The box tree moth and the future of the jack

I just saw a news story about the wood that is used to make petanque jacks. All of the wooden jacks produced in France (about a million each year) are manufactured by one small company, Monneret, which sells its jacks to large distributors such as Obut. Now Monneret is reporting that caterpillars (larvae) of the box tree moth (which were first introduce to Europe from East Asia around 2007) are attacking and killing the trees from which wood is harvested to produce the jacks. Monneret’s company head predicts that in 5 to 7 years, all of the box trees in France will be gone. The company is attempting to stockpile box tree wood, and says that in the future it hopes to be able to import wood from other countries.

This kind of situation actually isn’t new in the history of petanque. Between about 1870 to 1930, boules games in France were played with boules cloutées. The sun, heat, and harsh conditions of the hills of Provençe produced stunted boxwood bushes with tough fibrous roots that were perfect for use as the core of these boules. But boules games grew tremendously in popularity during that time until, in the early 1920s, players were facing a catastrophic shortage of boxwood roots. Inventive players went looking for alternatives to nailed wooden balls. Around 1920 Paul Courtieu hit on the idea of manufacturing a ball made entirely of metal. Around 1925, Jean Blanc and Louis Tarchier invented the modern steel boule. In 1925 the Union Nationale des Fédérations de Boules approved Courtieu’s all-metal ball for use in official competitions. The last wooden boule clouté was manufactured about 10 years later.

I predict a similar destiny for the wooden jack. In an earlier post I wrote— It is inevitable that better synthetic jacks will be developed in the future, and that they will be certified by the FIPJP for use in competitions. When that happens, synthetic jacks will will be cheaper, more durable, and more consistent in size and weight than wooden jacks. They will replace wooden jacks, just as metal boules replaced the old wooden nailed boules.

I don’t think, though, that hard resin jacks like those from Obut and VMS are the future. They’re simply too dangerous. Instead, I think we are more likely to see jacks like the Decathlon/Geologic recreational jacks. Decathlon markets them as recreational jacks because they aren’t officially approved by the FIPJP in competitions. But the jacks, although a little small and a little light, have a legal weight and size. My advice to Decathlon is (a) to make these jacks slightly larger and heavier, and then (b) to get the FIPJP to certify them for use in official competitons. Then, I think, we will see the jack of the future.

An alternative of course is to use some other kind of wood. The rules don’t specify what kind of wood a wooden jack must be made of. It doesn’t have to box tree wood. You can even go to your local craft store, buy a wooden ball, and make your own jacks.

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