Gear Q&A: Handle With Care

by: Jon Levey | June 09, 2017

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Jon Levey answers your equipment questions in Gear Q&A. Click here to email your question, or send him a tweet at @72unforced.

I read your article in Tennis Magazine (adding weight to a racquet), and have a question. Won’t putting lead tape on the handle under the grip cause health problems? With the transpiration (hands) playing tennis, the lead will not enter in contact with the skin (little amount)? Or do I have to put some kind of plastic or other material to contain and isolate the lead?—Pedro


Using lead tape is a tried-and-true tactic to alter the weight, balance and overall playability of frames. Players have found it an effective and easy way to customize their racquets to better suit their games. Applying it to the handle increases the mass of a frame while giving it a more head-light balance. And while extended exposure to lead in things like contaminated water or consumer products has been known to be unsafe, tennis players have not suffered from using this particular one.  

My preferred method for adding weight to the handle of a frame actually doesn’t involve lead; I generally swap out the (almost customary) synthetic grip for a leather one. It’s generally heavier and I like the firmer feel and pronounced bevels. That said, there were occasions when I’ve wanted to add more weight to the handle, and using a leather substitute wasn’t an option, leaving me to placing lead tape under the grip. And I’m constantly putting lead tape on the face of the frame to bolster weight and stability. Been doing it for many years. In all that time, I never incurred any health problems.

This also extends to people that I know. After receiving your question, I reached out to several of our racquet testers who also customize frames for themselves and clients, and none reported medical issues from handling lead tape. However, I don’t mean to imply your fears are completely unfounded and shouldn’t be addressed. There are ways to minimize, or even eliminate, contact with lead tape when adding weight to a frame.

One way is to pop open the trap door in the butt cap and insert balled up lead tape inside the handle. This will obviously keep the material out of contact with your hand. Just make sure it’s not rattling around during play; gluing it to cotton balls and then stuffing them into the handle usually prevents it.

If this isn’t an option—there’s no trap door, the handle already has foam or silicone—and you need to put the tape directly on the handle, you can take measures to limit potential contact. Here’s a suggestion from Kin Roseborough, one of our racquet testers, as well as head stringer at the Family Circle Tennis Center: “When I've been asked to put a lot of lead on a handle, I've always covered it with double-sided tape. Not sure that provides any more protection, but it does help the replacement grip to stay in place. That should at least help prevent the lead from being exposed.” 

But if the whole concept of using lead tape is not to your liking, perhaps best to exclude it from the equation altogether. Shooting silicone into the handle is a frequent approach to raising handle weight, or using small objects like fishing weights glued to cotton balls presents a less permanent option. Tungsten—either as tape applied to the racquet or putty injected into the handle—has arguably become the most prevalent alternative to lead. It’s a little more expensive, but far from a big-ticket item, and carries no ill-effects from contact.

Those are just a few of the possibilities. No doubt readers can offer some of their preferred methods below.     

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