NHL'ers can spend an hour every day cutting, customizing, and taping up new sticks before every game. Most of us recreational players spend a good amount of time getting our sticks to feel comfortable as well. I've spent way, way more time than I should have customizing my sticks, and here are some things I've learned along the way.
Tools and Equipment
For those of us who enjoy customizing our sticks, there are several tools that make life a lot easier:
- Hacksaw - Any hacksaw will do, just pick up a new blade for it (about $2-3) so it cuts easily.
- Mitre Box - This is a simple box with a line cut in it to make sure cuts are straight. I like the plastic ones you can get for about $5.
- Heat Gun - Hair dryers don't generate enough heat to do the trick. The $20 guns at most hardware stores work just fine.
- Glue Gun - Any cheap glue gun will do the trick, but most new ones that run about $5-7 will heat up a lot quicker.
- Rasp and File - Most hardware stores will sell an 8" rasp/file that is rounded on one side, flat on the other, and bigger and smaller teeth for about $10.
Putting a new blade into a shaft is simple with the right tools, although there are a few things to keep in mind. First, make sure both are the right size, senior or junior, standard or tapered. Use the heat gun to heat up the shaft, holding it a few inches away, aimed a couple inches from the end, and rotating it slowly. It only needs to be heated for about 10-20 seconds; too much heat can cause the finish to bubble and damage the shaft, which may lead to premature breakage. Once the shaft is heated, insert the blade. New blades often have some glue that can be melted with a heat gun. With used blades, I slide them in 3/4 of the way, then apply a couple lines of hot glue on each side of the tenon, and slide it in the rest of the way. This prevents glue from rattling around inside the shaft (annoying!) and the blade from coming loose.
After the stick has cooled for about 10 minutes, test the fit to see if the blade is too loose. Grab the blade in one hand and the shaft in the other and wiggle. If there is any movement or cracking noise, you should heat the shaft again and remove the blade. Try adding a layer of hockey tape to one of the sides of the tenon (length-wise), which will take up some slack. If it's still loose, add another layer of tape. Anything more than two layers indicates a poor fit and you should use a different blade.
If everything fits properly, remove the excess glue by hand and you're all set.
Once you know how long your stick should be (see the earlier article), it's easy to cut it down to length. Take a piece of hockey tape (contrasting color to the stick) and mark where it needs to be cut. Use a mitre box and hacksaw for a clean, straight edge. When the stick is cut, wipe it down with a damp cloth and gently file the edge to make it smooth.
Chances are you bought a stick that was too long for you and cut it down to length. Those of you who are taller might actually need an extension plug at the end of the stick in order to lengthen the stick to your needs. Any hockey shop will sell a wooden end plug that fits into a senior or junior stick for about $5. Simply install them as you would a hockey blade and cut them down to length.
End plugs can also be used to change the balance of a stick. Recall that a hockey stick is a lot like a lever, and the bottom hand is the fulcrum. Typically you have that bottom hand above the halfway point of the stick. Because of the weight of the blade, it might feel a lot heavier than it actually is. A wood end plug adds weight to the opposite end of the stick, which restores the balance. If you like the length of the stick but want to improve the balance, try cutting the tenon off and inserting it flush with the end of the stick.
A wooden end plug can also change the feel of a stick by dampening vibrations. If a stick feels too lively, try inserting a wood end plug (even if it's only the tenon) into the stick.
With a wood end plug, you can change the shape to suit your hand. If you've got smaller hands, try sanding the end plug with your rasp and file. Some players like an oval shape or even a round wheelbarrow shape. The rounded rasp end works great to cut down the corners, then smooth it out with the flat file end.
Taping the Butt End
Nearly every NHL player has his own unique tape job. Some players like a large knob at the end, some no knob at all. Some players will tape just the knob and others will tape down the entire length of the stick. The best thing to do is to experiment with different tape jobs and see which you prefer.
The classic tape job is simply cloth hockey tape wrapped around the end of the stick to make a knob big enough to fit in the palm comfortably. When the knob size feels right, tape down the stick to add a bit of grip to prevent the hand from sliding down.
To make a ribbed tape job, twist the tape around (sticky side out) to form a rope, wrap the rope down the stick, then tape over it going back up. You can space out the ribs to fit between your fingers, as well as using wider and narrower tape to change the size of the ribs.
The first few times you use a freshly taped stick, the adhesive of the tape might make the knob feel sticky. To fix this, sprinkle a bit of baby powder on a new tape job and rub it into the tape.
Besides regular cloth hockey tape, there is special flex tape that some players prefer. Flex grip tape is a thin mesh that is wrapped over an existing tape job or the stick itself. It doesn't contain sticky adhesive, but the mesh squares are quite a bit grippier than regular tape. Some players find flex grip tape causes too much wear on the palms of their gloves while others believe it causes palms to wear less than cloth tape.
Taping the Blade
Just as many players have a unique tape job on the butt end, blade taping styles vary from player to player. The basic tape job is simply cloth tape that overlaps from heel to toe. Some players will tape the entire blade and some will tape only the middle or only the toe. For beginners, I recommend taping the entire blade to give friction and cushion.
The main purpose of blade tape is to provide friction for the puck. Hockey sticks, especially composite, are quite slippery when wet with snow and ice. A layer of tape provides something for the puck to grab on to, which helps with catching passes and putting spin on the puck while shooting. Different brands of hockey tape have varying amounts of friction, some feeling very smooth and others rough like sandpaper.
Aside from friction of the tape itself, the ridges made by overlapping the tape grip the puck and create additional spin. Using narrower tape (or tape ripped in half) can add more ridges and friction, whereas wider tape will create fewer ridges.
The other purpose of tape is to improve feel for the puck. Composite blades are very hard and stiff, and a layer of tape can provide just a bit of dampening to help catch hard passes. Wrapping the tape closer together will help cushion the puck more, while keeping them spaced apart will give a livelier.
Players who stick handle and use toe drags often tape over the toe to grab the puck. The best way to do this is to wrap the tape around the toe of the blade just as if the blade were longer, then to cut the excess tape with scissors along the toe.
Hockey Wax and Friction Tape
Regular cloth hockey tape absorbs moisture from the snow and ice. In some situations, this can attract snow along the blade and affect feel for the puck. A bit of wax rubbed on to the tape will repel moisture as well as add a bit of grip. The best waxes are specially formulated for cold weather and are available in a solid puck shape. Simply rub the wax on to the tape in order for it to do its job. Some players will rub a very thick layer into the tape then melt it with a heat gun, a lighter, or rub it in with their fingers.
Another option is to use friction hockey tape. This also repels snow and ice and provides additional grip as it is sticky on both sides. It is typically more expensive though and can be difficult to apply.
Changing the Tape
Some players are fanatical about taping their blades, sometimes taping in between periods. Others will tape it once and use it until the stick breaks. There are no rules, but remember that worn hockey tape cannot provide friction for the puck. If you use a wood stick or blade, be sure to remove the tape after every usage to prevent them from rotting and going soft.
Wayne Gretzky was one of the first players to use something other than tape on the end of his stick. He wanted something that could easily be applied and was consistent from stick to stick. There are several products available today that provide an alternative to traditional hockey tape.
Tacki Mac produces grips for the end of the stick made of a rubber material. They are lightly textured and become grippy rather than slippery when wet. I find these produce a much more secure grip than cloth tape as well as wearing glove palms less. The grips are sold with a double sided adhesive tape that is slippery at first and then dries in place. You can also use cheap hairspray such as Aqua Net to secure them (as well as remove pen ink from desks).
Bladetape is a very popular tape alternative for the blade, also made of rubber. It sticks to either side of the blade and provides a texture grip and cushioning for the puck. The manufacturer claims it lasts about 10-15 uses, although users may find it lasts a lot longer or shorter. It does change the feel for the puck as well, improving it for some players' taste and muddling it too much for others.
Although today's hockey sticks are colorful and eye-catching in the store, that same finish can be distracting on the ice. A few NHL'ers will spray paint the bottoms of their sticks white or black. Regular flat finish paint does the trick, just be sure to spray thin, light coats to avoid runs.
Another common practice among NHL'ers is to add grip to hockey sticks using black tape. To do this, find a spare wood end plug or a section of hockey stick. Wrap black tape around it with the sticky side out and rub this along the sides of the shaft until you're satisfied with the amount of grip. If you want to clean it off, some Goo Gone on a rag does a great job.
Now that I've described as many different aspects of taping and customizing, here is what I prefer:
I typically cut the stick between my mouth and nose in bare feet, which usually places it at or below my chin in skates. Once it is cut to level, I insert the tenon of a wood end plug into the end of the stick to dampen vibrations a bit and improve balance. I prefer Tacki Mac grips as an alternative to tape, and I use the wrapped texture model. I spray the end of the stick with some cheap hair spray and pull the grip down into place. This keeps the grip secured but can easily be removed and reapplied. On the blade, I start the tape job at the heel on the back of the blade, wrap the tape over the heel away from the toe, then tape the blade from heel to toe. Usually I will tape over the toe and cut the excess with scissors. I finish the tape job by rubbing just a bit of wax on the bottom of the blade to prevent snow buildup.