Historically, snooker/billiards balls would be fashioned out of wood. Yes, wood. But this was in the games infancy. To be honest, snooker wasn’t officially invented yet. Understandably, wood carved billiards balls were not up to scratch and wouldn’t survive the frequent impact that occurs in a cue sport. So what followed?
Following the usage of wooden (and sometimes clay) billiard balls the successor material that would then be used for a significant period of time was ivory. Ivory is a tough substance that can be compared to tooth enamel. Contextually speaking, in the world of snooker ball manufacturing, elephant tusks were used for production.
Consequently, this soon became a problem in the 1800s because elephants were being used by the thousands to sustain ivory ball production thus, facing extinction. There were also additional problems faced with ivory balls including inconsistent weights and density which would cause kicks and unreliable play. There were also tendencies for balls for change shape during the course of play due to the material. Additionally, these materials made it harder to replicate the kind of cue ball control we see today.
American inventor John Wesley Hyatt came up with Celluloid which is a synthetic plastic which offered a more flexible, tough material. Celluloid is often used in the filming world. However, the problem with this was that Celluloid contained flammable and combustible elements which would occasionally lead to snooker/billiards balls exploding on impact. Yes, you read that correctly.
This led to the development of various types of plastic and it was in the 1950s where Phenolic Resin took the throne of snooker and billiard ball production. It’s effectively a synthetic compound which can be moulded and hardened to form the shape of a snooker ball. It’s also used to produce numerous home and electrical appliances. This type of resin is also scratch and chip resistant proving useful in a cue sport.
When it comes to actually manufacturing snooker balls, the heated resin is poured into a pre-coloured mould (sometimes injected in the mould to avoid bubbles). Once solidified and polished, balls which are similar in weight are grouped together then sent off to the final production stages. And that’s it!