I’d like to start customizing my racquets by adding weight. What are your favorite methods?—Doug
Tinkering with your frame’s specs is a great way to tailor its playability to your particular desires and game. It can also be fun to see how a racquet plays if it has a little more weight in certain spots, or a different balance. Just be careful—customizing can also get a little addicting. I’m far from an expert when it comes to modifying frames, but here are my top three methods for adding weight:
Lead tape is the racquet customizer’s best friend. Take a look at a lot of pros frames and you can see it along the inside of the hoop. Applying strips to different parts of the frame can add mass, improve power and stability and alter the balance. It adheres easily and can be removed without any residual effects to the racquet. Some people prefer to use tungsten strips to avoid handling lead. It’s also heavier so it takes less of it to add weight. I’ve never used tungsten on my frames, so I can’t speak to its benefits, but some also claim it provides better feel at contact than lead.
I’ve got a reel of 1/4 inch thick lead tape that weighs 0.25 grams per inch. My favored tactic is to cut four 5-inch pieces and sticking one on each side of the frame at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions. I line up the 2.5-inch mark of the strip (a ruler helps) with the middle cross string. That adds five grams to the head which can boost the power potential and the backbone at impact. And actually, since I find many modern frames to be on the light side, I double up the strips—one top of the other—for a 10-gram increase.
This has the potential of making a frame feel a little too head heavy. I may want to create a heavier swinging racquet, but if I want to keep the balance closer to the stock set-up I will add the same amount of tape to the handle. I will remove the grip and apply the identical number of lead strips lengthwise on the bevels. They’re so thin that I can’t feel any difference once the grip is reapplied.
I’ve never done it, but I know of players who prefer to pop open the trap door in the handle and—as long as it’s hollow—put the lead tape in there. They will ball up the strips and stick/glue them to cotton balls and slide them into the handle. I’ve also heard of using objects like fishing sinker weights instead of tape. The trick is to have them secure in the handle so they don’t move around during play.
Leather Replacement Grip
Perhaps it stems from learning the game in an era when it was the norm, but I’m partial to leather grips. And since a large majority of modern frames come with cushier, lighter synthetic grips, replacing them with an old-school leather grip is an easy way to raise the weight; anywhere from 10-15 grams depending on the grips involved. It’s also a quick way to make a frame more head light.
Whenever possible this is my preferred tactic to putting lead tape on the handle. Besides raising the weight, I also find it makes the grip firmer and allows for more feel at contact. Which is why it’s not always a success on stiffer frames that already provide plenty of feedback, especially on off-center hits. In those situations I will generally opt for lead tape. And depending on the models, leather is generally slightly thicker than a synthetic, so I prefer to do this on frames with some wiggle room in grip size.
This is another staple found in many pro frames. If the handle is hollow—which describes the large majority of current mass market racquets—you can shoot silicone gel into it to raise the weight, give the racquet a more head-light balance and provide an additional vibration filter. That’s why I like to insert it in stiffer frames that can be brassy at contact. However, I don’t use silicone very often as it’s a nearly permanent attachment—once it hardens it’s brutal to remove.
All customizers have their own style when injecting the gel, and here’s what I generally do: First, if I’m feeling particularly professional, I remove the grip to get to the staples that secure the butt cap. Taking out the staples and butt cap removes any obstructions from the handle when shooting the silicone. If I’m feeling a little lazy, I might just take a screwdriver and bend the staples flat against the walls inside the handle. Then, I stuff a couple of cotton balls into the handle. This prevents the silicone from potentially dripping into the rest of the frame.
The silicone I use is the clear, waterproof plumbing variety found in most hardware stores. It comes in a nearly 3 oz. tube, which is more weight than I’d like to add. So as I slowly squirt the silicone into the handle, I periodically place the frame on a food scale—a must for anyone looking to add weight and match their frames—to see how many grams I’ve added to the handle. Once I hit my desired weight I stop and let the racquet sit for a few days to let the silicone cure before taking it to the courts.
Those are my three go-to techniques when it comes to adding weight or shifting the balance of a racquet. There are undoubtedly many others. If any readers have their own pet styles for customizing frames, please leave them in the comments below.