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The shuttlecock is the projectile used as the “ball” in the sport of badminton. A shuttlecock is also known as a birdie or shuttle, for short. Shuttlecocks are made with various materials, ranging from synthetic plastic to feather, typically from duck or goose feathers. If you are looking for some guidance on selecting the right feathered shuttlecock, check out this post: The Complete Guide to Yonex Badminton Shuttlecocks (Feathered)!

Even when shuttlecocks are made with the same type of material, take feathers for example, the quality of a shuttlecock can differ drastically. However, what is consistent is how fragile the shuttlecock is and how steep a price point it could fetch. As such, it’s important to learn how to maximize the set of shuttlecocks that you have within your possession. Don’t throw out perfectly good shuttlecocks if you find them too fast or too slow, we just might have a solution for you! Read on, trust us – your wallet will thank you later.

What we will focus on in this article is how to administer proper shuttlecock care to prolong the shuttlecock’s longevity, as well as understand when and how to modify the shuttle to suit the environment that you are playing in.

Shuttlecock Steam Treatment

Depending on the temperature or climate of where you live, the shuttlecock may need some attention prior to putting it into play. As fragile as they are, not properly caring for the shuttlecock can result in it breaking in just a couple of hits. Especially in cold and drier climates, the feathers of a shuttlecock can become too dry and brittle. Steaming the shuttles help to reintroduce moisture into the feathers of the shuttle, helping them last longer within game play.

Before you steam your shuttlecocks, it’s important to keep in mind that to maximize the benefits of steaming, you only want to steam the shuttlecocks that you will be using in your next session of badminton. While it saves time to steam the entire tube of shuttlecocks, the moisture that is added back to the shuttlecock will continue to diminish over time. Therefore, it is recommended to steam just enough shuttles as needed for the next time you play, ideally one or two days out.

The following steps detail out a common way to steam a tube of shuttlecocks:

Step 1: Heat up a pot of water on the stove, preferably in a tea kettle with a spout.
Step 2: While the water is being brought to a boil, remove the plastic casing on your tube of shuttlecock, if applicable.
Step 3: Remove the top and bottom lids on the tube of shuttlecock.
Step 4: Hold the tube of shuttlecock, with the feathers pointing downward, directly above the spout of the tea kettle to capture the steam.
Step 5: Once the steam emerges from the top of the tube, you may remove the tube from the steam and replace both top and bottom lids on to the tube.

Note: do not let the steam continuously run through the tube of shuttlecock too long after you observe steam emerging from the top of the tube of shuttles. Over-steaming can lead to irreparable damage done to the cork of the shuttlecock.

Modifying the Speed of the Shuttlecock: Tipping

Players should note that according to the Laws of Badminton, under clause 16.6.2, deliberately modifying or damaging the shuttle in order to change its speed or its flight is considered a misconduct and can result in a penalty to the player committing the act. As such, modification of the shuttlecock to adjust the speed should only be conducted in casual or recreational play.

The official way of testing the speed of a shuttlecock is to take a singular shuttlecock behind the back boundary line of the court. Using a full underhand swing, a player should hit the shuttle straight in a manner where shuttlecock flies parallel to the side boundary lines towards the other end of the court.

A shuttlecock within proper speed will land no closer than 530 mm (20.87 in) and no farther than 990 mm (38.98 in) from the back boundary line. Refer to Figure 1 below for context. If you do not have access to measuring tape or a ruler, fear not! The visual cues are indicated by the slight protrusions at the back of the court can be used to determine if a shuttlecock has the right speed. As long as it falls between the two ticks (as shown in the diagram below), the shuttlecock has the correct speed.

Markers on the badminton court that indicate the proper speed for a shuttlecock.
Figure 1: View of the right service court. The green area indicate where a shuttlecock with correct speed should land

If you have brought a brand new shuttlecock and it does not pass the speed test detailed above, read on to find out how you can modify the speed of the shuttlecock so that it can still be utilized in a badminton match.

Before we explain how to go about tipping the shuttlecock to correct the speed of the shuttlecock, it is important to understand the following:

  1. A standard feathered shuttlecock has 16 feathers in total. As such, the following recommendations for tipping are made as certain factors of 16, to ensure that the tipped feathers are dispersed evenly.
  2. Tipping a feather (whether inward or outward) is essentially breaking the stem of the feather. This is a irreversible action and should be done with care and precision.
Standard shuttlecock.
A feathered shuttlecock will have 16 individual feathers

Are Your Shuttlecock Too Fast?

A shuttlecock is too fast if it falls closer than 530 mm (20.87 in) from the back boundary line during a speed test. The recommendation here would be to tip the feathers of the shuttlecock outward. Tipping the feathers outward increases the drag and friction of the shuttlecock while it is propelled through the air, effectively making it slower. Err on the side of being conservative by first tipping every 4th feather by about 5 mm (0.2 in). After tipping the feathers, proceed with redoing the speed test. If the shuttlecock is still fast, continue with tipping the shuttlecock every 2 feathers. Rinse and repeat the speed test and resort to tipping every feather if need be. In the most extreme cases, players can tip the shuttle further down its stem, such as 10 mm (0.4 in) to increase the the amount of drag per feather.

Shuttlecock that is tipped outwards to slow its speed.
If the shuttlecock is too fast, start by tipping every 4th feather outward as shown in the picture above. If need be, proceed with tipping every other feather or every feather instead.

Are Your Shuttlecock Too Slow?

A shuttlecock is too slow if its lands further than 990 mm (38.98 in) away from the back boundary line. Opposite to how a player should modify a shuttlecock that is too slow, to make a shuttlecock speedier, players should tip the feathers inward. Tipping the feathers inwards makes the shuttlecock more aerodynamic and subsequently reduces its air resistance. All other instructions hold true. Players should first tip every 4th feather by about 5 mm (0.2 in) and then conduct a speed test. If the shuttlecock is still too slow, players should continue this tipping ritual by tipping every 2nd feather and testing the shuttlecock again by striking it from behind the back boundary line and observing where the shuttlecock lands. If the shuttlecock is still too slow, increase the tipping to every feather. In the most extreme cases, players can double the length in which the tipping occurs on a given feather to 10 mm (0.4 in).

Shuttlecock that is tipped inwards to make its speed greater.
If the shuttlecock is too slow, start by tipping every 4th feather inward as shown in the picture above. If need be, proceed with tipping every other feather or every feather instead.

General Shuttlecock Longevity Tips

  • Do not store the shuttlecocks near high heat locations such as near a heater or furnace. The heat can dry out the shuttlecocks and cause them to become brittle.
  • Unruffle the feathers of the shuttlecock if they are ruffled before passing the shuttlecock back to the opponent or serving the shuttlecock from your end.
  • Pluck and remove feathers that are noticeably damaged and on the verge of detaching from the shuttlecock. These feathers cause unnecessary drag on the shuttlecock and can severely alter its flight pattern.
  • Practice and enforce proper badminton etiquette (#2 on the 7 Unspoken Practices of Badminton Etiquette) by bringing your share of shuttlecocks, and not more or less, to a given match.

In conclusion, don’t be deterred from playing badminton because of the costliness of the shuttlecock. Be smart about your shuttlecock care and you can maximize the lifespan of your shuttlecock and save some money!

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