Graphite vs. Steel in irons: Can Carbon Shafts compete?
Carbon shafts in irons are still ridiculed by many and called "beginners' shafts" or "ladies' shafts". Most people think that only steel shafts come into question if they have above-average club head speeds. However, this is no longer the case. In recent years, a lot has happened with carbon shafts. And this material is indeed very versatile. It is possible to produce very stiff shafts. Especially in combination with steel, as Steelfiber does, for example. Steelfiber shafts belong to the rather stiffer shafts even in the 95g weight class and are comparably stiff as some other 120g steel shafts. Bryson DeChambeau and other tour players also use carbon instead of steel. And certainly not because they don't have enough power to swing a heavy steel shaft. In fact, Bryson DeChambeau finds even the stiffest steel shafts like Dynamic Gold X7 or Nippon Modus 130 too soft. He relies on a carbon shaft that is actually stiffer than these. And the question you have to ask is what difference there is between the two types.
There are two important reasons in favour of a carbon shaft:
1) It is possible to produce very stiff shafts even with low weight.
2) Carbon has a damping property and can absorb vibrations better.
The latter is especially important for players who simply cannot handle "hard feedback" very well. Anyone who has ever dug deep into the ground with a steel shaft or landed a sub-optimal hit in cold temperatures knows what we are talking about. Carbon is much gentler and usually dampens the hits considerably.
Lightweight shafts that nevertheless have a certain stiffness can also be very advantageous. For example, for players who need longer shafts but need to save on swing weight or overall weight, carbon or a steelfibre shaft is a good option. If you build shafts a little longer, they also become softer. Here you also need a certain stiffness, which you otherwise only get with much heavier steel shafts. With various graphite shafts it is possible to achieve stiffnesses even with light 95g that are otherwise only conceivable with a 120g steel shaft.
Our test: Carbon vs. steel shaft
The setup of this test was simple: we use the same club head and take two shafts that are practically identical in terms of stiffness and weight. The only difference: one shaft is made of carbon, the other of steel. The only factor we can't control 100% is the shaft profile. This is inevitably somewhat different, which we also noticed in the test.
One value where you would most likely expect a difference between the shafts is the spin. Some claim that graphite shafts produce more spin and also cause greater fluctuations in the spin values. It is inevitable, for example, that flyers develop more easily and are difficult to control in terms of length. It is now proven that this is a myth and our test also proves this. The spin is minimally higher with the steel shaft and the standard deviation in the spin values is slightly higher with the carbon shaft (234 vs. 146). However, this can clearly be attributed to the fact that our player got on a little better with the shaft profile of the steel shaft and was able to produce a cleaner striking pattern. This can also be seen directly in the efficiency, which results in a higher ball speed.
The dynamic loft is also an important difference. This is over 1° lower with the carbon shaft. However, this has nothing to do with the shaft material, but mainly with the bending profile. The profile of the steel shaft is designed for a minimally higher launch. This 1° difference in dynamic loft also explains the small difference in spin values. The higher the dynamic loft, the more backspin can be expected. None of this has anything to do with the material.
Our conclusion: carbon or steel shaft?
Basically one thing can be said: there is no difference in the numbers if you only compare the material of the shafts. A carbon shaft with identical stiffness, weight and shaft profile would produce the same values 1:1. All the myths that have been established about carbon shafts, such as "worse control", "more spin", "inconsistent spin values" etc. are mainly due to the fact that apples have been compared with oranges. If you take a light and soft carbon shaft, it will of course deliver completely different values than a heavy and stiff steel shaft. However, this comparison is not very serious.
Carbon shafts basically have only one disadvantage: they are usually much more expensive to buy - at least very high-quality shafts. The reason is simply that the production quality is more difficult to control. With steel shafts, on the other hand, acceptable qualities can also be realised in high quantities.
If you want a carbon shaft that has similar values to heavy steel shafts, you have to look a little more closely or seek out the right club fitter. The fact is, however, that these options are now also available. That is why more and more tour players are open to carbon shafts or steelfibre shafts in irons.