Promark’s Tennessee sawmill burned down in 2014, which led the company to innovate new manufacturing processes during the rebuild. In addition to developing new machinery that sorts out the strongest wooden dowels possible, Promark began experimenting with fire-hardening hickory sticks to increase durability. The result of this new process is the FireGrain line of drumsticks. These sticks are currently available in eight sizes (Forward, Rebound, and Classic 5A; Forward, Rebound, and Classic 5B; and Classic 2B and 7A). We were sent a few pairs of Classic 5As to review. Let’s check them out.
What Is Fire Hardening?
Fire hardening is a process of slowly heating wood with a flame to remove moisture and to change the molecular structure to make the stick more durable. While we’re not sure of Promark’s exact process, the traditional method of fire-hardening wood involves charring the wood and then polishing the surface to embed the carbonized particles into the grain. Those two steps are repeated several times until a hardened glaze forms on the outer surface of the wood. This glaze is what makes the stick harder and more durable.
Promark’s FireGrain sticks are treated from end to tip and they have a smooth, satin-like feel that’s a little glossier than a standard Promark hickory stick but not as glassy and slick as heavily lacquered models from other brands. While they may appear to be painted or varnished, Promark explains that the darkened appearance in entirely a result of the fire-hardening process.
How Do They Feel?
The Classic 5A FireGrain sticks Promark submitted for review featured the company’s original oval tip and measured .551″x16″. They had a fairly short taper, which gave them a noticeably front-loaded feel. The diameter is a bit thinner than that of other 5As sticks I’ve used. (For comparison, the Promark Forward and Rebound 5As are .565″ thick.) And even though they’re of a standard 16″ length, the Classic 5A FireGrains felt as if they had more reach, and they seemed a touch heftier than some similarly sized sticks in my bag.
While a side-by-side comparison with other 5As revealed no significant weight increase, the combination of the darker- and wider-sounding oval tip and the shorter taper put the Classic 5A FireGrain’s response and power closer to that of a denser oak stick than a hickory. I found myself choking up on the FireGrain to compensate for the heftier feel when I needed more dynamic control. But when I needed to pull the biggest sound possible from my drums and cymbals, this stick is designed to do so naturally, even though it’s a smaller-sized 5A.
Hold Do They Hold Up?
In addition to looking cool, FireGrain drumsticks are engineered to be more durable than standard hickory sticks. I used our test pair throughout a long weekend of gigs that involved two straight hours of hard-hitting classic rock and modern country, three hours of modern-rock bashing, and four hours of low-volume acoustic rock. While I didn’t break either stick, they did get chewed up quite a bit below the tip from shoulder hits on the hi-hats, and the rimshot area of one of the sticks developed a 1″ splinter. The tips remained pristine and there aren’t nearly as many dents or other deformities in the shoulder area as I expected, especially after smashing them with loud rimshots for nearly five hours in total. And I was still able to execute clean, articulate cymbal sounds and responsive rolls with them at the quieter gig, even though one stick had started to splinter. I wouldn’t say that the durability of the Classic 5A FireGrain is exponentially increased, but these new fire-hardened models succeed in bridging the gap between the average strength of standard hickory sticks and the more rugged yet heavier oak option. List price is $13.65 per pair.