How to Make a Baseball Glove
(Bloomberg) -- Ever seriously considered a baseball glove? “The feel as it firmly wraps around your hand, the subtle pop as a ball hits it. These characteristics are things that make crafting with [leather] one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. … It’s one of the most interesting materials known to man.”
That’s from Rob Storey, executive vice president of Nokona Ball Gloves. And he should know. He’s a fourth-generation family member working at Nokona, the only remaining ball glove manufacturer in America.
Nokona has been crafting gloves since 1934 in the small town of Nocona, Tex. The company name is spelled with a “k” because it was told the town’s name could not be trademarked. “The town itself is very much part of the final product,” says Storey, whose grandfather, Roberts Storey, steered the company toward glove manufacturing in the 1930s.
“To build a glove, you have to have the right leather,” Storey says of the first step in creating a glove. Nokona uses kangaroo, cowhide, buffalo, and even caiman leathers to create the more than 40,000 gloves produced each year at the factory. When the leathers arrive at Nokona, they are graded to ensure there are no blemishes, scars, or defects. Prices range from $130 for a child’s glove to $290 for a Walnut Crunch adult version and higher for custom creations and niche leather models.
“There are up to 40 different labor operations that go into making a glove,” says Storey of the almost four hours it takes to complete one mitt. “It’s not just sticking a piece of leather in a machine.”
To begin, dies (or “clickers”) are used to cut the leather into about 25 pieces. Storey says Nokona has about 2,000 different dies. While the leather used for outer pieces is still flat, it is hot-stamped with the company logo and then transferred to the embroidery station, where machines pump out about 400 to 500 pieces of embroidered leather a day.
Individual cuts are then moved over to the stitching department. One station sews pieces together to create the web, or pocket, of the glove. A separate stitching station will begin assembling the interior, including the palm and back lining, as well as three center pads. Individual pieces are welted together by adding a thin piece of leather, which acts as a spine, to the backs of the fingers of the glove. At this stage, the item is inside-out.
“Really, at that point we begin to see the glove come together,” Storey says. “The fingers are finally married to the front, and it becomes a shell.”
Once the shell is inverted to expose the outside layer, the shaping of the glove commences. A form resembling a giant metal hand is heated to about 250F, and the glove is stretched over it and shaped with a mallet to ensure that the welting and seams are perfectly aligned.
Following the forming stage, the outside shell is then married to the inside lining. Some parts are glued, such as the cushioning pad, and then sewn. Long strips of tensile strength leather are then hand-laced through the glove’s 120 holes to complete the union of front and back.
Cosmoline, a heavy petroleum jelly compound, is applied to adhere the palm to the inside of the liner. “It looks like peanut butter,” Storey says of the gooey paste. “It’s a great adhesive. We can open up a glove 10 years later and that stuff is still sticky inside.”
After everything is laced together to form one finalized piece, the palm is then machine-beaten. “That softens the glove, shapes the leather, and takes out all the wrinkles and makes it just right,” Storey says.
A combination of petroleum jelly and lanolin is then heated and sprayed onto the glove to form a uniform layer of oil that moisturizes the leather. This is essential, according to Storey, who says a glove is just like any type of skin. “If left to its own design, it will start to dry out and crack and flake.”
The finished glove is then bagged, tagged, and sealed. Catching that fly ball—well, that’s up to you.
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