From the Comox Valley workshop of Ed Schum to table tennis enthusiasts across Canada, Europe and the Far East - that's the international scope of Blades by Ed.
The 74-year-old Schum started playing table tennis as a boy in Austria over 60 years ago, and after many years of coaching and playing, began manufacturing rackets two years ago.
"I was playing in Richmond. There was a coach there, and just for fun I asked him, if I was going to get a new racket what he would recommend. By the time he was done it would cost me about $300," Schum recalls.
A skilled craftsman who knows the marketing aspect of sports from his time as owner of Mountain Meadows Sports and Nevada Bob's Golf in Courtenay, Schum feels too many players spend too much money on table tennis equipment that does not really help their game.
"My passion is to make high quality table tennis blades available at reasonable cost to all who want to improve their game," he states on the Blades by Ed page on the vitta.ca website.
Schum discovered the best rackets are made of single-ply red cedar (RC) wood. "A multi-ply blade has several layers of glue in there. That makes it so hard and stiff that the ball comes off it very fast, but you lose control. To get the control back you have to pay a lot of money for the rubber – as much as $85 for each side, $170 just for rubber."
Schum says it is not necessary to spend that much money to play well if you use a single-ply RC blade. Red cedar is a relatively soft and elastic wood. The softness of the wood ensures that the ball stays on the racket a fraction longer than it would on a multi-ply blade, giving it good control and spin.
The elasticity of the wood gives you many “gears” - the faster you swing the more the ball will penetrate through the rubber and into the wood and the elasticity will cause a trampoline effect that makes the ball shoot off the racket at high speed.
"I researched and purchased probably 50 different rubbers, and I found the best, inexpensive ones that play well on my blades," says Schum, who imports his rubber from China and notes they range from about $10 to $15 per side.
"I'm trying to make rackets that play well and last well at a reasonable price. My blades go for $50 to $70, depending on the type of wood and complexity of the design. "Most of my complete rackets are less than $100, just a little more than one side of rubber for some people," he said.
Schum has sold about 200 rackets and says, "What is encouraging is that people who bought rackets from me a year ago, have been coming back several times and order more.
"One Chinese fellow in Vancouver has sent eight of them back to friends in China. I have some rackets in the Czech Republic and another fellow took some to Taiwan. I just spent a week in Toronto and played in a club there and I'm getting orders from there now. I was going to do a website but I have all the business I can handle."
And just as the rules of the game dictate one side of the blade be red and the other side black, manufacturing a table tennis racket - especially a custom-made one - is a balance of art and science.
It all happens in Schum's workshop behind his home, where for many years he has been crafting wooden toys for family and friends and creating furniture and displays for his ski and golf shops.
He starts with a block of fine grained red cedar wood and splits it with an adze, making sure the grain is perfectly vertical across the blade (or it tends to warp). He allows the wood to dry, then uses one of several templates and a router to carve out the blade.
Drying the wood is a critical step.
"I get the wood, mostly in big blocks. I measure the moisture content of the wood, then I split it and let the wood sit for a while (several weeks) to dry," Schum explains.
When the moisture drops below 10 per cent he starts to plane the wood and take it to the proper thickness.
"I let it sit for a while to make sure it's perfectly flat. The moisture meter is not accurate below 10 per cent, so I weigh the wood several times a day until I know it is perfectly dry."
Next comes the handle, which he crafts to suit the player's preference - length, thickness, weight, balance and design all figure into the process, and some of his maple wood handles are extremely artistic.
The handle (the three basic types are Shake Hand, Chinese penhold and Japanese penhold) is attached to the blade using contact cement, and the rubber is applied using special table tennis glue.
While single ply wood works best for the blade, Schum uses any combination of woods (or cork) to make the handle, depending on the player's preference. "Good players don't worry about looks, they want performance," he says, but laughs about one notable exception to that rule.
A lady in Victoria didn't care so much about the racket, but wanted green edge tape to match the colour of her shoes. Schum got some fluorescent green duct tape and fulfilled the order to her satisfaction.
Satisfaction is a common theme with those who use Schum's rackets. In a testimonial, Ken Madsen of Denman Island writes: “…I have since learned that Ed is also a master at analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of wood and creating superb blades.
"I had been using an expensive racket and asked Ed if he could make me a spare racket that had a similar balance and 'feel.' Since I got my new racket from Ed, I've left my old blade in its case and exclusively used Ed's.”
To contact Schum, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-338-1653.