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What are billiard balls made of?

Always willing to hold our shots, dancing on the table, bouncing in the cushions and ending in the pockets. So this is how the life of a billiard ball goes, whose fate is always in our hands… and in our cues. These so perfect and resistant spheres that never tire rolling are the protagonists of today’s article, because every billiard player should know what the billiard balls are made of.

Billiard balls

By David Muñoz

The first billiard balls were ivory. With an elephant tusk just three or four balls could be produced in a long process, so they ended up being very costly. The high price coupled with the fragility and little homogeneity of the balls made that way thus forced to seek a more affordable material.

An American inventor, John Hyatt, found in 1860 a great substitute for ivory: nitrocellulose. Mixing it with alcohol, a plastic material to manufacture much cheaper balls was achieved. The problem was that the material was like wildfire and a strong hit could make it explode. 

Half a century later, the chemist Leo Baekeland invented bakelite, the type of phenolic resin with which most of billiard balls are manufactured today (though it is also used for its great advantages: it is very resistant to heat, it is cheaper and it allows getting perfectly spherical, highly impact resistant and less dirty balls).

Bille-Ouberte

Belgian brand Aramith is the reference in the market of billiard balls. Whether Pool, Snooker or Carom, in most official tournaments their high quality balls are used, also made of phenolic resin. If you have never seen a billiard ball inside, it might surprise you to see that they are completely solid and that in the case of Saluc (Aramith), colors and numbers are not only superficial but are embedded in the whole ball.

There are people who treat them better and who treat them worse. Some people always clean them after the play and others have not done it once since they purchased them.  But they, discolored or not, always abbey the orders that transmit them our shots. They always roll, always bounce and always end up in the pockets, but they quickly get out of them to return to their refuge: box or triangle.

Here is the anatomy of a billiard ball: