Never hit "range balls" or hard Surilyn cover balls. These types of balls can do tremendous damage to wood shafted clubs. They overly "shock" the shaft, causing them to split, and can also cause severe denting and cracking in wood heads. The newest generation of soft core balls
work very well with these clubs. The Titleist Pro V1 and other similar, soft urethane
cover balls are being played. These new types of soft golf ball give more durability then the traditional three-piece Balata balls (that no longer exist) and still not shock the shafts. There are now good accurate replicas in the mesh pattern available that will give a realistic representation of the early 20th century game. There are also authentic reproductions of the Gutty ball available to experiance golf as it was played in the last half of the 19th century.
Never hit off from a rubber or synthetic range mat. Rubber mats will grab the club head, creating considerable stress on the shafts. When I first got started, I broke several clubs in this manner. I understand that graphite shafts are occasionally broken from use on these mats and that steel shaft clubs are bent at the hosel by use on them, so that should give some idea of the stresses that can be imparted on the shaft.
Practicing with these clubs is a difficult undertaking and is best accomplished by going out on a golf course when it is quiet and playing an extra 2 or 3 balls on various shots. Another method might be to assemble a shag bag of soft cover balls and find a place to hit and retrieve them. To make these clubs last as long as possible, driving range balls should be avoided. I personally like to use a 1970's era Blade Iron (Wilson Staff) to practice with as I find it is very similar to my Stewart Hickory Irons in the way it hits and feels.
Another alternative is to have a Hickory club that is devoted to driving range use. This is a club that you won't care if the shaft breaks and will be prepared to replace it when it does. I would find a mid-iron with a large diameter hosel and a stout shaft. A very stout shafted club should hold up to a few thousand range balls.
Golf cart use should be avoided, unless some type of protection is used for the shafts. During the use of carts, the clubs are bouncing and spinning around in the bag and the steel heads can hit the wooden shafts causing acute damage. One hard strike to a shaft from a metal club head and that shaft could be damaged beyond use. The forged metal heads are very soft and are prone to denting from hitting each other. It is very important that you take care in the handling of your clubs. Wrapping a towel in amongst the clubs would be helpful.
Take care when hitting shots from the rough. A divot from the fairway doesn't seem to put much stress on the shaft, but deep lush rough can hang up the head enough to cause the shaft to split. When hitting from the rough, become aware of how much the conditions might stress the clubs by taking some practice swings to get a feel for how much the grass while hold back the head. I recommend making sure you have a stout shafted Mashie specifically for longer shots from the rough. Laying it up in the fairway with a heavier or more lofted club, allowing an attempt to get it close to the pin on the next approach shot, is a more prudent approach. It is rarely worth breaking a shaft for the sake of one shot! If you do break a shaft in a favorite club it will be almost impossible to replace that shaft and get the club back to its former playing characteristics. When properly rehabilitated, they are capable of holding up to play on a daily basis, with consideration for the limitations. A considerable number of these original shafts are surprisingly strong and resilient but excessive stresses should be avoided. Some shafts have deteriorated from the effects of time, but I have found that about half of them are still sound enough to be used for play. When an original shaft is being considered for use in play club, it must be checked for defects such as cracks, splits, dents, and dry rot.
Dents in the shaft, especially in the narrowest section, should be checked for greater underlying damage by doing a flex test. Flex testing the shafts is done by holding the club at the head and at the grip then slowly, but firmly, flexing the shaft and listening for any creaking or cracking sounds. After flexing it, turn the shaft 90 degrees and do it again. Checking at all four of the 90 degree intervals will be important because some shafts will only creak in one of the directions. If done properly, the flexing that is done is about the same as what would happen during the course of a swing. If the shaft creaks during the flex test it probably won't hold up during play. Through the use of the flex test we are checking for structural damage and for dry rot. Dry rot is an internal condition that is not visible, but will usually reveal itself with this test.
A split in a shaft, even if it is repairable, should dismiss that shaft from consideration for use in a play club. Repaired splits are capable of holding up to occasional play, but do give out after a short time. It is usually not worth attempting to use a repaired shaft for the time it will be required to replace them. Repaired shafts are better used in display clubs.
The clubs may break at some point, but that will depend upon the amount of use or misuse that they are given. Wood shafts were frequently broken back in the day when they were new, although most breakage was from rough use or hard conditions. Each club is unique in its performance. This is due mostly to the unique characteristics of each piece of wood and the way it has been shaped to flex in combination with the weight and design shape of the head. A shaft and club head combination that suits you perfectly, is one of the rarest and most difficult things to discover. The ultimate goal is to have a play set in which you have total confidence in every club because you have personally selected each club to fit your swing.