Hearing the crash of pool balls colliding on a break is a sweet sound. Watching the colorful spheres roll to a stop on the table, or better yet, into a pocket, can make you start to think about their characteristics. They look simple enough at a glance, but when you start thinking about balance, precision, and their ability to take a beating, you may wonder: “How are pool balls made?”
The majority of pool balls on the market today are made by one company with phenolic resin. This is a complex and technical 23-day process that has 13 steps, from casting to curing to quality control. While some of this process remains a secret, we can still get a good look at how pool balls are made and the effort that goes into them.
Read on to find out how modern pool balls are made.
What Are Pool Balls Made Of?
As mentioned above, modern pool balls are made mostly with phenolic resin by Saluc, the Belgian company that makes Aramith pool balls. However, there are plenty of balls on the market that are made from polyester. And you can still find some antique balls for sale that are made from Bakelite or even ivory!
Phenolic resin is the closest material to ivory for making pool balls, which is why it takes up most of the market for billiard and pool balls. But more on that process in a little bit. First, let’s talk a bit about how and when ivory balls were made.
When Were Pool Balls Made of Ivory?
People started using ivory to make billiard balls in the 17th century. Ivory was unparalleled as a material for billiard balls until the 19th century. Unfortunately, a lot of elephants had to die for their tusks to make these balls (and other things). Although other animals have ivory, elephant tusks were the only ones large enough to make pool balls.
It wasn’t until the forerunner of modern plastic was invented that people started to make decent pool balls out of anything but ivory.
Bakelite: The First Phenolic Resin
Without the invention of Bakelite, we wouldn’t have the high-quality pool balls that we do today. Bakelite first came about in 1907, invented by Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland. As you’ll see below, Bakelite was made with the same phenol-formaldehyde chemical reaction that allows Saluc to make billiard balls. At that time, Leo Baekeland derived the chemical ingredients from wood alcohol and coal tar. Bakelite is the trademarked name for what is considered the first thermosetting plastic, meaning it sets permanently under heat.
Bakelite and other phenolic resins are used in many different industries for a bevy of products. It is considered the first fully synthetic plastic, which birthed all the other plastics that are so widely used today.
Now, let’s get back to pool ball specifics!
Are Pool Balls Solid?
Pool balls are solid all the way through. Since pool balls need to be similar in weight and balance, making hollow pool balls would be impractical and difficult. But, to give you a better idea of how pool balls are made, let’s take a look at the process Saluc uses to make their Aramith pool balls.
How Phenolic Resin Pool Balls Are Made
Many people assume that the most important part of making pool balls is getting the balance and smoothness right. While this is certainly important, it’s relatively easy to do with the help of modern machines.
Instead, the most important part of making quality phenolic resin pool balls starts with the material itself.
Phenolic resin is made using phenol and formaldehyde. Together, they create a condensation reaction that, with a catalyst, can make phenolic resin. Of course, this is an oversimplification. Needless to say, the chemical process is complex.
Getting this right is what makes phenolic resin balls so durable and of a much higher quality than polyester balls. Phenolic resin is what is known as thermosetting plastic. Once it sets after being heated, it can’t be melted again.
Turning Resin into Pool Balls
Much of Saluc’s specific manufacturing techniques remain a well-kept secret, which allows them to continue making pool balls of unparalleled quality.
The molding process happens under extremely high pressure, through-hardening the reins and giving each ball a constant density throughout. This also allows the center of gravity to be in the exact middle of the ball, which is key for the precision game of pool.
The stable molecular structure of these phenolic resin balls makes them especially tough— scratch and chip resistant. It also allows for consistent rebound and roll.
Solids and Stripes
It’s common for polyester balls to be precision-painted on. They all start the same and then are painted into solids or stripes.
With phenolic resin balls, however, this is not the case. The colors of the solids and stripes are made of colored phenolic resin which, were you to cut a ball in half, you could see runs all the way through the ball. Amazingly, there is no difference in structure between the colored parts of the ball and the white parts. The special manufacturing process causes the resin to bond uniformly, no matter the color.
In the video below, you can see how structurally sound these balls are in that they don’t break along the color lines as you might expect.
So, although you may expect these phenolic resin balls to be weaker than polyester balls that are painted, the opposite is true. In fact, Saluc claims that their balls will survive up to 50 times more impacts than other balls.
Engraving the Numbers
While some balls have their numbers painted on or are made with a separate number core, phenolic resin balls are made with engraved numbers. This is a computerized process, allowing each ball to look exactly the same as another with the same number. Getting replacement balls is easy because you don’t have to worry about an odd-ball-out situation.
Grinding and Polishing
After the molding and curing processes, the balls are sanded and polished to extremely precise standards. During this process, machines and people both interact with the balls to make sure that they’re of the top-notch quality needed for play.
How smooth the ball is definitely impacts its behavior on the table. Balls with even very small flat spots can gather dirt and dust and start to wear down the table’s cloth. Plus, a small flat spot can affect rebound, accuracy, and roll. This is why sanding and polishing the balls is a vital part of the pool ball-making process.
Every phenolic resin ball made by Saluc is checked for quality by both computerized machines and people working in their production facility. They leave nothing to chance when it comes to quality. They check for:
- Diameter Tolerance
- Color Precision
- Surface Polish
They make sets with balls that are as close in weight as possible, making sure each set is uniform in its characteristics.
When they’re happy with the quality of the balls, they sort them into sets and box them up to be shipped around the world!
Making pool balls involves a complex multi-step process that has been perfected by Saluc, maker of Aramith balls. Nearly 80% of the balls on the market are made by Saluc with phenolic resin, a thermosetting plastic.
There are plenty of other companies that make pool balls, mainly out of polyester. But, when compared to phenolic resin balls, there is no question as to which is better.
Perhaps one day we’ll get a detailed look at how exactly Saluc makes its pool balls. For now, though, they keep their exact processes a secret. What we do know is that the process involves casting and setting, grinding and polishing, engraving numbers, and controlling for quality throughout the whole process.
Machines and computers are instrumental in the making of pool balls, but it’s not a fully automated process. The human touch is essential for creating quality phenolic resin pool balls that will hold up for many years.
Thinking about buying some new balls? Check out this great Super Aramith Pro set.
- Complete set of pool Balls15 numbered balls 1 cue ball
- Weight: 6 oz per ball aramith Pro series cast-phenolic resin construction
- Less vulnerable to burn spots Number in stripe Pro cup cue ball
- Remke training ball aramith ball cleaner Micro-Fiber cleaning cloth
- Complete set of 16 balls includes 8 solids, 7 stripes and a cue ball; Each ball is regulations size, measuring 2-1/4" in diameter