See also our post on The Evolution of the Jack.
Resin jacks are variously referred to as “resin”, “plastic”, “synthetic”, or “composite” jacks. They are made of a hard epoxy resin similar to the material used to make bowling balls and billiard balls.
Jacks carrying the “VMS” label are approved. Jacks are made of wood or of a synthetic material (plastic) bearing the manufacturer’s label…
Article 3 of the FIPJP rules says
Jacks are made of wood, or of a synthetic material bearing the manufacturer’s mark and having obtained the FIPJP’s approval in line with the precise specification relating to the required standards.
The FPUSA version of Article 3 says
Article 3 — Approved Jacks
Jacks (Cochonnets) are made entirely of wood. * …
* For safety reasons the FPUSA does not permit use of the FIPJP-approved VMS plastic-resin jack.
The reason for the FPUSA ban on resin jacks can be found in a 2008 post on the FPUSA blog — Resin jacks banned
Citing safety concerns, the FPUSA board, composed of players elected by its member clubs, has recently voted to ban the use of resin jacks in all competitions and casual play.
Anyone who has been hit by a jack whizzing across the terrain after being struck by a shot boule knows how much it can hurt and there is anecdotal evidence that injuries to players are more severe and more painful from these plastic jacks than from the wooden ones.
The FPUSA ban follows the lead of a couple of European federations that banned the jacks after noticing player reactions from being hit by the heavier plastic jacks. There is some suspicion that the plastic compresses upon impact from the steel boule and then is projected into the air with even more force than the wooden jack.
A number of European petanque federations, including the English Petanque Association (EPA), have also banned resin jacks.
Resin jacks were produced back in 1996 for the launch of the new “VMS” boule which was about the same time as the World Champs in Essen, Germany.
The company gave a free resin jack with each set they sold. Soon afterwards the jacks became available for purchase and the market was flooded with resin jacks by other manufacturers (such as Obut, see right).
The FIPJP decided to approve them (sadly, without any real investigation), so it was not until resin jacks started to be used at competitions that we became aware of the issues with them.
There are two problems with resin jacks. First, they are far more dense than a wooden jack; they don’t even float. This means that a resin jack will cause more injury than a wooden one if it hits someone. Second, when a resin jack breaks (as a result of being hit by a boule for example) it can shatter into pieces which can be sharp.
There are a number of reported incidents where players have been hit on the arm by a resin jack, raising a severe bruise. Worse, there was a case in which a player was hit in the face near his eye and received a nasty cut. We all know a wooden jack can hurt if it hits you, but they very seldom break or cut someone…
The FIPJP’s insurers have advised us that, because we know that these jacks can cause an injury, we could negate our policy coverage if we allowed them to be used. As a consequence, the FIPJP have recently stated that “only” the wooden jacks that they supply will be permitted at the World Championships.
What is “VMS”?
“VMS” is an acronym for:
Vartan Berbérian, a French-Armenian engineer.
Bernard Marle, founder and owner of Groupe Marle, the world’s second largest hip implant manufacturer.
Henri Salvador, French-Guyanese crooner extraordinaire, who sang and played petanque until his death at age 91 in 2008.
Together, these three men formed a boule-manufacturing company, VMS PLOT. The company’s most distinctive product was its line of “equator balls” designed by Salvador to resemble old-fashioned boules cloutées.
VMS introduced the resin jacks in 1996. In 2009 Marle sold the company to the Carlyle Group. This was followed by a management buyout that resulted in the creation of a new company MS Petanque. So although the jacks are still marked “VMS”, the company that makes them is no longer called “VMS”.
Obut also manufactures synthetic jacks.