The birdie, officially known as a shuttlecock, is the “ball” players use in badminton. In fact, this unique projectile is one of the things that set badminton apart from other racket sports. Generally speaking, there are three kinds of birdies: feathered, plastic, and hybrid. However, we will focus here only on the feathered shuttlecock and how it is made.
So, what are the different parts of a feathered shuttlecock? The shuttlecock consists of two parts: a base and a skirt. The base is usually made of cork, while the skirt has several feathers.
A feathered shuttlecock is made by first forming a base and then fastening the feathered skirt to it. The shuttlecock base is made by covering a semi-spherical cork with leather and then punching 16 holes on the flat side of the base. 16 feathers are then inserted into the holes, angled in a specific overlapping fashion, and held in place by glue and two rows of thread.
Now, let’s take a deeper look into how each part is created and how that process has changed throughout history.
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What Are the Parts of a Feathered Badminton Shuttlecock?
Pros always choose natural feathered shuttlecocks because of their quality. As we already mentioned, the feathered shuttlecocks have two parts, called the base and the skirt. Specific animal feathers serving as the skirt are attached to the base — which is most often natural, high-quality cork.
A Detailed View of the Shuttlecock Base
The shuttlecock base needs to be made of sturdy material. Its top is flat, while the bottom is round, like a semi-sphere. Sometimes, we can encounter a base that has two parts. The tip is usually soft and made of cork, while the rest is harder and may consist of hard cork or synthetic foam.
The bottom of the base is usually soft because that’s where the players hit the shuttlecock. Therefore, a soft elastic cork will help with the smash. In the same way, the top of the base should be strong because it needs to hold the skirt.
In addition, the manufacturers cover the base with white leather, which gives it that specific look and feel. Some famous badminton brands like Victor or Yonex also put a colored band at the top of the base. The color indicates the shuttlecock’s speed, which can be slow, medium, or fast.
The completed base should be between 25 mm to 28 mm in diameter and rounded on the bottom. Furthermore, the circle where the feathers will go should have a diameter of 58 mm to 68 mm.
After a base passes the inspection, the punching machine makes sixteen holes into the flat side. That is because the standard feathered shuttlecock has 16 feathers. Next, the workers or a machine insert the feathers and fasten them with durable glue.
A Detailed View of the Shuttlecock Skirt
Natural feathers for a shuttlecock usually come from one animal. While the manufacturers sometimes use feathers from both wings to create one shuttlecock, they mostly try to stick to the ones from the same wing. So, feathers on a shuttlecock should all be either from the right wing, or the left one.
There’s a simple explanation for this practice. The feathers that come from the same wing tend to be more alike when it comes to their shape and size. So, if you mix feathers from both wings in creating a skirt, it will result in a shuttlecock with an unstable flight. According to industry standards, it is preferable to use feathers from the left wing because they can achieve more consistent rotation due to its more equal feather length and curvature.
Workers start by placing all the feathers into a cup, with the feather side up. Then, they place the feathers into a special sorting machine with 26 different sensors to measure each one. Next, the machine sorts all feathers of the same size and angle together.
As we mentioned earlier, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) that issued the Laws of Badminton expects shuttlecocks to have only 16 feathers. Still, some companies make skirts with 14 or even 18 feathers, which we consider off standard. Moreover, the feathers need to have precisely the same length, which can range between 62 mm and 70 mm as measured from the top of the base.
Putting the Base and the Skirt Together
When making a shuttlecock, the manufacturers place the feathers in holes on the base and secure them using glue. However, they have to make sure they organize feathers in a specific way. A feather should partially overlap the one beneath it and the one above it. Furthermore, if a machine is not available, workers must use flat nose pliers to adjust the angle of every single feather.
Next, all shuttlecocks are placed into a wind tunnel to check their balance. If everything is in order, the first layer of glue is applied, which ought to fix the feathers in place.
Then, it’s time for something called stitching. In shuttlecock making, stitching is a process of taking two rows of thread and weaving them around the feather stems. Once makers finish fastening the feathers in this way, they apply another layer of glue to the thread to make it stick. By doing so, they secure the feathers from breaking the formation.
In the end, every shuttlecock undergoes a final tuning where workers adjust the feathers once more to secure a proper balance. The completed shuttlecock is durable and has an extremely aerodynamically stable shape.
How Long Does the Process of Making a Feathered Shuttlecock Take?
According to some, the completion of a shuttlecock takes 26 phases. Unfortunately, there’s no official information on how much time the whole process takes.
How Has the Way We Make Shuttlecocks Changed Over Time?
Historical sources claim people have been using shuttlecocks for more than 2,000 years. However, the badminton we know today has been around since the middle of the 19th century. So, we can fairly easily track how the shuttlecock’s base and skirt have changed from that point on.
For instance, in 1840, the base was covered with velvet instead of leather, and the feathers did not have any stitching. However, the flight was erratic and inconsistent, which made people experiment with different kinds of feathers and materials. The change came twenty years later, in the 1860s. That’s when makers started adding hessian, a woven fabric made from jute, to the velvet and introduced a single layer of stitching.
It was only in the 1890s when they first tried covering the base with leather. However, that additional layer was heavier and different from what we can see today on badminton shuttlecocks. Also, in 1899, the manufacturers added another row of thread to secure the feathers.
The beginning of the 1900s brought even more changes to the manufacturing procedure. For one, the makers began using linen thread during the stitching stage. Next, in 1920, they created the first outdoors shuttlecock with a rubber base. A decade later, in 1930, they introduced cotton thread and chicken feathers in the skirt production.
In 1945 in England, Reinforced Shuttlecocks Limited (RSL) made the first shuttlecock that resembles the one we have today. They called it the “Tourney.” Almost twenty years later, in 1963, the same company created a shuttlecock with three rows of stitching.
Throughout badminton history, the shuttlecock has gone through many changes. Today, we use modern technology to enhance them further. For instance, in 2019, Kinisi Sports released the 3-in-1 shuttle that features three parts instead of two — a cork base, a modified nylon core, and feathers. However, this state-of-the-art shuttlecock also offers an opportunity to replace feathers, which might become very important in the near future.
What Materials are Used to Make a Feathered Shuttlecock
As discussed above, the shuttlecock base usually consists of some sturdy material, like cork, foam, or rubber. We can also notice a thin layer of white fabric, like leather, on its surface.
We get cork for the base by trimming and peeling the bark of a cork tree. This tree takes from 25 to 40 years to reach the state where we can harvest it. Furthermore, the older the tree, the better the cork.
The quality of the base affects the quality of the shuttlecock. For instance, a low-quality cork is not durable and will probably deform very soon. On the other hand, there’s a range of quality corks to choose from, from the premium Portuguese ones we can see in champagne bottles to the ones we use in wine bottles.
Furthermore, the best shuttlecocks use all-natural cork, while lower quality ones use composite cork. Composite here means the cork consists of various materials mixed together. For example, there’s a base made of polyurethane foam placed between two layers of cork. However, such layering and a mix of different materials is a poor option because the base will deform over time, affecting the shuttlecock’s durability and flight.
When it comes to the shuttlecock skirt, it consists of natural feathers. In most cases, those feathers come from geese or ducks. Also, they are usually plucked from the left wing of a live animal.
Professional tournaments currently only use geese feather shuttlecocks because they offer better quality and grade. But natural feathers are brittle and need to be properly humidified for several hours before the game. Only then can they achieve the best distance and speed and last longer.
The BWF has approved synthetic shuttlecock usage for certain professional tournaments. Stay tuned to see how this impacts the badminton landscape.
All in all, the shuttlecock is older than badminton itself, and we have been using it for thousands of years. We have experimented with different kinds of materials and feathers throughout history to find the best possible combination. Today, the production process is complex as quality shuttlecocks consist of high-quality cork and geese feathers joined together at a precise angle.
Still, can we say that we have reached perfection in making shuttlecocks? With modern technology advancing, we can hardly say the future will not hold any changes for shuttlecocks. Therefore, we can only sit back and see what innovations the future will bring to the process of creating feathered shuttlecocks.
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