What Are Pool Balls Made Of?

For centuries, pool players have been racking up cues and sinking balls without giving much thought to what those balls are actually made of. But have you ever stopped to wonder what's beneath the polished surface of a pool ball?

The answer, like many things in life, is not as simple as it seems. While ivory was once the standard material for pool balls, concerns about elephant poaching led to a shift towards synthetic materials in the 20th century. Today, pool balls are primarily made of phenolic resin or polyester resin.

A Brief History of Pool Balls

The earliest pool balls were made of wood, but these were prone to warping and cracking. In the 19th century, ivory became the preferred material, as it was more durable and had a naturally smooth surface. However, by the early 20th century, the high cost of ivory and concerns about elephant poaching led to the development of synthetic alternatives.

The first successful synthetic pool ball material was Bakelite, invented in 1907. Bakelite was a thermosetting plastic that was hard, durable, and could be molded into precise shapes. However, Bakelite balls had a tendency to chip and crack, and they were not as resistant to scratches as ivory.

In the 1960s, phenolic resin emerged as a superior material for pool balls. Phenolic resin is a thermosetting plastic that is even harder and more durable than Bakelite. It is also more resistant to scratches and chips, and it holds its shape better over time. Today, phenolic resin is the most common material used for high-quality pool balls.

Phenolic Resin vs. Polyester Resin

Phenolic resin is the premium material for pool balls, offering the best combination of durability, resistance to scratches and chips, and weight distribution. However, it is also the more expensive option.

Polyester resin is a more affordable alternative to phenolic resin. It is not as hard or durable as phenolic resin, but it is still adequate for casual play. However, polyester resin balls tend to lose their shine more quickly and may not hold their shape as well over time.

How Pool Balls Are Made

The process of making pool balls is quite complex, involving several steps:

  1. Mixing the resin: The resin is mixed with pigments, fillers, and other additives to create the desired color and weight.
  2. Molding: The mixture is poured into molds and heated under pressure. This cures the resin and forms the balls into their final shape.
  3. Balancing: Each ball is carefully balanced to ensure that it rolls smoothly and evenly. This is done by drilling tiny holes into the ball until it reaches the correct weight and balance.
  4. Polishing: The balls are polished to a high shine. This gives them a smooth surface and helps to prevent scratches.
  5. Inspection: The finished balls are inspected for any imperfections.

Other Materials Used in Pool Balls

While phenolic resin and polyester resin are the most common materials used in pool balls, there are a few other materials that are sometimes used:

  • Aramith: Aramith is a brand name for a type of phenolic resin that is known for its exceptional durability and resistance to scratches and chips. Aramith balls are often used in professional tournaments.
  • Acrylic: Acrylic is a clear plastic that is sometimes used for novelty pool balls. However, acrylic balls are not as durable as phenolic resin or polyester resin balls, and they are not legal for use in most tournaments.
  • Celluloid: Celluloid was an early synthetic material that was used for pool balls in the early 20th century. However, celluloid is highly flammable and has been banned for use in pool balls in most countries.

Conclusion

The material of pool balls has come a long way since the days of wood and ivory. Today, phenolic resin is the standard material for high-quality pool balls, offering the best combination of durability, performance, and value. When choosing pool balls, consider your budget and how often you will be playing. If you are a serious player who demands the best performance, phenolic resin balls are the way to go. But if you are a casual player who is looking for a more affordable option, polyester resin balls may be sufficient.

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