The Woodworker’s Role In Baseball

Indoor air quality can be negatively affected by airborne particulates generated by woodworking. Dust collection systems can remedy the problem.

The Woodworker’s Role In Baseball 1

Since the beginning of baseball’s popularity in the 1850s, fans’ love of the game has only grown fonder. In the over 150 years since, much has changed in the world of organized sports but the baseball bat has largely remained the same. At the outset of baseball, players tended to make their own bats, fashioning them to their particular size and weight preferences. Game rules eventually established height and length restrictions, currently 2.75” diameter and no longer than 42”. There are no weight standards but conventional preferences favor lighter bats, not the heavier models previously assumed to give more power to the line drive. While much about bat design remains unchanged, the production of them moved from the responsibility of the players, to that of skilled woodworkers.

The process of bat making begins after wood is felled in forests, making splits. Any wood will do but ash, by far, is the wood of choice due to its strength, flexibility and light weight. Maple is also popular. The wood splits are turned into billets (by shaving off the rough edges), and then seasoned (dried out) to remove sap and gum. After drying, they are weighed and quality-inspected then placed in a lathe and shaped into rough form, with a narrow neck. The billets are again sanded and inspected before being sorted by weight.

Mill workers who create the final product are called bat turners. They are highly skilled woodworking artisans. The bat turner will select a billet that matches the weight and length of the model ordered. They will place the billet on a lathe and will turn the lathe, sanding and shaving the wood into an exact replica of the model. If the bat requires staining, it is dipped into a staining vat, then varnished.

Though the process is uncomplicated, there are health concerns in the production of baseball bats. Occupational risks in the woodworking industry include wood dust and chemical inhalation. (1) Dust can be a possible hazard when wood particles from sanding and cutting become airborne and when chemical vapors from varnishes are emitted. Particulate and vapor inhalation may cause dermatitis, both allergic and non-allergic respiratory symptoms, excess mucus and even cancer. (2)

Exposure to wood dust has long been associated adverse health effects and after repeated exposure, a worker can become sensitized (allergic) to the dust. This sensitization can cause a severe allergic reaction to even low exposures outside of the workplace. (3)

What’s further problematic for the skilled workers who create bats for the game of baseball, is that as many as 300 species of trees – including ash – have been implicated in allergic reactions and some (again, ash included) have been proven to cause nasal cancer in woodworkers. (4)

At present, OSHA recognizes wood dust as a “confirmed” human carcinogen and strongly encourages employers to keep exposures to a minimum and to adopt safe practices for their employees. Employers can do this through clean air engineering by way of local exhaust ventilation, which removes dust at or near its source. (3)

Thankfully, wood dust exposure doesn’t need to cause ill effects. Whether your employees produce bats for baseball players or cabinets for homeowners, at Air Systems Inc., we serve our customers in the woodworking industry by identifying areas of potential risk. We supply them with stellar products that will properly ventilate and remove air impurities so that over-exposure to wood dust cannot occur. Contact us today to discuss a free safety program estimate with one of our skilled and experienced clean air specialists.