There are so many ping pong paddles out there with so many variations. Where the hell do you start? Don’t worry – we got you covered. Here’s the simple (and smart) guide to finding the ping pong paddle of your dreams.
After reading this guide, you’ll know:
- The ping pong paddle components
- The different paddles to use with different hand grips
- How the rubber padding affects your game
- What Blade shape, material, and weight will be best for you
- How Each Component Affects Spin, Speed, and Control
Section 1: Ping Pong Paddle Components
In this section, we’ll going to cover the different parts that make up a ping pong paddle. While there are many different shapes, sizes, and details, the significant parts remain the same in most ping pong paddles.
There are four main components of a ping pong paddle (also called a table tennis paddle):
- Top Sheet
The Top Sheet is the rubber material that is used on the outermost layer of the rubber sandwich. This sandwich (top sheet + sponge) is what makes up the part of the paddle that you use to strike the ball with. There are two sides: reverse rubber and pimpled. Depending on your playing style, varying the thickness and material type will help enhance your game. This is covered more thoroughly in Section4 below.
The Sponge is the material that goes on the inside (near the center) of the rubber sandwich. According to the official rules, the rubber sandwich thickness must not be greater than 4mm. As with the top sheet, varying the thickness and material will change your game and depends on your personal preferences.
The Blade is the wood center piece that includes the handle. There are four big variables that make up the blade: material type, thickness, weight, and head shape. Section 3 covers each of these in depth.
The Handle is technically considered a part of the blade, but because it is such an important part of the paddle, I decided to give this its own section. There are many types of handles that vary by shape, size, and even left/right orientation. This covered more in depth in the next section.
Section 2: Hand Grips & Types of Handles
In this section, we’ll talk about the different types of ping pong paddle handles that are available in the market today. We will discuss the different ways that players hold their paddles and which grips are the best fit for each style.
First, let’s start with the basics. The handle, as shown in the diagram in Section 1, is attached to the blade. Unless you want to build a very customized paddle, the blade and handle usually come as one connected part. This is because the handle is made to fit the front profile of the blade. Therefore, you have to first decide how you will hold the paddle. There are two styles: penhold and shakehand.
- Penhold: Hand is positioned as if user is holding a pen
- Shakehand: Hand is positioned as if user is shaking hands with another person
There are certainly variations of these grips depending on each individual player’s hand size and comfort preference. As you become more familiar with your style, you can change it as necessary. In the top 10 ranked ping pong players in the world, only one uses the penhold grip. While people still use this grip, it is becoming less popular because the aggressive edge that the shakehand grip allows is overwhelming. I personally use the shakehand grip for this very reason.
Now that you’re more familiar with grip styles, let’s dive into the details of each grip.
1. The Penhold Handle Family
Within the Penhold family, there are two major grips: Chinese and Japanese.
The Chinese Penhold Paddle, nicknamed the C-Pen, looks very much like the Shakehand paddle. The difference here is that the Chinese Penhold handle is much shorter than the Shakehand handle because players don’t grip the handle with their palms, thus requiring a shorter length. Also, Chinese Penholds usually have smaller circular heads than Shakehand paddles.
On the other hand, the Japanese Penhold Paddle, nicknamed the J-Pen, looks very different from both the C-Pen and the Shakehand. First, the paddle head is a rectangular shape (I discuss the differences between the rectangular vs. circular head in Section 3 below). Second, while the front profile of the J-Pen is the same as the C-Pen, when you look at the side, the J-Pen handle protrudes significantly. This protrusion (shown below) helps players get a better grip by using it as a leverage point.
While Penhold Paddles are not as popular on the international professional level, they do have some advantages over the Shakehand paddle. Most of these advantages are in the forehand shot. First, the Penhold forehand has more control due to the range of motion that the grip allows. Second, the Penhold forehand has more options than the Shakehand for the same reason. Whether it is over-the-table or under-the-table, the Penhold allows for much more versatility and control than the Shakehand grip. The biggest disadvantage that the Penhold grip has is the backhand. The Penhold backhand is significantly more limited than the forehand, and thus allows opponents to attack this weakness.
2. The Shakehand Handle Family
Within the Shakehand family, there are a multitude of shapes (shown in the diagram below)
For the most part, the handle that you choose depends on your preference. So the best thing to do is go to a store and hold the different handles and see what feels the most comfortable in your hand. With that being said, here are some things to consider about each handle type.
Anatomic: Anatomic handles are made with ergonomics in mind. This means that they are super comfortable, although that’s based on your preferences. While the other handle shapes allow for paddle rotation during play (also called twiddling), the anatomic does not. It is designed for players who use the same grip for their forehand and backhand. Anatomic handles may have the disadvantage of making the backhand a little weaker due to the lack of twiddle-ability.
Flared: Flared handles are designed for offensive players who do not twiddle their paddle during play, but if the need arises, it is possible to do without much of a hiccup because of the smooth shape. The biggest benefit of the flared shape is that the flare at the bottom of the paddle keeps the hand in place so that it doesn’t slip. You can see how this would be helpful for an offensive player who is attack with fast shots continuously.
Straight: Straight handles are made for defensive players and allow for easy twiddling (or rotating their paddle). This means two things: First, players twiddle to mask their next shot so their opponent can’t prepare. Second, some players have a slight grip change from their forehand to their backhand, and a straight handle allows for a quick and smooth transition. On the downside, unlike the flared handles, there is no taper to help the hand stay in place, thus causing the handle to possibly slip during play. Even with that being the case, the flared and straight handles are the most popular handles among professionals today.
Conclusion of the Shakehand
The shakehand handle that you choose depends a lot on your personal preferences as far as comfort. Again, your playing style is a huge factor to consider. Are you a defensive player, an offensive player, or an all-around player? As you play more and more, you will come to understand the nuances of your playing style and will be able to further decide. When you’re first starting out, it’s a great idea to experiment with different grips and handles.
Section 3: Ping Pong Paddle Blades
In this section, we’ll talk about the different types of ping pong paddle blades and the benefits and disadvantages of each one. As shown in the diagram in Section 1, the blade is the wooden piece that serves as the core for the entire paddle.
Materials and the Effects on Performance
According to official rules, blades must be made of at least 85% natural wood. Many blades are made with all natural wood and others are made with composite materials. Because wood is always unique in terms of grain and density, every paddle is therefore inherently different. Blades are often made with composite materials for two reasons:
- To create a lighter and, hence, faster blade.
- To create a bigger sweet spot on the head of the paddle, allowing for more margin for error, which can help immensely with a sport so hugely dependent on quickness.
In addition to wood and composite, there is another factor that is fairly important: blade plies. Blades are made of plies, usually somewhere between five to seven. The fewer number of plies of wood, the more flexibility the wood has, which increases control and decreases speed. And that means that on the opposite end, the higher the number of plies of wood, the more stiff the paddle is, which therefore increases speed and decreases control.
Blade thickness Effect on Performance
The logic that applies to the number of plies also applies to the thickness. The thicker the blade, the the stiffer the blade is, which increases speed and decreases control. Thicker blades are used by players who are very offensive and do not make use of looping, which is a heavy topspin that forces the ping pong ball to spin toward the table rapidly. On the other hand, the thinner the blade, the more control the player has and the slower the speed.
Blade Weight Effect on Performance
The weight of the blade has an immense effect on the performance of a ping pong paddle.
With a lighter blade, it is easier for players to move their hand into position to strike the ping pong ball. With that additional speed, light paddles are great for players who play close to the table and thus need to get into position faster to utilize their wrist.
With a heavier blade, players react a bit slower to shots. Therefore, heavy blades should be used by players who play further away from the table and need the extra weight to drive the ball the extra distance. In addition, heavier blades allow for more control and improve a player’s ability to add spin to the ball. Furthermore, it allows players to add more power to the ball.
Blade Shape Effect on Performance
There are two general shapes in the ping pong world: square and round.
Due to the shape, round paddles have a larger sweet spot. As discussed above with how composite materials increase the size of the sweet spot, this allows players to have a quicker attack due to an increased margin for error. Round paddles also allow for better blocking. Lastly, penholds with round heads (used in the Chinese Penhold) are easier to switch from forehand to backhand.
Besides novelty items, there is only one type of paddle that utilizes the square paddle head: the J-Pen, also known as the Japanese Penhold. Because of the extruded block on the handle that allows for a firmer grip, the hand gets in the way with the round paddles. By using a square or rectangular shape, the sweet spot of the head gets pushed down further away from the handle, thus allowing more space between the sweet spot and the hand. The downside here is that the sweet spot is much smaller than the round head. While this is the case, the lowered sweet spot may mean that square/rectangular heads get more power due to an increase velocity that results from the increased distance (yay, physics!).
Section 4: Ping Pong Rubber
In this final section, we talk about the final piece of the ping pong puzzle: ping pong rubbers. These coat the head of the paddle and act as the contact point when players are striking. As shown in the diagram in Section 1, they are labeled the “top sheet rubber”.
First, let’s start off with two general rules for ping pong rubbers:
1. The two different sides of the paddle must be different colors
Most paddles nowadays have a head that is covered on both sides by rubber. Many J-Pens are only covered on one side due to the difficulty of switching from forehand to backhand. But those are the exception. Players are allowed to apply a different type of rubber to each side in order to use different techniques, such as blocking or looping, which are two very different shots and require different rubbers.
Back then, players would cover both sides with the same color rubber, generally red. Due to twiddling, it was hard for opponents to decipher which technique players were going to use on their next shot, which made it next to impossible to return shots. In order to make the game more competitive, the rules were changed so that each side had to use a different color.
2. The top sheet and sponge cannot combine to be thicker than 4mm.
Another way to keep the game competitive, this can be compared to the weight class system used in boxing. Allowing players to use such varying thicknesses meant that game styles would be wildly different. This is another way to keep the sport competitive.
Two types of rubber
In ping pong, while there are many different composites used to make the rubber, there are two general categories: reverse rubber and pips out.
Pips out rubbers allow players to add unusual spin when blocking or returning shots. That is their main benefit. Pips out rubbers are generally used by players who have a more defensive style of play. These types of rubbers, while great for defensive play, limits players on the types of shots they can use. Additionally, they do not allow for the level of control that is desired by players on the professional level.
On the other hand, reverse rubbers allow for a multitude of shots that pips out rubbers do not. Reverse rubbers allow players to have more control over the ball, which is why it is the more popular rubber to use. Offensive players generally prefer the reverse rubber.
Rubber Thickness Effect on Performance
There are three main tiers of rubber thickness: thin, medium, and thick.
Thin rubbers are any rubbers that have a thickness of less than 1.3mm. These rubbers are generally used for control and defensive shots. Here, the rubber is thin, thus allowing the wooden blade core to absorb much of the momentum, thus allowing for a more controlled return.
Medium rubbers are any rubbers between 1.4mm and 1.8 thick. These allow for a good balance between control and offense. These types of rubbers are preferred by all-around players, as opposed to purely offensive or defensive players.
Thick rubbers are any rubbers greater than 1.9mm thick. These rubbers are for offensive players who utilize immense spin and want to increase their power. In this case, because of the thickness, the rubber’s elasticity allows it to act as a spring, thus propelling the ball back to the opponent. This, of course, decrease the level of control that a player has over the ball.
That’s the end of the guide! I hope you found that useful. For more great information on ping pong playing techniques as well as product reviews, please visit the homepage for the beginner’s guide. If you have any questions at all, please contact us here. For more resources, check out PongWorld Table Tennis.