Billiard balls: how made?

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Billiard balls were originally made of wood and later elephant tusks. Today, they are made of artificial resins, such as phenolic and polyester, which are cast into molds and polished by machine. The balls are pre-colored to prevent abrasions and weighed to ensure similar weights. The search for an alternative material for billiard balls led to the invention of modern plastic.

A billiard ball is a colored ball used to play the game of pool cue. In the past, they were carved out of wood, which didn’t hold up well over multiple games. Today the spheres are cast from artificial resins, then further ground and polished by machine
The two most common types of resin used for game balls are phenolic and polyester. Phenolic resin is used in higher quality balls because it is resistant to chips and scratches and holds a polish easily. The balls are created by casting the resin into the desired shape.

The castings are made by heating the liquid resin and pouring it into flexible latex moulds. Other times, liquid latex will be forcibly injected into the mold, which ensures that no air bubbles will form and the object will be fully cast. The shape of the molds then determines the steps required to finish the billiard ball. Some ramekins are made to melt one ball at a time and come apart like the shell of a hard-boiled egg, while others will form a “chain” of balls. The balls are then crushed and further polished by mechanical lathes.

Many resin objects are painted and varnished after they come out of the mold. However, billiard balls often take a beating from being bumped against the cues, the table, and each other in the course of a game. For this reason, liquid resin is often pre-colored so that little abrasions do not appear on the balls after they are created.

While resin is a very accurate method of throwing, billiard balls vary slightly in weight. When finished, the balls will be weighed and matched into groups of the closest similar weights. Saluc, a Belgian company that has been making billiard balls since the 1960s, still has each ball manually checked before it leaves the factory.

The material used to make billiard balls has had a long evolution. Originally, billiard balls were carved from wood, which didn’t always withstand the wear and tear of playing. Around the same time, manufacturers were looking for an alternative material from which to make billiard balls, which were then hand turned from seasoned elephant tusks. A prize was offered to the scientist who could invent an alternative material and celluloid was born.

After the success of celluloid, Bakelite and other plastics were developed, ending with resins that are still used to create many of the products we use today. Some historians argue that the search for an alternative material for billiard balls was the beginning of the invention of modern plastic.

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