Everything You Need To Know About Billiard Balls

Billiards is an all-encompassing word that includes any of the several games played with hard balls that are driven with a cue on a cloth-covered table enclosed by a rim of rubber. The main cue sports are Carom Billiards, Pool, and Snooker. In the United States, six-pocket pool is the most popular type of billiards. Each of these categories includes its own unique accessories, from cues to billiard balls. So, for the purpose of this blog post, we are going to focus on billiard ball sets for six-pocket pool.

History of Materials

Billiard balls have been made from many different materials since the start of the game, including clay, celluloid, crystallite, ivory, plastic, steel, and wood. The dominant material from the early 17th century until the early 20th century was ivory. As controversial as this material is today, it was actually not environmental concerns that started the search for a substitute. Manufacturers were concerned about the danger elephant hunters faced trying to obtain ivory, and makers were looking for a cheaper solution.

In the middle of the 19th century, a New York billiard manufacturer offered up a reward prize to the inventor that could find a substitute for ivory. Records show this prize was $10,000, which was a substantial amount of money for this time period. Motivated by this reward, the first viable substitute was celluloid, invented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1868, but the material was volatile, sometimes exploding during the manufacturing process. So, the search continued…

Phenolic Resins

In 1923, Saluc S.A. was founded out of Belgium. They are a specialty manufacturing company best known for their Aramith brand billiard, pool and snooker balls. What makes this an important company in the history of billiard balls? Well, Aramith specializes in phenolic resin balls, which is the best material solution discovered since celluoid. So, what exactly is phenolic resin? Well, Phenol, also known as carbolic acid, is an organic compound. The volatile white crystalline solid is mildly acidic, and requires careful handling due to its propensity to cause burns. Phenol was originally extracted from coal tar, but today is produced from petroleum.

Phenolic resins are mainly used in the production of circuit boards, but are better known for the production of molded pool balls. According to Aramith, phenolic balls last up to five times longer than other balls made from polymers or polyester. The billiard-play simulator leaves no doubt: Aramith phenolic balls are still perfectly playable even after 400,000 hits, whereas others were rendered unusable.

Polyester

Billiard balls can also be made from other plastics and resins such as polyester and clear acrylic. Many in the industry argue that while these materials are acceptable for billiard ball construction, they do not have the balance and longevity of phenolic resin. It’s important to note that just as important as the material is the quality control in the plant. Since plastics, other resins, polyester, and acrylic are seen as inferior materials, these materials are often used to create very cheap and affordable ball sets. This sometimes means the factory controls are lacking, as well.

Cleaning

What is the best way to clean billiard balls? The first question is what type of ball? Different types need to be cleaned in different ways due to the materials used in the construction. Polyester should be treated in a completely different way than phenolic resin.

Polyester balls have to be treated a lot more carefully as they do tend to scratch and lose their polish very easily. To clean a polyester pool ball use a light solution of warm water and a small amount of washing up liquid. Do not use an abrasive (even for stubborn stains), as this will scratch the ball and leave an unpolished finish. Use a cotton cloth or sponge and scrub gently for the worst offenders. When you have completed the cleaning make sure you wash off the solution with clean warm water as the washing up liquid will form a film over the surface of the balls. Make sure the balls are dried before use. For a better finish use a ball polish with a micro-fibre cloth.

Aramith or other phenolic resin billiard balls remain cleaner for longer amounts of time compared to polyester. When cleaning Aramith balls, do not use liquid detergents, as it has been found recently to cause a film over the top of balls. The best bet is warm water to remove chalk residue and then to completely dry the balls (make sure it is a lint-free cloth) before applying Aramith Ball Cleaner. For more stubborn stains use Aramith Ball Restorer. Both of these products have been developed by Aramith for use on Aramith balls.