We use them for carnival games, we use them for tailgating games, we use them for kids games and we even use them for the game that they were intended for, ping pong! Ping pong balls are light and fun and versatile. They have been in our lives since the time we were kids and chances are you have used and enjoyed ping pong balls on dozens, if not hundreds of occasions. Chance also are that you have never stopped to think about what ping pong balls are. What they are made of and how they are made. That is why I’m here to tell you a little more about our little white (or orange, or yellow) friends.
What Ping Pong Balls are Made of
When ping pong or table tennis started in the late 1800s, people in England would stack books in the middle of a table and hit golf balls back and forth. Now, using a racquet or paddle to hit a golf ball off a table and back at your opponent is not a great idea. It is not very safe and it is certainly not good for your tables! In 1901, a table tennis player named James W. Gibb took a trip to the US and discovered small balls made of celluloid, a soft, thermoplastic material. This was the first appearance of what we think of as a ping pong ball. Today, many ping pong balls are made of polymer instead of celluloid but the fell and weight remain the same.
How Ping Pong Balls are Made
Depending on the company and the factory, there are a few different ways that ping pong balls are made. The factory starts with celluloid or polymer and weighs it first to make sure everything weighs the same and as expected. This is very important since regulation ping pong balls must be of a very specific weight. Next, and here is where the process differs, half of a ping pong ball is either cut out of a block of material by machine or a sheet of the material is pressed into a mold to create the shape. Two halves are then “glued” together with an alcohol-based solvent to create the full ball. The fully put together balls are then either smoothed by hand or by machine to make sure they are perfectly round and smooth.
When are Ping Pong Balls Ready to Go?
After ping pong balls are inspected and graded, they are ready to be packaged and shipped out. The balls are tested in the factory and judged on a number of categories. They must have a specific shape, bounce, weight, roundness, and smoothness. The best balls, the ones that can be used for big-time international competitions such as the Olympics, are 3 star ping pong balls. Ping pong balls that don’t meet these criteria do not go to waste though. There are 0,1 and 2-star balls too. They can be used for high-quality table tennis matches (2-star) all the way down to the ones you use to throw into red cups.
So next time you use a ping pong ball for any reason, you can wow your friends and family by telling them a little more about how that little ball came to be.