What Should Croquet Balls Be Made Of?

Recreational croquet is one of the most popular backyard games. People had played it for centuries, long before plastic was invented. Thus, the first croquet balls were made of wood. Today’s balls are generally made of plastic, and this brings us to the question: what should croquet balls be made of?

Almost all croquet balls on the market – including tournament balls – are made of a plastic composite. Not only is plastic cheaper than wood, but the balls are more durable. Moreover, composite makes it easier to achieve the regulation bounce height when manufacturing the balls.

Wooden vs. plastic composite croquet balls: which to pick?

Whether you’re looking for a complete croquet set or replacement balls, you can choose between wooden and plastic composite. Let’s see which ones are best. 

Appearance 

In croquet, wooden balls are considered traditional and are more visually appealing than composite balls.

When manufacturing wood croquet balls, most brands maintain the natural color of the wood and apply a transparent wood stain to protect the material from elements. Colored stripes on each ball designate the ball color and match the stripes on the mallet for easier gameplay.

To finish the ball, a clear topcoat protects both the wood stain and the colored stripes. 

The original wooden croquet balls also featured a milling pattern, which is basically grooves carved in the wooden surface. These grooves affect how well the balls grip each other on impact. 

Most modern wooden balls miss those grooves. The smooth surface has a poor grip, and the balls are not suitable for tournament gameplay. That’s why most croquet sets with wooden balls currently on the market are designed for recreational play

However, there are some exceptions, and you can find tournament sets with wooden balls, too. These balls feature the milling pattern and are generally painted in solid colors.

Plastic composite balls have a less desirable look, but what they don’t have in visual appeal, they make up in performance. 

Composite balls generally have a solid color, each hue corresponding to the colored stripes on a mallet. 

Ball molds make it easier to create the milling pattern to improve grip, and the balls need no painting or topcoat. 

The composite’s quality varies between cheaper and high-quality sets. However, you can expect plastic croquet balls to last longer than wood.

Durability

As a general rule, plastic croquet balls are more durable than wooden balls.

The main problem with wooden croquet balls is their high maintenance. These balls are made of lacquered or painted wood. As you’re playing, any pebbles or other obstacles on the ground can scratch or chip the topcoat. 

Once scratched, the topcoat will no longer protect the ball’s wooden core, allowing it to absorb moisture. After each game, you can repaint the balls to prevent moisture from soaking into the wood, but the task is tedious. 

However, if you don’t repair the paint, the wood will eventually crack, compromising the ball’s structural integrity.

Composite balls need no topcoat. The resins used to manufacture the balls are generally UV-resistant and need no maintenance

Cost

Plastic croquet balls are cheaper than wooden ones. The lower cost is explained by the cost of materials and the manufacturing process involved.

To make a wooden croquet ball, a woodworker must turn the ball on a lathe, sand it to obtain a smooth finish, carve in grooves, and paint it. 

Composite balls only require you to pour the liquid resin into a mold and wait for it to harden. There is no sanding or painting involved. The process is more streamlined, and the manufacturing costs are lower.

In general, a set of recreational-quality wooden croquet balls will cost you more than a tournament-quality set of composite croquet balls.

What weight should croquet balls be?

Regardless of the material they are made of, regulation croquet balls should have a diameter of 3-5/8 inches and weigh 16 ounces.

However, not all croquet sets on the market have 16oz balls. Some sets designed for children come with lighter balls, generally weighing between 6.5 and 12 ounces. 

Recreational sets designed for both youth and adults may include 14oz balls instead of 16oz. That said, numerous recreational sets come with regulation-size balls that weigh 16oz.

FAQ

What wood are croquet balls made of?

The best wood for croquet balls should be light enough to allow easy throwing yet hard enough to prevent splitting. Light chestnut and sycamore are the best choices for balls with a circumference of 10 inches. For smaller balls with a circumference under 10 inches, beech, ash, elm, and oak are other suitable woods.

What kind of paint do you use on croquet balls?

Wood paint or varnish are the best choices for wooden croquet balls. Treat the surface with a primer before applying the paint product to improve grip and increase the topcoat’s scratch resistance. A coat of clear lacquer over the paint coat can also increase durability.

What are official croquet balls made of?

Today’s official croquet balls are made of plastic composite. These balls are more durable than wood, don’t need painting or refinishing, and have a better bounce height. The composite resin is also less likely to split compared to wood.