock.
Commercially made birdies are tested for their speed and stability. Grade 1 and 2 birdies are used for competitions and grades 3 and 4 are relegated for use by amateur players.
1. Speed of the Fastest Badminton Shuttlecock
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