Something a little different the blog today as I thought I'd do an update on learning to string tennis racquets. I recently took the plunge and bought my own machine to string my own frames. It's something I had thought about doing for a while and when I got two new racquets from Zus Tennis in the USA I thought I'd go for it as it means I can a.) learn a new skill b.) have more control over the quality of the string job and c.) test out some different strings.
The machine I bought is called the Pro's Pro Pilot and it came from Racquet Depot here in the UK. Really good buying experience so I'd definitely recommend them. It's a crank operated machine which allows for quicker and more accurate stringing than a drop weight machine. The next step up is an electric one which works on the exact same principle as the crank just no manual work involved. The first surprise I had when it was delivered was how weighty it was – it's around 40KG and not the easiest box to carry.
As you can see despite the weight it's a fairly simple bit of kit – the racquet is secured by the 6 point mounting system and the crank is used to pull tension on the string. The crank works via a tensioning spring: you set the desired tension, manually wind the crank back, two plates then grip the string and tension it – when the tension is reached there's a break on the tensioning arm which activates and locks in place. You then clamp the strings using one of the fixed clamps on the base of the machine, release the break and tension your next string.
I chose the Pro's Pro because mainly on price and because it has some decent reviews. Like most tennis products you'll find plenty detractors on the Tennis Warehouse forums but I'd just make a decision and roll with it. Based on my experience so far if you're looking for a crank operated machine to string your own racquets then you won't go far wrong with the Pro's Pro Pilot.
On the flip side – if you're looking for something a cheaper then go for a drop weight one with floating clamps – just be aware it will take you longer to string a racquet and from what I understand it's harder to minimise tension loss. Or if you're looking to make stringing racquets into a part time job / side income stream go with an electric one – it's going to save you time on each string job. But if you have never strung before I'd go with a drop weight or crank version and see how you get on. It makes more sense to upgrade later rather than spend big off the bat.
Things You Need to Start Stringing Your Own Racquets:
Aside from the obvious part of needing a stringing machine here's what I've found useful so far:
A How To String a Racquet DVD or YouTube Guide
Unless you have an experienced stringer to teach you hands on then you'll definitely need some sort of guide to get started. I didn't have that luxury so I got the racquet stringing DVD from Racquet Depot which goes through how to setup the machine, how to string 1 piece and 2 piece and maintaining the machine. Without that I'd have been pretty lost and it's a great little resource to see a string job completed from start to finish. I watched it in full a couple of times then had a go myself, checking it back every so often if I wasn't quite sure on the next step.
I also used the YouTube video below which is again very useful and shows a two piece string job from start to finish and covers all the potential mistakes newbie stringers might make. I made plenty on my first attempt – ran out of string, couple of misweaves and not the greatest tie off knots to name but a few 😉
The YouTube video above is fairly similar to the Racquet Depot DVD but the lighting / camera angle is better on the DVD video which makes it a bit easier to follow and understand. Tennis Warehouse also have a decent video and there are a couple of other shorter videos on YouTube that are more like snippets of advice (like tie off knots etc.) which are worth checking out. I tried to combine as many resources as I could to make sure I didn't miss anything important.
Needle Nosed Pliers
Some grommets on the racquet can be a little tricky to get string through so some needle nosed pliers make things way easier, especially when you're stringing close to the mounting points which can make things awkward. I've used them at least 2/3 times every time I've strung a racquet. They're also useful for wrapping string around when you're tying off your knots.
You'll need to this cut the string when you start the job and when you cut down your knots upon completion. Any cutting tool will do but make sure it's sharp and makes a crisp cut. Ideally when you start you want to cut the string at a point which makes threading it easier.
An old racquet
Not 100% necessary but I did my first few strings on an older frame (an N Tour II 105, Justine Henin racquet) that I haven't used in years. It's also useful if it's strung before you restring it because then you can take a picture of it so you know the skipped holes, the shared holes and the tie off points. I think it's unlikely you could trash a frame but there's always a chance you could do some damage when you're applying 50-60lbs of tension to something relatively flimsy.
There's no point doing your first string job with Natural Gut or other expensive strings as the chances are you're not going to do a peRFect job. So buy some cheaper strings and use those to practice with. Pro's Pro Blackout is a good choice and you can get a reel of it for around £20-25 online. It's actually not bad string either and plays just as good as some of the more expensive stuff.
The Klipper Database
This Klipper online database has a ton of information on the stringing patterns of basically every racquet out there. It tells you recommended tension range, how much string you need in feet for the mains and crosses, the skipped holes and the tie off points. All very useful so bookmark it.
Other than a lot of patience that's basically all you'll need – an awl is also useful if you need to enlarge grommet holes but I've not really needed to use one so far.
How Hard is Stringing Racquets?
The answer is: it's fairly easy. I had no prior experience of doing it other than seeing it done at live tournaments (various stringers on site in Basel were working out in the foyer on Babolat RDC machines) and I've never had a tutorial from anyone in the flesh. Like I said, I watched the videos on YouTube, watched the DVD and then had a go myself. After about 4/5 attempts I'm more than competent and can string a racquet in about 40 minutes to a high standard. I still need to make a few improvements on my tie off knots and weaving speed but once you get the hang of it you can do it on auto pilot.
Should I Buy A Stringing Machine?
Tough to say really – I think you'll either fall into 1 of 2 categories – you're just curious to learn like me and decide to spunk some cash on it. Or you want to turn stringing into a little side business and string for your friends, club members etc. and become the next Priority1 😉 Or you may start in the first category and just wind up finding yourself making some cash out of it in the long run. So far I'm definitely happy with the purchase as I've found it pretty fun to do and it's something to do with time that would be otherwise spent messing around on YouTube or Twitter.
As for the overall cost – is it worth buying a machine? Again impossible to say as it depends on various circumstances. I think the cheapest is around £120 and the more expensive ones can get up to well over £5k. Up until now I just used whoever I could find to string my racquets and most clubs have a couple of guys who string for a nominal fee. I paid around £12 per string job. So £24 a time for 2 frames. So after around 15 restrings (factoring in the cost of string on top of the machine) I'll be at breakeven compared to paying someone else. I think if you own your own machine you'll string more frequently too. I used to get them done months between but now I'll be stringing them fortnightly in summer.
Other Recommended Resources
- Choosing a Stringing Machine by Racquet Depot
- How to String a Tennis Racquet by Tennis Warehouse
- The Stringer's Digest – kinda like the Klippermate database but more comprehensive and in physical format. I think you need to be a USRSA member to get one.
Let me know if you have any questions or feedback on the post 🙂