Ever since man began to need to move things, he has used round rollers to make the job easier. Probably the first rollers were sticks or logs, which were a big improvement over dragging things across the ground, but still pretty hard work. Egyptians used logs to roll their huge blocks of stone for the pyramids. Eventually, someone came up with the idea of securing the roller to whatever was being moved, and built the first "vehicle" with "wheels." However, these still had bearings made from materials rubbing on each other instead of rolling on each other. It wasn't until the late eighteenth century that the basic design for bearings was developed. In 1794, Welsh ironmaster Philip Vaughan patented a design for ball bearings to support the axle of a carriage. Development continued in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, spurred by the advancement of the bicycle and the automobile.
There are thousands of sizes, shapes, and kinds of rolling bearings; ball bearings, roller bearings, needle bearings, and tapered roller bearings are the major kinds. Sizes run from small enough to run miniature motors to huge bearings used to support rotating parts in hydroelectric power plants; these large bearings can be ten feet (3.04 meters) in diameter and require a crane to install. The most common sizes can easily be held in one hand and are used in things like electric motors.
This article will describe only ball bearings. In these bearings, the rolling part is a ball, which rolls between inner and outer rings called races. The balls are held by a cage, which keeps them evenly spaced around the races. In addition to these parts, there are a lot of optional parts for special bearings, like seals to keep oil or grease in and dirt out, or screws to hold a bearing in place. We won't worry here about these fancy extras.
Almost all parts of all ball bearings are made of steel. Since the bearing has to stand up to a lot of stress, it needs to be made of very strong steel. The standard industry classification for the steel in these bearings is 52100, which means that it has one percent chromium and one percent carbon (called alloys when added to the basic steel). This steel can be made very hard and tough by heat treating. Where rusting might be a problem, bearings are made from 440C stainless steel.
Bearing making is a very precise business. Tests are run on samples of the steel coming to the factory to make sure that it has the right amounts of the alloy metals in it. Hardness and toughness tests are also done at several stages of the heat treating process. There are also many inspections along the way to make sure that sizes and shapes are correct. The surface of the balls and where they roll on the races must be exceptionally smooth. The balls can't be out of round more than 25 millionths of an inch, even for an inexpensive bearing. High-speed or precision bearings are allowed only five-millionths of an inch.
Ball bearings will be used for many years to come, because they are very simple and have become very inexpensive to manufacture. Some companies experimented with making balls in space on the space shuttle. In space, molten blobs of steel can be spit out into the air, and the zero gravity lets them float in the air. The blobs automatically make perfect spheres while they cool and harden. However, space travel is still expensive, so a lot of polishing can be done on the ground for the cost of one "space ball".
Other kinds of bearings are on the horizon, though. Bearings where the two objects never touch each other at all are efficient to run but difficult to make. One kind uses magnets that push away from each other and can be used to hold things apart. This is how the "mag-lev" (for magnetic levitation) trains are built. Another kind forces air into a space between two close-fitting surfaces, making them float apart from each other on a cushion of compressed air. However, both of these bearings are much more expensive to build and operate than the humble, trusted ball bearing.
Whether you use it occasionally when you and your friends gather, or you use it every day at your local club or school, rest assured this ball will pull its weight no matter the amount of abuse you throw at it.
Janet Phelps is the owner and founder of This is American Soccerand an avid soccer lover! She played soccer for about 25 years in Flagstaff, AZ. She was forced to stop playing because of a permanent injury!
Not long ago, I took a walk with my dogs, a friend, and her two dogs. Three of the four dogs trotted ahead of us in happy exploration. The fourth dog is a fetch addict the kind who focuses all his attention on two things: a ball, and any nearby human who looks like she might throw the ball. Hes either chasing a ball, bringing it back, or imploring his human companions to Throw it! Throw it! Please throw it!
But I was distracted by keeping track of the dogs, conversation with my friend, and the gorgeous nature all around us, and I somehow managed to fling the ball in a crazy direction into some waist-high grass. It went so off-course that Woody, my Lab/pit bull-mix you knew he was the fetch addict, didnt you? completely missed seeing where the ball flew or landed.
I apologized to my friend, telling her Id have to interrupt the walk to help Woody hunt for the errant ball. After a few minutes of searching through the field of weeds, my friend asked, Is it really that important that we find it? I have dozens of old tennis balls I can give you . . .
We dont always consider the cost of a thing. Of course we want a decent value, but thats from a durability standpoint, not just the price tag. We agree that $17 sounds like a fortune to spend on a ball. But given that some far less expensive balls dont last 10 minutes, we consider $17 to be a bargain for a ball that lasts for months and months of only lightly supervised chewing, and consistently provides hours of entertainment.
Not all dogs who like to play with balls like to fetch; some dogs just like to walk around mouthing their favorite toy, or pushing balls around the house or yard with their noses. Fetch addicts like Woody often regard balls as the fetch item of choice. Flying discs have their proponents, but balls offer certain advantages over other toys and fetch items:
-Being round, they roll, so a smart dog can find ways to amuse himself when no one else will play fetch with him, by dropping the ball down stairs, off the sofa or porch, or down a slope outdoors. Similarly, they can be batted with a paw and made to roll under furniture, giving a dog a great excuse to ask his owner for help (and maybe, just maybe, getting an extra throw out of the deal).
-Balls fly well through the air not as well as discs, to be sure, but better than sticks or retrieving dummies, especially if a dog is lucky enough to have an owner with a Chuckit! or other ball-throwing assistance device.
When we started collecting balls to consider for our review, we realized there are many more types of balls than we could possibly include in a single review. We limited our selection to balls that could be thrown easily for dogs who like to fetch; we also included balls that had a little something extra to offer additional features that engaged our test dogs and made them want to play with the balls even when no one else was playing fetch with them.
What are those extra features? Some of the balls have squeakers; one has crackly material inside. Most have a little or a lot of flex; you dont want a dog leaping up to catch a ball that is hard enough to break teeth. We tested one ball that glows in the dark and one that has a light inside for use at night.
We didnt include soft, stuffed (fleece-type) balls, nor balls whose primary purpose is to dispense treats. Note that a few of the balls we included could have treats inserted in them, but this isnt the primary design purpose of the ball.
It should be noted that we were looking for balls for medium to large-size dogs. While there certainly are toy and small dogs who like to play with balls, selecting safe, appropriate balls for them to play with is not quite as critical, since their jaws are usually nowhere near as powerful as those belonging to larger dogs. In other words, its much easier to find toys for them to play with that they cant chew up.
Many of the balls we selected for testing can be thrown with the help of a ball-flinging tool such as the Chuckit! or Planet Dogs Wood Chuck. The Wood Chuck comes in only one size, and is designed to fling balls that are 21/2 inches in diameter the same size as those used in classic Chuckit! launcher. Chuckit! is also available as a large ball launcher, meant to accommodate balls that are up to three inches in diameter. (Weve noticed that it takes extra effort to jam these larger balls into the cup before flinging; they dont fit quite as nicely as 2 1/2-inch balls fit into the Classic Chuckit!)
It has to be said that playing with toys is an inherently risky activity for a dog. If there is a way to swallow something they shouldnt, get some part of their anatomy stuck in something and hurt themselves, or get so swept up in play that they run into something, they will. Safety guidelines for playing with balls should include:
Supervise your dog when hes playing with any ball. Many products can be chewed up; if the pieces are swallowed, they pose a risk of choking or gastrointestinal problems (just vomiting if youre lucky; blockages or perforation if you are not).
We worry about products made from materials that may not be safe for dogs to chew on or swallow. For this reason, we prefer to buy balls that are manufactured in the U.S. and made with chemically inert materials. Not being able to find out what a ball is made of is a red flag.
The balls that rose to the top of our review are ones that survived months of playing by fairly aggressive chewers without much more than cosmetic damage and that the dogs themselves returned to play with again and again. There were a few balls included in our review that the dogs almost never selected to play with; for some reason, they were less engaging than the others. We retained these in the review and noted which ones they were; dogs with different preferences may enjoy them, though owners should take note that these toys were not tested as severely as the ones that got chewed daily.
The unequivocal favorite of all our test dogs is the Orbee-Tuff Squeak from Planet Dog. As the name suggests, this ball has a squeaker inside it, and after months of playing and chewing, not a single squeaker has been silenced nor chewed out of any of the balls. Planet Dog rates this ball as durable and wed have to concur. Its nothing short of amazing, really hence our stubborn refusal to let a badly thrown ball go missing.
In addition to squeaking, the Orbee-Tuff ball bounces, floats, and is soft enough for a dog to enjoy mouthing and squishing for hours and hours. Its made in the U.S. of a nontoxic material that is free of latex, BPA, and phthalates. It comes in just one size, a Chuckit!-compatible 21/2 inches.
At first glance, the Orbee-Tuff Recycle ball doesnt seem like anything special. It doesnt squeak or do anything unique. Its a very soft, squishy, hollow ball and all of our test dogs loved mouthing it like it was bubble gum. Because its so soft, its a great ball for catching in the air; it wouldnt hurt any dog even if it bonked him on the head. At the same time, its incredibly durable. We have one of these balls thats more than two years old and still hasnt been chewed up.
The Recycle ball is so named because Planet Dog makes it from scraps of material left over from the other Orbee-Tuff toys; the material is melted down and mixed together, eliminating any waste. We applaud the earth-friendly approach! Like the other Orbee-Tuff toys, its free of latex, BPA, and phthalates, and can itself be recycled.
The Chuckit! Max Glow ball is also a chompable hollow ball, but the material its made of is a little stiffer than the Orbee-Tuff products, providing a bit more resistance to being squished in the dogs mouth and flying farther when flung or thrown. Its still quite durable, however; none of our test balls received any damage.
Obviously, the Max Glow is a great choice for playing fetch at dawn, dusk, or even at night. It charges fully with only about five minutes worth of exposure to a light source, and glows brightly enough to be easily found in the dark for 20 to 30 minutes. It comes in four sizes, with the smallest suitable for small dogs.
This is Kongs version of a squeak-removal-proof squeaky ball. Its made of two pieces that are glued together, with the squeaker molded into the center. This makes it sounds like it could be chewed apart, but none of our test dogs were able to do so.
This ball is a little stiffer and heavier than the Chuckit! Max Glow, so it throws nicely, but its still hollow and squishable enough to be squeaked to your dogs delight. And it keeps squeaking even if the ball is punctured!
The Squeezz Crackle is also a squishable, hollow ball made of pieces that are (fortunately securely) glued together. The material has glitter of some kind embedded in it, and the center of the ball has some sort of crackly material inside. Kong says the material is durable and nontoxic. If our dogs were to chew this ball open, wed remove it from them quickly. Fortunately, none were able to puncture it.
West Paw Design offers a lot of interesting and beautiful products for dogs, and this is one of our favorites. Zogoflex is West Paw Designs proprietary blend of recyclable plastic; Zogoflex Air is less dense than Zogoflex; its slightly squishy and lighter, making it safer for a dog to catch in his mouth than Zogoflex.
Its also highly durable. Our test dogs did their best to puncture or chew a piece off of this solid (not hollow) ball. After months of play, the ball has some tooth punctures in it, but is otherwise still intact. The ball is made in the U.S. and is guaranteed against dog destruction.
We first saw Rhinoplay toys at a pet products show last summer. We absolutely loved their light weight and unique, puncture-proof material. The company claims the foam is environmentally safe and nontoxic, and guarantees the product. If your dog doesnt like it, or destroys it in a fit of enthusiasm, the company will replace it.
Jolly Balls Bounce n Play holds a similar appeal; its a hollow, semi-soft ball that can be punctured again and again but re-inflates by itself. Its not really a good candidate for playing fetch, but the big dogs enjoyed knocking it around the house.
Chuckit! Firefly LED Ball: Just a few chomps, and the cap protecting the battery and light inside this ball had popped off. Once it was put back together, it was fairly difficult to get the light to turn on. It does light up beautifully, and is great for fetch on grass at night. If it bounced on hard ground, though, its likely the cap would fly off and youd never find the pieces.
Pall-mall, French paille-maille, (from Italian pallamaglio: palla, ball, and maglio, mallet), obsolete game of French origin, resembling croquet. An English traveler in France mentions it early in the 17th century, and it was introduced into England in the second quarter of that century. Thomas Blounts Glossographia (1656) described it as
a game wherein a round bowle is with a mallet struck through a high arch of iron (standing at either end of an alley) which he that can do at the fewest blows, or at the number agreed on, wins. This game was heretofore used in the long alley near St. Jamess and vulgarly called Pell-Mell.
The pronunciation here described as vulgar afterward became classic, a famous London street having been named after a pall-mall alley. A ball and mallets used in the game were found in 1854 and are now in the British Museum: the mallets resemble those used in croquet, but the heads are curved; the ball is of boxwood and about six inches in circumference. The 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys described the alley as of hard sand dressed with powdered cockle-shells. The length of the alley varies, the one at St. James being close to 800 yards long.