What Are Pool Balls Made Of?

Looking at the years that have passed, the balls used to play pool have been made using different types and kinds of materials such as wood, ivory, clay, and ceramic. However, the materials which are the most popular and common are Bakelite and phenolic resin, which are particular types of plastic. A Belgian company, SALUC SA, manufactures up to 80 percent of all the billiard balls circulating the market. The company has impressively perfected the process of making well-known and unique phenolic balls, which have a heavy touch of phenolic resin.

This article will give you everything and anything you need to know about the making of pool balls. You will get an extended glimpse of the history of pool balls up to this date. Stick around to get the nuances of these balls that are part of the most exotic, classy game in the world.

The Nook and Cranny of Pool Balls

While the pool game’s history is long, it is quite exciting and one that you will love discovering. The game has been played by the least of the population to the kings and the royals. Ladies, gentlemen, presidents, and politicians have engaged in the game of pool up to date.

In Northern Europe, croquet and pool were being treated the same way, especially in the 1200s. After a period, the game moved indoors and onto a wooden table with a green cloth on it to symbolize grass. To ensure that the balls stayed on the table and didn’t fall out, the edges of the playing field got bordered. At the time, the cue stick was not involved in hitting and striking the ball. However, playing the game meant that people shoved the ball. At one time, maces were introduced – wooden sticks – to be part of the game.

As you may have already guessed, pool was taken as an item of nobility. This meant that the only people who played were royals. The equipment used to play the game was expensive, and only the wealthy families had a chance to buy them. At that time, the tables were initially framed by flat walls, which got used as rails. These particular rails made sure that the balls did not fall off the table.

Players learned and realized that even with the rails, the pool balls used to bounce off, and it was an inconvenience having to pick them up again. Resultantly, the players started aiming at them with focus and purpose. That there was the birth of the bank shot – a ball is intentionally made to rebound, hitting a wall and then, hopefully, the ball that the player intended to hit.

As you have already picked out, playing pool is fun and engaging as is learning about its history. Now, let us look at pool balls, which have a very thrilling and exciting past.

How it All Came to Be

Many people – even those that don’t play pool – can tell you what a pool ball is. This is because their look is distinct, and you cannot mistake them for another, say, a tennis ball or a basketball (this would be pure hilarity). Pool balls are sizably small and toughened. Most of them are numbered, and they are colored in different styles (pattern variation). Also, other balls have different diameters and circumferences.

In the years that have passed, experts and players of the game have found out how crucial hardness is in the accuracy of a pool ball. The other significant aspects are the friction coefficient and resilience. With the passing times, the pool balls have gone through several changes parallel to the world’s changes, precisely the issue of the material of making. When the game was being born, players used wooden balls. This kind of development was mainly the work of manufacturers, meaning that players did not get a chance to contribute to the form of the ball.

Later and until the 20th century, pool balls were made of clay. While several of them genuinely used clay, there was another unique material that pros and players liked. In the 1600s, when Europe started colonizing the Asian and African continents, they discovered that these places had exotic materials. These colonialists loved ivory, and as you may know, it comes from the tusks of elephants.

At one time in history, tusks were seen as symbols of wealth and excellent standing. They had hefty price tags, and it is for that reason that only the aristocrats would afford and use it. Ivory was used in making piano keys, aristocratic walking sticks, and, yeah, pool balls.

This material gave pool balls the name ivories. When the manufacturers put out the final product to players and pros, they loved it as it was elegant, exclusive, and stunning. There was no going back to wooden and clay balls because Europe had made an extraordinary discovery. You should have it in mind that the IUCN (or the International Union for Conservation of Nature) has not been established at that time, so getting tusks from elephants was not a biggie. If there had been conservation and environmental concerns during those times, people would have attempted to look for an alternative.

The ivories had a touch of glory, and they only came from Asian elephants. At that time, no other natural material would meet the needs of the pool ball. Ivories had traits that manufacturers could not find anywhere, and they included strength, physical size, durability, and beauty.

For a couple of years, the ivory material was the best choice for manufacturers of pool balls. The problem came about because mass markets that came up all over the world, especially in the West, used too much ivory. There were not only processed for pool balls; manufacturers made piano keys, combs, and commercial trinkets.

In the late 1800s and 1900s, elephants started facing the threat of extinction. Pool balls were exhausting elephants’ tusks since one piece of ivory would only make about five quality pool balls. The elephant species that suffered include the Indian, Indo-Chinese, and the Ceylonese ones. In their raw form, the tusks would get to US cities, mostly in New York and Chicago. Then, ivory’s professional turners would make hugely raw ivory blocks, reducing them into spheres with gleams.

Today’s materials make pool balls today attempt to imitate past ivory balls’ feel, authenticity, and performance. These days, ivory balls and not produced. If you wish to see them, you can visit collections like the Smithsonian Institute with 1925 ivory pool balls.

Looking for New Balls for the Game of Pool

Ivories lasted up to 1920, but the search for alternative options was started in 1869 by manufacturers. Since ivory was not cheap to work with, pool-table making companies like Phelan and Collender began to offer rewards to genius minds that could fashion pools without using the ivory material. The reward money was $10,000, and it almost went to one New Yorker named John Wesley Hyatt.

Together with Isaiah, Hyatt combined three materials: alcohol, camphor, and nitrocellulose. He then molded the mixture until he got spherical shapes, much like the ivory pool balls. To achieve the shape, he used an extreme amount of pressure. While his finished product didn’t make him $10000 richer, it opened up the way to synthetic plastics and their creation.

If this hasn’t sunk in well, see it this way: the pool game is what gave birth to plastic. If John Wesley Hyatt did not engage in the invention, we would not have plastics. Hyatt called his inventions’ celluloid balls’, and these took the pool game to a whole different level.

As years passed, Mr. Hyatt decided to improve his invention. His attempts didn’t go so well because everything he made was a poor substitute. The new balls that he made had a durability problem. Also, the nitrocellulose material did not have much stability.

However, the world appreciates Hyatt for his developments. Looking at the celluloid balls made by him, manufacturers were inspired to make new plastic types. In 1907, a petroleum-based plastic got discovered, bearing the name Bakelite. This name came from the creator of the material, an American chemist known as Leo Baekeland. Manufacturers later found that for pool balls, Bakelite was the perfect plastic.

The New Pool Balls of the Phenolic Resin Style

Around 50 years after Leo did his thing and gave the world Bakelite, phenolic resin was born. Now, it is the material used to make most of the quality pool balls out there in the market. Phenolic resin has a couple of advantages, and you won’t like that it also goes by this name: polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride (I’m sure you skipped that). Here are the reasons why manufacturers of pool balls prefer it:

  • It has a higher heat resistance
  • Compared to other materials like ivory, it is much cheaper
  • It is malleable and can be molded into the best spherical shape
  • It is highly resistant to impact
  • Pool balls made using Bakelite need little maintenance and are easy to clean

In the early 1900s (1923, to be specific), SALUC SA was founded in the Kingdom of Belgium. As a pool-related manufacturing company, players, pros, and lovers of the game have come to know SALUC SA as the Aramith brand’s mother. You cannot study the history of pool balls without mention the company – that would be an abomination. The Aramith brand is purely made of phenolic resin balls. This is the best option of material since Hyatt’s celluloid.

So, what are the building blocks of phenolic resin? First, it uses carbolic acid, which is phenol-based. The organic compound, phenol, is like a white crystal. While it may be solid in form, it is a mildly acidic and volatile material. This implies that it needs to be handled with care. Otherwise, it may cause burns to someone who is not knowledgeable about it.

In the beginning, phenol used to be extracted from coal tar. With time, technological advancements introduced different extraction means, and now, phenol is gotten from petroleum. If you know about the creation process of circuit boards, you know about phenolic resins.

Lovers of the game of pool know that phenolic resins are widely-accepted materials in the production of pool balls. SALUC SA’s brand, Aramith, once mentioned that phenolic resin balls are toughly sturdy and can last up to five times more than all the other balls. Apart from phenolic resins, the other materials used as polymers and polyester.

Tests have it that Aramith balls can withstand and tolerate upwards of 400000 hits. On the flip side, pool balls made non-Aramith material cannot last as long as those hits.

Other Plastic Types

With progress in technology and time, new and fresh plastics have surfaced, one of them being polyester. Out in the market, many balls are made of the same material, which is usually used along with other resins and clear acrylic. The industries that produce these balls argue that these plastics are tough enough to be used to make pool game balls.

Balls made of these plastics are not recommended for professionals; they should be used by people who play the game of pool just for fun. If you are a competitive player, you are unlikely to appreciate these ball types, meaning that your experience with them will lack satiation. Unlike the balls made of phenolic resins, these other plastics lack a particular balance, and they do not last long. Their lifespans are short, and you will soon render them unusable if you play with them for long. They should only be left for casual use and infrequent plays.

However, this does not mean that those materials lack efficiency or effectiveness. They do, but it’s just that the phenolic resin material stands out better than they do. Pool-related organizations advocate for quality control for manufacturers that use these other kinds of plastic.

For the most part, polyester and acrylic are seen as materials with a particular level of inferiority. However, they can be afforded, which explains why manufacturers are going for them. The standard of reference is Aramith, come rain, come sunshine. In competitive sports or tournaments, the pool balls to be used should be high-quality items.

Have you ever taken a close and keen look at a pool ball? If so, you may discover that the object is substantial. If you have an Aramith ball in your hands, you will have a different ball experience. This is because the colors and numbers are integrated and etched into the ball’s construction; they are not superficial markings as the ones you would find with other plastics. 

When you are purchasing pool balls, the specific manufacturing brand is essential for this one reason – reliability. In gameplay and as mentioned, the essentials are friction coefficient, hardness, and resilience. If you love and respect quality, you should go for Aramith. Other reputable brands are Elephant and Sterling. If you are seeking purity and perfection, you can only get it with Aramith. Their products will be resistant to impact, chemicals, heat, and moisture.

Pool Game and Pool Balls Facts

When the word ‘pool’ is uttered, people are more likely to think about a swimming pool and not the game of pool. As you may know, however, these two items, the game of pool and a swimming pool, do not have anything to do with one another. The other less familiar word that sets aside the cue sports is billiards. Here are some of the evolutions of ball, tables, and pool that have happened over time:

A. The English Billiards

Between the late 1700s and the early 1920s, this was a dominant, popular game that only involved three balls. It used a rectangular table that had six pockets. Fast forward to today, and you will have realized that this game can be likened to Snooker. While it may be a complicated game, it is very colorful as it includes both offensive and defensive tactics. Instead of the game having three balls, it now has 22 of them. 

B. The American Four-Ball Billiards

Before 1870, this was a very prominent game in the United States. It involved a table with four pockets and had about 335 squared inches. At that time, it had four pool games – two of them red and the other two white. Many people saw it as an extended form of the English Billiards. For a player to score, they would need to make caroms on 2 – 3 balls, scratch the cue ball, or pocket the balls.

C. The Carom Billiards

If the word ‘carom’ still feels like jargon, now would be a good time for me to explain it. Caroming is the impressively spectacular act of using the cue ball to hit two balls in a single stroke. During those times, a player could get 13 points just from caroming.

These games were born of the American Four-Ball Billiards and became more popular than it. One of the carom billiards games consisted of caroming with the use of three balls. There were no pockets in the table used, and it went by the name ‘straight rail.’ All the carom games started there.

D. The Fifteen-Ball Pool

This game had 15 balls, just like the name suggests. Depending on the ball’s value, a player would get several points if they sank that specific ball. All the points in the Fifteen-Ball Pool totaled to about 120. If anyone got 60 plus one point, there would be declared the winner.

E. Other Billiard Games

After the world ushered in the 20th century, one of the games invented was the Eight-Ball. Ten years later, Straight Pool followed. Around 1920, the Nine-Ball then started.

Snooker Balls Versus Pool Types

The focus on pool ball continues in this comparative section. When people are done looking at the pool table, there will naturally start asking questions about the balls. When you make your first glance as a pool enthusiast, you will realize that the choices to consider are overwhelming. But you should not worry because this section will make things easy.

In this part, you will know the differences between the various pool ball types for each cue sport style: American Pool, Snooker, and English Pool.

For Cue Sports Ball Basic – Aramith Versus Standard

For cue sports in general, you will have two primary ball types to choose from – Aramith and standard balls.

The Standard Ones

When you buy a pool table, the balls that come with the item are the standard ones. If you need to get started as soon as the pool table is assembled, you can rely on the standard balls. The production of standard balls happens in China in great masses. These balls usually have an outer shell made of hardened plastic. As a result, they are affordable, and you can easily replace them. Their cheap nature makes them ideal for commercial settings, such as pool rooms. However, the manufacturers of these balls are marred with quality compromises.

While they may be functioning excellently, their play response won’t match that of Aramith ball. Also, the plastic making up these standard balls heightens friction generation with the table’s felt. This means that over time, the cloth will start wearing out.

The Aramith Balls

Aramith balls are the hallmark of quality when it comes to pool balls. Anyone looking for quality without regard to the price should not leave Aramith balls out. As mentioned previously, these balls are made in the Kingdom of Belgium using a tougher form of plastic know as phenolic resin. The entire ball is nothing but phenolic resin. So, if you were to slice and dice any Aramith ball  (whether stripes or spots), you would find color all the way to the core of the ball. Generally speaking, the resin material used gives the Aramith balls better responsiveness. The friction between the felt and the ball gets reduced, and the ball has a vivid color, and its outlook is impeccably shiny.

Because of quality control, the balls are subjected to a process of rigorous testing – something that does not happen with standard balls. So, Aramith balls are usually ready for international tournaments. If people get them for home use, the experience is worthwhile.

Pool Type One: English Pool

This game includes a set of sixteen balls. These ones have four distinct colors. Traditionally speaking, this game has the following: Seven red balls and seven yellow balls (each being 2 inches), One black ball (2 inches, sometimes an eight-ball), and one white cue ball (1 and 7/8 inches).

Depending on what you want and like, you can either get Aramith or standard English balls. You can also get the balls in different colors, that is, if you don’t like the red and yellow – something like blue and yellow. Again, you can go for the American style of stripes and spots.

Pool Type Two: American Pool

The classic stripes and spots design is the style of American pool balls. You can get the standard or Aramith ball for the American pool game. Here are the specific details of the balls used in the American Pool: Eight solid balls having the numbers one to nine on them (2¼ inches), seven stripe balls having the numbers ten to fifteen (2¼ inches), and one white cue ball (2¼ inches).

Pool Type Three: Snooker

The balls used in the game of Snooker are quite different from the ones in the other pool games. Out in the market, their balls are in two various sizes. The smaller set (2 inches) is the best for people who are playing on small English tables. The larger set (2 1/16) is ideal for people who play on large snooker tables. The cue ball in this game is similar in size to the object balls. Whichever size you go for, here are the balls that are going to get to you: Ten red balls (in the 2-inch set) or 15 red balls (in the two 1-16-inch set), one ball for each of the following colors: black, pink, blue, yellow, brown, and green, and one white cue ball.

Bonus Section: Yellow Pool Balls

At this point, you surely know more about pool type and balls than half of the world’s population. It’s about time we shifted into something different, which are yellow pool balls. And no – I am not talking about the balls in English pool on that one ball in Snooker. I am talking about balls that lose their vibrancy and become yellow instead of retaining their white color.

A white ball turning yellow shouldn’t cause you to go into shock or panic. It is natural for balls to go through the yellowing process over time. It does not mean that the balls are ruined or are not clean enough.

Aramith balls, or the ones made of synthetic plastic phenolic resin, certainly turn yellow as time passes. This yellowing may be caused by exposure to heat, air, and UV light. These elements usually initiate the breakdown of phenolic resin, which is a white crystalline substance in its refined form.

Now, you know why pool balls start yellowing, but I bet that you have more questions. Well, kick back and relax because this section will expound on the discussion and talk to you more about yellowing. You will get tips on yellowing prevention, and you will know what to do when your pool balls turn yellow.

What Really Causes the Yellowing of Pool Balls?

As mentioned in the immediately previous section, the material making up the ball gets broken down. Here are the nuances behind the yellowing of different types of balls (based on material):

  • Those made of phenolic resin – these become yellow because of air, heat, or UV light exposure. When your phenolic resin pool balls start yellowing, it could be that they are simply aging.
  • Those made of polyester resin – these become gray; they don’t yellow.
  • Those made of ivory – like phenolic resin, these also become yellow with age.

While some people say that leaving pool balls in dark locations causes the yellowing, that is not the case. As mentioned severally in this portion, the culprits are natural aging and heat exposure.

Preventing the Yellowing of Pool Balls

While there isn’t much you can do, you can always keep them in a cool and dry place. Most players leave the ball on the pool table, which exposes them to air. Here are some take-home points that can help in preventing the yellowing of the pool balls:

  • Store the balls in a case that has a lid; you can get such cases on Amazon
  • If you go for the case, keep it in a place that is out of reach of water and direct heat

I must mention that the above points are merely ways of delaying the yellowing. When the balls are made, it is imminent that they will become yellow. It is just a mere issue of time before the changes start happening

Is there a problem with yellow balls, really?

Really, it is not such a big deal when a ball yellows. In fact, the ball will perform as well as it did when you first had it. The people who will find it a problem are those who have aesthetic issues. If you don’t mind how a ball looks, you will continue playing without any worry.

Actually, many players of the game like and enjoy the off-white form of a yellowed pool ball. They say that an off-white ball means that the material making it is of good quality.

Getting the Balls Whitened

It would be in vain to think that the balls will go back to how they were. Getting them whitened means reducing the yellow look that they are wearing. Here are the methods you can consider:

  1. Getting a pool ball polisher, cleaner, or restorer – some restorers and solutions will get the ball off their yellow element, making a great attempt to restore the ball’s shine.
  2. Going for a cleaning machine is a unique piece of equipment that polishes the balls and makes them cleaner. However, you will need to invest in this one. Get an economical option and test it out.

If you want to restore the balls to their previous glory, those are the options that you can look at. Here are the most vital things you should NOT do when trying to whiten the balls:

  • Throwing them into a running dishwasher – the pool balls should not be exposed to the cleaning solutions and high heat used in dishwashers. This move is counterproductive as you may lose the color etched or painted on the balls.
  • Bleaching them – bleach is likely to leave some pink details that you will find hard removing.
  • Using an abrasive cleaner – this product will mostly like damage the balls before it whitens them.

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