There are several reasons why you might want to make your own jack. You might need a jack TODAY and can’t wait for it to come in the mail. Or if you need only one, the shipping costs would be more than the cost of the jack itself! Or you might want a different or brighter color than is available in commercially-made jacks. Or you might want a customized jack to help a special-needs player… a magnetic jack or a larger-than-regulation jack, for instance.
You might think that although a home-made jack is OK for casual play, it is not acceptable in an official competition. Quite the opposite! A home-made jack isn’t a poor substitute for “the real thing”— it is the real thing. The FIPJP rules require the jack to be a wooden ball— and that is exactly what your home-made jack is. The FIPJP regulation size for a jack is 30mm +/- 1mm— your home-made jack will be just under 31mm in diameter. The FIPJP regulation weight for a jack is 10g to 18g— your jack will weigh around 13g. In short, a homemade jack (unless it is a special-needs jack) meets all of the requirements for a competition jack. It can be used in an official competition.
So let’s begin.
Making your own jack
Go to your local craft store or woodworker’s supply store. Buy a wooden ball whose size is one-and-a-quarter (1.25) inches in diameter. (If you can find a ball labelled hardwood, that’s even better.) It will probably cost you less than a dollar.
Once you have your wooden ball, color it red with a permanent marker. Voilà! A jack!
Although magic marker works, you will get much better results by painting your jacks. To get a really high-quality jack, apply three coats of paint— first a coat of white, then a coat of the desired color, and finally a clear, hard coat that will protect the color and will also give the jack a glossy surface that improves its visibility.
- For the first coat I use a white acrylic paint— it is usually available in small bottles at hobby stores and is easy to use and clean up.
- For the second coat I use a florescent orange, which everyone in my group agrees is the most visible color. Krylon’s Glow Orange comes in a brush-on form, but florescent orange from other manufacturers works just as well.
- For the final coat I use a polyurethane gloss varnish— again, it is usually available in small bottles at hobby stores.
I recommend a brush-on paint rather than a spray paint. I’ve found that I can get a much smoother surface with a brush than with a spray can, and the process is much less messy. To hold the ball while I’m painting it, I drill a very small hole in the wooden ball, then jam it on to the sharp end of a small wooden skewer. (You can find skewers in your local grocery store, in the section with other cooking utensils.) Once the ball is mounted on the skewer, it is easy to hold it and maneuver it while you’re painting.
Make a magnetic jack for a player with back issues
One of the advantages of making your own jacks is that you can make special jacks for special-needs players. A friend with back issues wanted a jack that he could pick up with his magnetic boule lifter. I took a wooden ball and predrilled 14 holes into it, not too deep, and then drove finishing nails into the holes.
Then I cut off the finishing nails…
… and hammered the nail-stubs flush with the surface of the ball.
ball jack is now ready to be painted in the normal way.
Note that you can use the same technique to convert a commercially-made wooden jack into a magnetic jack.
Make a larger jack for a player with vision issues
Last year one of our senior players began to experience the effects of age-related macular degeneration. She could see the jack if we used our brightest-colored jack, but it occurred to me that a larger jack would also help.
I ordered a pack of 1-3/4″ wooden balls from amazon.com. (The packaging describes the balls as 1.7in | 44mm.) The size was good— bigger than an ordinary jack, but not too big. Here is a picture of the two sizes of wooden balls along with a 75mm boule.
Paint the large jack in the same way that you’d paint a normal-sized jack.
Our players like the visibility of the large jack, but when they throw it, it seems to be too light. The solution is to add weight to the jack by adding nails to it, the way that we added nails to create a magnetic jack (see above).