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How are snooker balls made?

Snooker balls are colored balls that are used to play cue games of snooker. Previous to the development of the modern snooker balls, the material used was wood and ivory. But these materials were not fit enough and something alternate had to be discovered. The breakthrough was achieved in 1870 by Dr. John Wesley. Dr. John invented the very first industrial plastic; cellulose nitrate. With time and research the material was further developed and phenolic resins came into being. For the modern cue balls phenolic resin is perhaps the only material exclusively used.

Materials traditionally used for the balls

The previous ivory balls demanded the killing of elephants that was fast becoming an endangered species. In the 19th century, it was eventually realized that elephants were limited and the indiscriminate killings will eventually lead to their extinction. Thus inventors had to take up the challenge to come up with an alternate material and it had to be fast. Moreover, the balls that were made of wood did not do well in high demanding matches that lasted hours as they were subjected to wear and tear. They showed a tendency to ‘burst’.

In the year 1865, Dr. John Wesley came up with ‘celluloid’, which very much resembled ivory in its composition. This invention earned Dr. Wesley $10,000. Celluloid was the first patented material from the U.S. but eventually it was seen that cue balls made with celluloid occasionally exploded, which made it unfit for the games. In 1870, Dr. Wesley came up with ‘cellulose nitrate’ which became the first industrial plastic material. But here too a problem was seen since cellulose nitrate was unstable. Synthetic materials like Bakelite and various other plastic derivatives were tried top come up with the perfect material. This was achieved with the discovery of phenolic resins which is the modern day material used to make snooker balls.

Newer materials began to be used

Phenolic resin is a scratch and chip resistant. Thus, is widely used to make high-quality snooker balls. Snooker requires the colored balls to be hit by the cue balls, the table edges and with other colored balls. The balls made with phenolic resins have the quality to remain polished for a longer duration. The final product is obtained by casting the resins into the required shape.

Process of making the balls

The desired shape of the ball is achieved by pouring the heated liquid into latex moulds. Sometimes the heated latex is forcibly injected, which drives out any air bubbles and gives a fully cast product. After the casting is done the molds are either peeled off or broken apart. The raw balls are then further smoothed by lathe machines. The heated resins that are cast into the molds are pre-colored. It facilitates good make up for the minor aberrations that may show up.

After the process of casting and polishing, comes the weighing part. Even though each ball is made with a similar type of cast, minor variations in weight may show up. The balls with the same weights are grouped together and sent for the final packing.

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