You’re Not Crazy: Older Drumsticks Are Heavier Than New Ones
Posted on September 17, 2023
Here’s something I know confounds many drummers: brand–new, unblemished drumsticks are somehow lighter than pairs that are older, chipped, splintered, and hanging on by a thread. It’s a topic I see somewhat often online, and the difference is stark enough for you to notice with just your hands, often immediately. It throws me off quite a bit since I have a large stockpile of sticks I pull from — you never know when your favorite model will abruptly and mysteriously go out of production.
Ahem. Anyway, what’s going on seems completely unintuitive. As you play with a stick, cymbals and rims chip away at the wood. Less wood should mean a lighter drumstick… right?
Some of the explanations I’ve seen chalk it up to how drumsticks are paired — i.e. your new sticks must just be a lighter pair than your old ones. And yet, every time I handle I new pair of AJ5s, I’m always taken aback by how odd they feel. It’s like they aren’t made out of hickory but something like maple.
My theory was that the extra weight comes from moisture; specifically the oil in your hands. Could that be enough to cause a noticeable difference?
Well, I just got a hold of some new drumsticks, and since I have a nifty food scale, I decided to get some exact numbers myself. I actually have a great control: my practice pad sticks. I have a pair of AJ5s that I only use for practice pad work, which has never seen a drum or a cymbal. No dents, chips, or splinters.
So then, I placed one of each stick onto the scale, and here’s the data: the new stick was 38 grams, while the old one clocked in at 40 grams.
Like I said, you’re not crazy — an older pair of drumsticks will weigh more than a newer pair.
Going a step further, I looked for some sticks in my stash that are pretty toasted but nonetheless still in one piece; I have these saved in case I really get desperate for a practice pair (see: that stick shortage I mentioned earlier). I got the five sticks onto the scale, and the heaviest measured 41 grams! The average of the five was 38.8 grams.
Next, it was time to really get to the bottom of this. While I was pretty positive that the oil from your skin made up the difference, the only way to quantify this was to go for a middle school science experiment.
Here was my question: what would happen if I took a new stick and soaked it with some liquid? My first thought was to use water to submerge a stick for a few days, gingerly wipe it down, and promptly throw it on the scale. More than anything else, I was curious to know just how much water a stick could hold until it was completely saturated.
For maximum science, I decided to do my little experiment swapping water for oil, since my theory is that the weight comes from the oil on your fingers, not ambient moisture. Colorado is one of the driest states in the union after all, both for precipitation and humidity… yet I still notice this phenomenon.
The oil on your skin (which is technically called sebum) is not so much oily but waxy and fatty. You can buy imitation sebum, although it isn’t exactly cheap. While I was interested in this topic, I wasn’t that interested. Besides, I had a deadline to make, so picking something up in town would be ideal.
I figured that, by 2023, someone would have identified a common oil that’s a close approximation of sebum, but to my surprise, I didn’t get a lot of traction googling. A couple of articles introduced something called jojoba oil,* which is commonly used in cosmetics; its apparent likeness to sebum stems from its high wax content.
Unfortunately, I found a blog post claiming that the likeness is a bit spurious. Animal oil was presented as an option, such as lanolin, which comes from wool. But jojoba oil would be much easier to get. Again, I didn’t care that much.
To that end, I also felt uneasy about potentially sacrificing an AJ5. (Have I brought up that stick shortage?) So I went to the local drum store a nabbed the cheapest pair of hickory sticks available, some VF 8Ds which weighed in at 49 grams each.
I found a forum thread mentioning how damaging the lacquer on a stick will help moisture seep in, so to increase my science level even further, I scuffed up the shoulder of one of the drumsticks before the experiment. To be clear, I don’t think this is needed for the drumstick to take in any oil (evinced by my pristine practice sticks), but since I got two of them, why not see if there’s a difference?
After picking some jojoba oil up, dowsing the drumsticks with it, letting the lumber marinate for a few days, and then finally weighing the pair, the results are in:
The intact 8D went up to 50 grams, while the one I chipped reached a whopping 52 grams. So there you go. Three grams of oil got soaked up by the stick.
All in all, I was most surprised by how much of a difference scuffing the stick made. Three grams of oil out of 52 grams total makes up 5.7% of the drumstick’s weight. I realize now that for even more science, I could have worn away the grip in addition to damaging the shoulder, but it slipped my mind.
And that concludes my very scientific blog post. A couple of things to keep in mind. First, differences in lacquer/varnish will probably affect how much fluid the wood will take up, and a bigger stick will of course give you a bigger difference.
I don’t know to what extent these results are repeatable. It would be an interesting topic, but not today. Again, I do care… but not that much.
* ↑ I’ve come to learn that jojoba is a Spanish word, so it should be pronounced: “huh • ho • buh”. I just don’t want anyone to go to a shop and make the same blunder I did. As if I didn’t stand out at the local beauty store enough…