Tech Reviews

WC Lathewerks Custom Stainless Steel Shift Knob Review

Stock shift knobs in cars are rarely ever interesting enough to keep, so as you can imagine, the aftermarket shift knob business is quite active. Go to any auto parts store or any online retailer, and you’ll see literally hundreds of shift knobs for sale. For something as simple as a knob, there are a surprising number of factors that go into finding the perfect experience…much more than just how it looks.

I’m somewhat obsessed with shift knobs. I’m perfectly fine with having three or four on hand at all times and switching them around. I like having different looks to suit my mood, and the different feel and weight of each individual knob drastically changes the driving experience. However, I started to think about why I felt the need to have so many knobs to switch around. Am I just that picky on any given day, or have I just not found the “perfect” shift knob yet? I decided to find out, and snagged a few shift knobs that represented various ends of the spectrum.

On hand, I had the stock shift knob, a custom “cue ball” styled knob, a Boomba Racing weighted knob, and a custom stainless steel WC Lathewerks knob. Each of these would give an example of larger to smaller knobs, different shapes, and a variety of different weights. I would test each of them out on the same path each time and see which one I liked best. But first a disclaimer: I’m not the type of person that’s super “anti-corporate” or “anti-big retailer.” I don’t dislike something just because it’s mainstream and readily available from a number of retailers. While I DO like supporting small businesses, if I can find something that suits my needs from, say, Target as opposed to something made on Etsy, I’ll probably get it from Target. I’m mentioning this because my impressions on the WC Lathewerks knob below are not simply because I want to support a small, one man manufacturer over an established, larger business. This is not a case of “DOWN WITH THE MAN, BUY LOCAL!” or anything like that.

The stock shift knob is actually not as bad as many people are claiming. Sure it’s not the best looking of the bunch, but it actually has a decent weight and grip to it, and it’s just unassuming enough to not stick out (for those that prefer to be more subtle). I would say unless you’re going to go for something significantly more weighted, a different shape like a piston, or a custom design, you’re probably going to be fine with the OEM knob. The cue ball knob looked nice and gave the interior a retro sort of feel, but it was significantly lighter than the stock knob, and you could feel a lot more vibration in your hand. Because it’s so much lighter, it also feels a lot more cheaply made, like it would break if I shifted too hard. The Boomba Racing knob was my favorite of the bunch. I really have nothing bad to say about it; the price is right, and it’s heavier than the OEM knob, making for some nice smooth shifts. The only thing I wish the Boomba Racing knob had was different colors, as it comes just in a flat black.

Finally, there’s the WC Lathewerks knob. As far as a “custom” look goes, there’s no beating a guy who machines his own knobs from a block of steel. In terms of a weighted knob, it’s hard to be disappointed with 400 grams (nearly a whole pound; stock is 140g). As for the look and feel, the knob is a round, brushed steel finish. It’s smooth, but doesn’t have that blinding shininess of chrome. And honestly, for something that looks so simple and basic, I can’t seem to stop staring at it.

Chris Mattessich (owner of WC Lathewerks) custom makes all the shift knobs that are available for sale through his website (lathewerks.com). This particular knob is cut on a lathe from solid 303 stainless steel, and hand sanded after the initial cutting. He then finishes it off by giving it a hand brushed finish, which can also come in a burnt finish in different colors. The finished knob weighs in at 400 grams (it says 440 grams on the website, but I weighed it at 400g) and has a 2” diameter, approximately the same diameter as the cue ball styled knob I have.

A variety of styling options is also available for an additional cost. The only one I went with was a laser engraving of the shift pattern on top. If it floats your boat, you can get grip grooves along the bottom of the sphere (or all the way up the sphere), a custom engraving of any design you provide, a variety of colored finishes, or a bead blasted finish to give it more of a “tacky” feel. I was offered the bead blasted finish, but the brushed stainless finish looked so nice I was reluctant to cover it up, so I declined. The knob is drilled deep to sit nice and low, and includes a recess to accommodate the pull-up reverse lockout function. My particular knob, since it’s specific to the 2015 Mustang, comes with M12x1.25 internal threading which will fit the stock shift lever with no additional adapters needed. Anyone who has used custom knobs knows that often you are required to add an adapter to maintain the correct fit…which can be a major eyesore. It’s great that the Lathewerks knob doesn’t require an adapter.

So other than aesthetics, what does having a Lathewerks shift knob do? If you remember my previous Steeda review, the stock shifter in the 2015 Mustang can often seem a bit mushy and jiggly. If you’re not wanting to replace the entire shifter assembly or even select parts, a good way to make the throws smoother is to go with a weighted knob…the heavier the better. The additional weight to the very top of the shifter makes shifting a more top heavy experience, meaning getting into each gate is much easier, especially with a mushy shifter assembly. At 400g, the WC Lathewerks stainless steel knob fits the bill perfectly. Keep in mind, I AM working with a swapped out Steeda shifter and bushings, so my shifting experience was already smoother than stock to begin with. But the combination of firmed up shifter assembly and heavy Lathewerks knob made a major difference.

Going from gear to gear took virtually no effort. In fact, I could rest my arm on the center console and easily shift using just the heel of my palm without ever having to lift my arm. I even made a couple of shifts using just my fingers to push into each gear, though that took a bit more effort. Being made of stainless steel, and living in California where the weather has been in the upper 90s and lower triple digits made for a fairly warm knob at times, but it never got so hot that I had to cover it with a cloth or anything. Just keep in mind that this IS a chunk of solid steel and it will get pretty hot if you park outdoors in the heat all day.

Now we come to the final detail, pricing. Yes, I’m aware that you can go down to the local AutoZone and snag a shift knob for about $20. That’s fine if all you’re looking for is a $20 part that anyone and everyone can get. Nothing wrong with that, and if all you’re looking for is an aesthetic change and you don’t care about a different feel, then go for it. If you’re willing to pay a bit more for a unique design and something like a cue ball shape, then I wouldn’t blame you for dropping $50-$70 on a knob from SpeedDawgs or CJ Pony Parts…something where a major retailer has a supplier that makes custom knobs in bulk. In fact, I have a CJPP blue cue ball knob, and I love it to death. It’s a bit light, but it’s pretty and gets the job done.

Custom shift knobs

For something that truly stands out, however, and is lovingly and painstakingly made by hand from one man, expect to pay a bit more. After all, with all the time and effort that goes into making each knob with the quality of material used, it’s only fair. My stainless steel knob starts at a base price of $95. Adding grip grooves to the bottom will add another $5. Adding a shift pattern laser engraving will increase the price by an additional $37, while custom designs will be an additional $45. Different color finishes (along with the bead blast) will run you between $10-$30. And finally, if you want Chris to speed up the production of your knob and move yours to the front of the line, you can toss an additional $5-$10 in with the total price. After all is said and done, you can get a plain, solid steel ball for $95, or you can customize it to your heart’s desire for around $140.

Seems like a lot for a shift knob, doesn’t it? Well, it is, but not only are you getting something hand-made by a master craftsman, but $140 for a custom made part that your hand will interact with every time you drive the car is a much better investment than, say, some racing stripes. If you’re someone who is currently using the stock shifter with no plans on switching it out at any point, I implore you to give one’s of WC Lathewerks’ knobs a shot. The fact that something so unassuming and simple can improve the shifting feel is amazing, and just goes to show that with a bit of time and effort and by using proper materials instead of cheap alternatives, you can create something wonderful.