So you spent a ton of money on a brand-new set of carbon fiber golf clubs. Great. Here’s hoping they improve your game. But did you know that those golf clubs are really plastic? No joke. It is the same plastic that aerospace companies use to make plane parts. It’s the same plastic that goes into car bodies, tennis rackets, and surfboards.
Before you panic, the issue is one of incorrect vocabulary. In short, we just use the term ‘carbon fiber’ inappropriately. We use it to mean one thing when it actually means another. The same goes for the word ‘plastic’. Once you know the correct definitions of the terms, your golf clubs being plastic actually makes sense.
For the record, plastic is not a single material. There are dozens of different plastics, each with its own properties. Most plastics are synthetic while some are natural. And now that you are thoroughly confused, let us talk about those golf clubs.
Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Plastic
What we consumers normally refer to as carbon fiber is actually a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP). Literal carbon fiber is just what its name says: tiny fibers made from carbon molecules. Carbon fiber is manufactured by treating carbon molecules with heat and chemicals in order to force them to arrange themselves in long strings.
Genuine carbon fibers can be utilized in different ways. They can be spun together to create threads, which is why you can have actual garments made from carbon fiber. The fibers can also be mixed with a thermoplastic resin to create the previously mentioned CFRPs.
The shafts of your carbon fiber golf clubs were likely made by combining carbon fiber fabric with a thermoplastic resin. If not, they may have been 3D printed or manufactured using a process known as pultrusion. Either way, what you have is a plastic material reinforced by carbon fibers.
A Tough Material
As you probably know, what we normally refer to as carbon fiber is a tough material. Reinforcement is the key. Just like concrete reinforced by rebar is stronger than non-reinforced concrete, a plastic resin reinforced with carbon fiber is much stronger than a standard plastic. In fact, it is stronger than both steel and aluminum.
Exceptional tensile strength is what makes carbon fiber such a good material for fuselage panels, boat hulls, and even golf clubs. It can stand up to a lot of punishment without breaking. On the downside, carbon fiber’s toughness also makes it difficult to recycle.
Not Just Another Plastic
Recycling plastic is not so easy to begin with. Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics says that some types of plastic are harder to recycle than others. So much so that it is not financially viable to recycle some types. But when it comes to CFRPs, it’s an entirely different ballgame. CFRPs are not just another plastic.
Seraphim Plastics can easily chop and shred a traditional plastic to create something known as regrind. That regrind can be added to virgin plastic pallets during the manufacturing process. It essentially becomes an ingredient in new end products.
CFRPs can also be chopped and shredded. But they cannot be easily melted down and combined with new material. Oftentimes, recycled carbon fiber material has to be used some other way.
Getting back to the main point, your expensive new golf clubs are actually made of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic. This is what makes them lightweight and flexible. But don’t worry. Just tell everyone they are carbon fiber. There is no need to talk about the plastic aspect. What your golf buddies don’t know won’t hurt them.