What Are Pool Balls Made Of? – Blatt Billiards

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What Are Pool Balls Made Of?

by David Roeder |

The last time you were playing a game of pool, did you wonder how the pool balls were made? There is much work that goes into making billiard balls so they can withstand being struck with pool sticks and the cue ball numerous times.

History of Pool Balls

Billiard Table With Balls

To find out, let’s begin by looking at a brief history of the game of billiards and the first pool balls. Billiards is believed to have its origins in a French lawn game that was a mix between croquet and billiards.

The game was played outdoors using wooden balls. The balls were struck using a wooden mallet. Over time, this game continued to evolve and change.

By the time the 17th century rolled around, the game had moved indoors and was played on a billiards table. The game was primarily enjoyed by the English and French nobility. It was considered a status symbol to have a billiard table in the home.

As the game evolved, billiard balls were still manufactured from wood. However, the nobility had developed a taste for more exotic materials as colonization expanded around the world. Among the materials discovered from colonization was ivory.

The demand by the nobility grew for ivory billiard balls made from elephant tusks. The new balls were much more elegant than wooden balls. Those who could afford ivory balls were viewed as being wealthy. 

Ivory balls also were more durable than wooden balls. However, they could crack and start to yellow with age. As elephant populations began to decline, ivory became a harder material to obtain. A new material was needed to meet the demand for high-quality pool balls. By the late 19th century, pool table manufacturer Phelan and Collender offered $10,000 to anyone who could invent a new pool ball that was not made of wood or ivory.

Thanks to advances in science and technology, inventor John Wesly Hyatt developed a new ball that consisted of a mixture of nitrocellulose, camphor, and alcohol. The materials were formed into pool balls using excessive pressure. Once formed, the balls had to cure and harden. However, the new celluloid balls, as they had been branded, were not as durable as ivory.

Another issue with celluloid billiard balls was they were unstable. It was common during manufacturing processes for balls to explode. Even after manufacturing was complete, there are stories of the balls exploding during pocket billiards games.

While there were problems with celluloid pool balls, one thing Mr. Hyatt did was invent one of the first synthetic plastics. No one is sure who won the $10,000 prize or if it was even awarded.

Since the exploding billiard balls were not a desirable solution to ivory, other inventors continued to experiment with other chemical substances. Phelan Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite in 1907. This new plastic material could be used to make pool balls. Unlike celluloid balls, Bakelite balls did not explode. Additionally, the new plastic material was durable. So, it was not too long before the majority of pool balls being manufactured were made using Bakelite.

By the 1920s, Bakelite billiard balls had become the preferred standard. Even the wealthy had to switch to Bakelite balls when they needed to replace their ivory pool balls.

Pool Balls Today

Happy business man playing a game of billiards

There are two different materials used to make pool balls today:

  1. Phenolic Resin
  2. Polyester Resin

Phenolic Resin Billiard Balls

In 1923, a company that specialized in manufacturing pool balls began operations. This company was named Saluc. The company is well known today for its line of Aramith billiard balls and Brunswick Centennial pool balls.

Saluc is the only manufacturer of pool balls to use phenolic resin for its manufacturing process. Phenolic resin, a thermosetting plastic, is a variation of Bakelite that uses even more extreme pressure to form the balls. Once the balls are formed and cooled, the plastic cannot be melted again.

What you see on the outside of the ball is exactly the same on the inside, aside from the laser-etched numbers. If you were to cut a pool ball open, the color on the outside would be precisely the same on the inside. 

Saluc follows a 13-step detailed manufacturing process for their billiard balls. Each ball must also meet specific criteria, including:

  • Roundness
  • Balance
  • Precision Color
  • Density
  • Diameter Tolerance
  • Brilliance
  • Surface Polish

The total production time for phenolic resin billiard balls is 23 days. Saluc even weights each ball to match it with other balls of similar weights to ensure each ball in a set weighs the same.

Phenolic resin balls are very popular. So much so that Saluc sells 85% of the pool balls and billiard balls on the market. Not to mention, phenolic resin pool balls can last as long as 40 years or up to 400,000 impacts. The brilliance and surface polish on the balls last just as long too.

Polyester Resin Billiard Balls

Polyester resin pool balls are an alternative to phenolic resin. They do not keep their shine as long and wear out much faster. Usually, polyester resin balls last about eight years or around 80,000 impacts.

Vintage clay billiard ball

However, these balls are great for beginners just learning how to play the game of pool who want their own set of balls. Players that decide to stick with pool usually upgrade to phenolic resin balls at some point.

Are There Any Other Materials Used to Make Billiard Balls?

Other than phenolic resin and polyester resin, there really are no other materials used to make billiard balls. That is, unless you want a vintage set made from hardwood. Ivory balls are very rare today and are considered a collector’s piece if you are so lucky to come across a set in decent condition.

One newer material that is just starting to be experimented with is epoxy resin. Epoxy already has numerous applications for flooring and countertop refinishing. Only time will tell if epoxy resin could be another material used to make pool balls.

Blatt Billiards Has Balls and Tables for Your Rec Room

man's Hand Aiming Pool Ball At Table

To find high-quality phenolic resin billiard balls and artisan, hand-crafted pool tables, please feel free to browse our selections online or visit your nearest Blatt Billiards showroom today!

Do not hesitate to contact us at 212-674-8855 if you have any questions or require assistance selecting a set of pool balls or one of our artisan hand-crafted pool tables. We can also custom-build a pool table to your exact specifications.