Appendix IV - Juggling Clubs
There are dozens of varieties of juggling clubs available from shops all over the country and deciding which type is the best for you can be difficult. You may see catalogues listing dimensions, weights, spin rates and other specifications, but before you look at any of those it is vital that you have tried the clubs, preferably for a decent length of time, and liked the way that they felt. No club is 'easier' or 'harder' to juggle than any other (with the possible exception of some of the very cheapest varieties, which tend to be too light for serious use). In this section I will talk about some of the ways in which clubs differ, and some of the factors that you should take into account before making a purchase.
There are 2 popular designs for juggling clubs commonly seen in use today, these are the Plastic One-Piece Club and the Multi-Piece Club.
The plastic one-piece variety is made from a hollow shell of moulded polyethylene or a similar material. These clubs tends to be relatively cheap because they are so simple to make, with prices starting at about £4.00 each. However one-piece clubs can be hard to get used to, the handles are smooth and hard making them difficult to grip, and they are sometimes painful to use. Most clubs of this type tend to be too light for the experienced juggler, and some are even so insubstantial that air resistance becomes a problem, forcing you to over spin every throw to allow for the slowing down which occurs as they turn. One piece clubs seem to be more popular in America than in Europe at present, with many jugglers over there using the Classic American design, this is a very heavy, wide bodied club often favoured by performers for its durability and high visibility.
If the term American Style is used when describing a club, it means that the model has a large rounded body with a lot of weight behind it. Lighter and slimmer clubs are referred to as European Style. These terms have nothing to do with where the club was made, some 'American' clubs come from Europe and vice-versa.
Single-piece clubs are often a good choice for club swingers, some varieties have smooth, rounded knobs at the end of the handle which are ideal for this type of work.
The multi-piece club is the more popular of the two designs. It incorporates a wooden dowel running through the centre of the club, and a strong plastic shell for the body. The handle is usually made by wrapping a flexible sheet of plastic around the dowel with a separating air gap to provide cushioning. At the bottom of the handle is a rubber knob screwed into the dowel, this provides grip when the club is balanced on its end, as well as being essential for tricks like kick-ups and body throws. At the head end, another rubber protector is screwed in place to prevent damage to the top of the club.
The vast majority of jugglers today use this type of club instead of the one-piece design. I think the main reason for this is that they just feel much nicer to throw and catch, the difference in quality outweighs the difference in price for most people.
As well as varying widely in design, clubs also vary a lot in weight, depending on which make and model you choose. Some of the more popular clubs are available in different weights, most are simply categorised as being either light or heavy, although some of the more expensive types are labelled with their weight to the nearest gram to ensure you get exactly the right one.
Lightweight clubs are obviously easier and safer for children, they don't tire your arms as quickly, and for long practice sessions in the gym you can't beat them. Weight becomes more of a limiting factor when juggling higher numbers, and heavy clubs are a definite disadvantage for 5 or more. If you intend to juggle outside a fair bit then heavy clubs are a better option just because they won't be affected by the wind so much, this is especially important if you intend to do street shows and can't wait around for nice weather. These considerations aside, it is largely a matter of personal taste.
Clubs are often referred to as being either fast or slow, these terms describe the rate at which the club spins. If a club's centre of gravity is near to its middle, it is easy to make it turn quickly and rapid tricks can be performed without much effort, such a club is said to have a fast spin. If most of a club's weight is concentrated near the head end, then the handle will trace out a larger circle in the air as it rotates, and so it will take longer to complete each rotation, clubs like this are said to have a slow spin.
Fast clubs often suit fast jugglers who favour low patterns and lots of spins, slow clubs give the juggler more control, but they require more energy to use. Slow, light clubs are preferred by many numbers jugglers.
If you aren't sure which type would suit you better then it probably doesn't matter, you will get used to whatever you start using.
The handle is the most important part of a club, this is the bit you will be throwing and catching so it must be just right. Equipment manufacturers have to make a compromise between comfort and control. A squashy handle is nice to catch, but harder to judge precise throws with. Hard handles can result in broken finger nails and bruises, but you get a definite edge as far as accuracy is concerned.
Handles come in a wide range of designs but, with the obvious exception of one-piece clubs, most of them incorporate a 'wrapped handle' as described earlier, with an air gap between the wrap and the central dowel. Air cushioned handles feel quite firm, with a little bit of give to take the sting out of catching. You don't loose any accuracy because the handle only squashes on sharp impacts (catching), not under gradual lighter pressure (throwing).
Handles not only come in different types, but in different lengths as well. With some makes of club you have a choice between long and short handles. The difference in length is usually only a couple of centimetres, but it has a big effect on the spin of the club. Short handles bring the club's centre of gravity closer to its middle, making it spin faster. Long handled clubs spin more slowly and are generally preferred for passing, and for numbers juggling. The majority of jugglers use long handled clubs and so for reasons of compatibility alone they are probably the best bet, unless you have a strong preference to the contrary.