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What are pool balls made of

Ever just sat there and wondered what pool balls are made of? Today I’m going to give you all the answers to this question and more. Billiard balls have quite an interesting history. Let us dive right into it

How Pool balls are made-a quick summary

Pool balls are now made using Phenolic resin. These types of balls are a combination of chemical and heat resistance. This means they can withstand shots made with much force.

There are some pool balls that are made of polyester and plastic. These balls are not the best.

The history of billiard balls

When the game of pool was created in the 16th century, the pool balls were made of stone. This type of ball was quickly replaced by wood and clay as stone was too heavy. The stone balls slowed down the game of pool or pocket billiards.


These balls lasted until the 1700s in the “pool ball market” at the time. It was popular as the manufacturing process was cheap.

Then the ivory billiard balls became popular. They phased out the wooden balls because they were not as durable as the ivory version.


Ivory is a material found in elephant tusks.

As the colonization of Africa and Asia grew. The Europeans soon developed a taste for more exotic materials. Especially Ivory as it represented wealth for Europeans.

Soon ivory balls were introduced.

These cue balls were known as IVORIES.

Ivory balls were expensive to produce because the manufacturing process was long and time-consuming.

Each elephant tusk could make either 4 or 5 pool balls.

These ivory balls had to be cured for years. This was to make them strong enough to withstand cracking or chipping. 

Many of the balls were rejected because of problems in the ivory itself. These balls would become yellow with aging and were not crack resistant.

Sadly the elephant population began to decrease. I know right. THE HORROR!!! Another option had to be brought up in place of ivory balls.

PRONTO! Hence the introduction of plastic and resin pool balls.


 This material was one of the first industrial plastics. It was made of cellulose nitrate. Before we do too much here. A little history lesson.

In 1869, pool table maker Phelan and Collender decided to challenge its customers for $10 000 USD. The challenge was to make a strong non-ivory cue ball. This ad caught the eye of John Wesley Hyatt, an Albany, New York City, inventor. He combined camphor with alcohol and nitrocellulose. He molded it into a circular shape under extreme pressure.

Though he did not win the money. The balls were considered to be one of the first synthetic plastic materials.

The mixture of camphor and alcohol made these balls highly flammable. The balls were known to explode when they hit each other on the pool table. These little explosions were caused by the fact that the nitrocellulose was not stable.

These cue balls were eventually phased out and replaced with a more stable and force-resistant ball.

Improved Parkesine: Celluloid

These cue balls are a product of the Celanese Corporation.

This ball was developed after the failure of the flammable and exploding pool balls mentioned before.

The substance is known as ‘celluloid’.

Celluloid is unfortunately combustible. This means it can explode as well. Celluloid, like many other early plastics, was part of an attempt to solve the ivory balls problem.

Every other ball that came after the first Parkensine was made of nitrocellulose. They also contained gun cotton and flash paper. Bad iDEA. All these materials are highly flammable.

Apparently, these pool balls had grown men pulling out their guns. As the explosions sounded like gunshots.


In 1907, Bakelite was created. An American chemist Phelan Leo Baekeland invented it. The material is a plastic-like substance. Unlike other pool balls, Bakelite pool balls were durable. They were easy to produce and didn’t carry the risk of blowing up the game.

By the mid-1920s, most of the pool balls were being made out of this quality material.

Bakelite balls stopped being used in the 1940s.

This was because they were considered dangerous. Studies showed that they contained formaldehyde and asbestos. Formaldehyde is a simple chemical compound made of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. Overexposure to Bakelite dust was known to cause lung infections and other breathing problems.

The Process of making pool balls today

From almost making elephants extinct. To players almost shooting each other during pool games. We can safely say we’ve come a long to get to polyester balls and polyester resin balls.

Today’s pool balls are usually made of a combination of resin and plastic. These are durable and can be crushed to hard standards. This material is moldable and uniformly dense. It is perfect for high-quality balls that offer top-quality play on any pool table.

Phenolic resin is the best material. It is used only by 1 ball maker worldwide. They are known as Saluc. Which manufacturers the Aramith brand of billiard balls.

  • Phenolic resin has been proven to be the best material available for pool balls because of its chip and scratch-resistant characteristics.
  • Today billiard balls are made from a combination of resin and plastic. 

Billiard balls standards

  • Every pool ball has a standard it needs to meet before it is released to any pool table. The quality of the balls you use has an impact on the quality and accuracy of your game. 
  •  It takes 23 days to produce, cast, cure, grind, and polish the balls.
  • Specifications are met through advanced technology and craftsman checking each ball personally.

The seven Basic standards any pool ball should meet are -;

  1. Density
  2. Balance
  3. Diameter Tolerance
  4. Roundness
  5. Colour Precision
  6. Surface Polish
  7. Brilliance

All the above us after going through a 13 step manufacturing process

The inside of a pool ball

The inside of any regulation ball is identical through and through. It is made of phenolic resin. It is a single solid material. Color joints have no effect on the solidness of the ball. This means the places where the different colors join do not affect the solidness. The numbers or other markings are also phenolic resin that is filled into holes. It is drilled or carved into the main body of the ball.

The balls differ slightly in density when they are made. They must be weighed and hand-selected to produce a matched set.

Main factors that affect the quality of Phenolic Resin balls

Diameter tolerance

  • This talks about perfect round shape.  As a ball is being produced, the diameter of the ball is set.  High-quality balls are held to a strict tolerance. This means variations are not allowed.  You can count on these balls to be as close as possible to perfectly round.

Consistency of density

  • This is the part where the manufacture makes sure the weight of the ball is evenly spread. This allows the ball to roll evenly no matter where the cue strikes it. It must roll straight.


  • Elasticity is the transfer of energy from the strike ball to the object balls during play. Confused? I’ll explain. When you hit one pool ball with your pool cue wanting it to hit the next one. The force/ energy that moves the ball that was hit is ELASTICITY. A ball will perfectly transfer 100% of its energy to the next ball during a stop shot.  In fact, a stop shot gets its name from this elasticity factor.


  • The search has always been for durable balls. Therefore all pool balls need to be able to withstand a certain amount of force. When sliding on the pool table felt, balls generate friction that converts to heat. This heat goes up to a temperature of 482 °F/ 250° C.. Quality balls can withstand around 5 tons of force before shattering.

What you should look for in pool balls

People might ask themselves what exactly it is that makes perfect pool balls. The answer is simple.

  1. The best in Quality. They might be pricey. But you are guaranteed they will last.
  2. Phenolic balls. They will last up to five times longer than polyester balls
  3. Pool Balls that will not discolor or lose the high gloss finish over time. (Run away from plastic resin)

Price Factor

  • A fine set of balls costs between $100 – $200 but lasts much longer than the $20-$50 set.
  • In GENERAL, most IVORY sets sell for anywhere from $50. They can run up into the thousands of dollars. Depending mainly on: Condition of the balls themselves.

Popular names

Let’s get into the popular names in the big leagues. Who’s really who in the zoo. And who holds the title for Best Billiard Game Balls.

Aramith vs Standard pool balls

Aramith Standard Balls

Makes balls from ONLY  phenolic resin Uses polymers or polyester

Lasts for years Lasts at most 2 years with lots of care required

Withstands over 50 times more impacts Not as durable

 Far more scratch-resistant Scratch easily

Holds its high gloss polish longer Fade and Yellow with time

Has the best balance and density center of gravity is not in the center of the ball


Who were the inventors of pool balls?

The most well known or rather mentioned inventors of pool table balls were Phelan Leo Baekeland and Hyatt

Phelan Leo Baekeland

Born – November 14, 1863

Died-  February 23, 1944

Nationality- Belgian

Profession – Chemist 

  He is best known for the inventions of Velox photographic paper in 1893. Then Bakelite in 1907. He has been called “The Father of the Plastics Industry”.

His invention of Bakelite, an inexpensive, nonflammable, and versatile plastic, marked the beginning of the modern plastics industry.

Bakelite was used to make pool table balls during the 1800s

John Wesley Hyatt

Born – November 28, 1837

Died – May 10, 1920

Nationality – American

Profession- Inventor

Hyatt invented plastic (1). He received several hundred patents /government licenses. Among the most well-known of his inventions was that of a substitute for ivory to produce billiard game balls. He experimented with Parkesine, a hardened form of nitrocellulose. Parkesine had been invented by the Englishman  Alexander Parkes in 1862. It is considered the first true plastic. Although it was not a success as a commercial or industrial product.

n 1870 Hyatt formed the Albany Dental Plate Company. They produced billiard balls, false teeth, and piano keys among other things.

Are billiard balls made of ivory?

Back in the 1700s ivory was used to make billiard game balls. They were strong and represented wealth. However, a shortage of ivory from all the poaching of elephants in Africa and Asia forced inventors to come up with different materials for these game balls.

Is the material different for cue balls?

Each and every company produces its game balls differently from the next.

Companies like Saluc or better known as Brunswick Centennial produce the most popular Aramith billiards balls. Which are only made of phenolic resin. This company holds the popularity trophy for the best quality balls.

Other companies use plastic polymers or polyester. These materials are not very durable. Different brand names use different materials.

How are the cue balls made?

A billiards game balls are made in 23 days. It is then cast, cured, ground, and polished. They go through a 13-day process of checking tolerances and specifications. State-of-the-art technology and craftsman check each ball personally. The standards are to be met by each and every one before it touches any pool tables.

What are cue balls made of?

Cue balls have a long history.

They were first made of Stone. Stone didn’t cut it because it was too heavy and slowed down any game of pool. Then they were changed to balls of wood. It was not durable The people moved onto Ivory. It was great material.

BUT it almost made elephants extinct. Another disc0very was made. Plastic mixed with camphor and alcohol. It was called Parkesine. This didn’t work out because it was not a stable solution. It would make tiny explosions when any friction occurred. Bakelite and Phenolic Resin were then later discovered. These are the main materials for balls today.

Are billiard balls still made of ivory?

Billiard game balls are no longer made from elephant tusks. This is because the elephant population decreased rapidly. This was after most player’s choice of balls was Ivory. The animals were poached and nearly reached extinction. This then was banned and new solutions were found.

Which are the most expensive pool balls

The most expensive pool balls and every player’s dream set is the Aramith. They cost anything from $100- $380. They are used in most of the major tournaments around the world. Also, they’re not only used in pool table games. They are used in snooker and carom billiards as well.

This article is surely any player’s dream haven. Not only did I give you the history lesson you didn’t know you needed. I put you onto some really cool facts of today.