Are your boules toxic?

The answer is: No, they aren’t. But I wanted a headline that would grab your attention because there is an interesting story here. Read on.

There are basically three kinds of boules: boules made of stainless steel (inox), boules made of carbon steel (acier au carbone), and boules made of carbon steel that is then coated (revêtu, or chromé) in chrome to make the surface of the boules tougher and more resistant to rust (rouille). Some competition boules (e.g. Obut Match TR), but virtually all inexpensive leisure boules, are chrome plated.

Chromium is one of the elements; it is atomic number 24 on the periodic table of elements.

There are a number of different forms of chromium; some are helpful to human health, others are dangerous and harmful to the environment. The worst of these forms is hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6. Chromium 6 is a known carcinogen that can cause respiratory problems, rashes, ulcers, allergic reactions, kidney and liver damage, birth defects, and death. Its use in any industrial process creates a dangerous work environment and serious toxic waste disposal issues. (Do you remember the movie “Erin Brockovich”? It was groundwater contamination with chromium 6 that Erin uncovered.)

Naturally, chromium 6 has started to attract the attention of environmental protection agencies and health and safety regulatory agencies around the world. Governmental regulations are still much looser than they should be, but things seem to be getting better.

So— what does this have to do with petanque boules?

Well, nothing and everything. On the one hand, the chrome plating on your leisure boules is perfectly harmless. No worries there. On the other hand, the process that is used in chrome plating (of boules and other kinds of chrome-plated objects) uses hexavalent chromic acid— chromium 6. Bad news there.

Because of the health and environmental issues associated with chromium 6, at least some manufacturers are moving away from chrome-plated products. One of them is Obut. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Obut is no longer making its line of “Tatou” chrome-plated leisure boules. Starting about a year ago, Obut’s new line of “Obut Loisir Inox” leisure boules are stainless steel. Conçues sans chrome, contrairement aux Tatou, ces boules de pétanque Loisir inox sont écologiques. And in its lines of competition boules you now have only two choices: stainless steel or carbon steel.

I learned about this recently when I noticed that Petanque America seemed no longer to be selling La Franc boules. In response to my email question, Phillipe Boets told me that Petanque America had indeed stopped selling La Franc boules about a year ago. Apparently La Franc has been getting orders for 30/40 thousand boules at a time from French sporting goods stores. (One wonders if news of exploding leisure boules might have something to do with that.) In any event, La Franc seems to be slacking off on its service to smaller vendors— Phillipe reports that its deliveries had become unpredictable and unreliable. So now if you go to the Petanque America web site, you won’t see La Franc competition boules for sale. You will see only Obut competition boules. Phillipe sees the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules as filling the niche that La Franc boules once filled.

With the Euro taking a dive, the price difference between La Franc competition boules [which are made in Thailand] and French competition boules has become smaller. Obut also came out with a new line of leisure boules in stainless steel, about 73mm, 660g, in 8 different designs. At $64, they’re the perfect “middle-of-the-road” boule, between the cheap chrome Chinese boules and the range of competition boules.


My shooting pit (4)

My hobby is experimenting with designs for shooting pits.

Here is my fourth design. Like my second design it copies the layout of a horseshoe pit. Like my first design, the back-stops are V-shaped, which makes the boules easy to gather.

The backstop is constructed out of lightweight hollow-core plastic boards designed for fence construction (see detail photo, below.) (I got them cheap, at a recycled building-materials yard.) It is 2.5 feet high, although two feet would probably have been enough.

Click on any of the photos to see a larger view.





The backstop is constructed out of lightweight hollow-core plastic boards designed for fence construction.

How to send text messages from your laptop or PC

If you’re trying to co-ordinate a group of petanque players, it can sometimes be handy to be able to send them text messages via email from your laptop or PC. Here’s how to do it.

The first thing you need to know is that, for the purposes of emailing a text message, each cell phone has an ordinary email address. The format of that address is


The phoneNumber should be 10 digits. It should include the area code. It should include only numbers – no dashes or parentheses. So for a phone number of (333) 444-5555 the phoneNumber in the email address is 3334445555.

The carrierSMSgateway is the SMS (“Short Message Service”) gateway provided by the telephone carrier. If you know a telephone number, there are several free web sites that will let you look up the carrier of that number, and the carrier’s SMS gateway. One web site that I found easy to use was


In the image, you can see that the carrier for this particular number is Verizon Wireless, and Verizon’s SMS gateway is Very conveniently, provides the full SMS gateway address ( for the number that was looked up, so I can just copy-and-paste it into my email program.

When the recipient receives your text message, he will see your email address (the “Reply-to” email address that you provided when you sent your email message) in the place where he would normally see the caller’s telephone number. If the recipient replies to your text message, his reply will be sent to that email address.

Email providers often regard email that is sent from a telephone number as coming from an unknown or suspect source. Some will flag such email as spam, so that the reply ends up in your email’s JUNK MAIL folder. Some will greylist the reply and delay it (this message was delayed for an hour).

X-Greylist delayed 3601 seconds by postgrey-1.34 at

Some email providers will silently and completely filter out the reply— you receive no reply and no indication whatsoever that the recipient replied to your message. So, at least until you’ve experimented and determined otherwise, don’t assume that replies to your text message will get through to you.

When the recipient receives your text message, he will receive a text message consisting of the SUBJECT line of your email message (in parentheses) followed by the text of the message. You can use a very short subject line. When I send a text message with a question, I like to make the subject line just a question mark, so the recipient gets a text message that starts with “(?)”.

Keep your messages (including the SUBJECT line) short. Try to keep the whole thing to less than 160 characters. If your message is longer than 160 characters, your message will be broken down into chunks of 153 characters, and each chunk will be sent as a separate text message. Some carriers are smart enough to re-assemble the short chunks into one long text message, but most are not.

If you’d like to review your message before sending it to others, send it to your own phone. Then, if it looks good, you can send it to the real recipients.

Note that this information only applies to telephone numbers with US and Canada area codes. That is: numbers with country code = 1. You can send text messages to foreign countries, too. When dialing, you first specify your country’s “exit code” to get onto the international exchange, then you specify the recipient’s country code and his telephone number. For international dialing, one source that I found to be useful was It will tell you, for instance, that the exit code for the USA is 011.

How to access region-restricted web sites

On December 23, 2016 the world championships in Madagascar were streamed on a French TV channel, La chaîne l’Équipe. But if you are in the USA, and went to that web site to watch the championships, you saw a message saying that the channel is what is generally known as “region restricted”. You can see the message now if you wish— just click on this link to

I won’t go into the technology behind how region restriction works, or the several ways to get around region restrictions. If you’re interested in that, you can Google for that information.

Here I will describe the fairly simple and easy tool that I used, that allowed me to watch the championships. It is a product/service called TunnelBear. TunnelBear is a highly-rated VPN provider, and it worked well for me. Here’s how you can do what I did.

  1. Get the Chrome web browser. It is a good, fast browser, and it is free. It can be downloaded from Google’s web site.
  2. Open the Chrome browser. Go to the TunnelBear web site and navigate to the DOWNLOAD page.
  3. On the DOWNLOAD page, scroll down until you see “Browser Extensions”.
  4. Download and install the TunnelBear extension for Chrome.
  5. The download comes with 500Mb of free data. That’s enough to watch several minutes of video and to make sure the browser extension is working, but it is not enough to watch an entire petanque game. I signed up with the TunnelBear service for a monthly subscription, which comes with unlimited data, at a cost of about $8 per month. That was enough to allow me to watch all 8 hours of the world championships. (You can also get the TunnelBear service for a much lower cost with a yearly subscription.)
  6. After you have watched the championships, assuming that you have no other use for TunnelBear, remember to go back to the TunnelBear web site and cancel your monthly subscription. (Technically, the way you cancel a monthly subscription is to downgrade it to a free subscription.) The cancel/downgrade process is quick and easy. If you don’t cancel/downgrade, your monthly subscription will remain in effect and TunnelBear will continue charging your credit card every month.

If you stream French TV, you need to be aware of time differences between France and the USA. Right now, where I live, we are on Mountain Standard time, which means that we are 8 hours ahead of French time. The French broadcast started at 1600h (4pm), which means that it started at 800h (8am) our local time. Depending on your time zone and whether or not you are on daylight-savings time, your time will vary.

✋Improving your form

See also our other pages on technique “how to”s.

form_traditionelleIf you are trying to improve your throwing, start from the basic premise that there are two fundamental and different aspects to throwing well— form and consistency. They are different, and you need to do different things to improve them.

  • Bad form is form that prevents you from throwing effectively. The crouch is bad form because a player who plays from a crouch will never be able to shoot or even lob effectively. Acquiring good formle beau geste, form that allows you to throw effectively— is of course a matter of practice, but what’s important about good form is that it is something that you can consciously think about and work on.
  • Consistency means being able to do something in the same way, over and over again. Consistency in throwing a boule is primarily a matter of muscle memory. This is something that you can’t acquire by thinking about it. It is unconscious, and can be acquired only through repetition. That’s the way muscles learn.

We’ve already talked a little bit about effective ways to practice. Now we will look at how you can work on your form. Here are a few ideas that you can try.

  1. The first step in improving your form is to become consciously aware that there is such a thing as form, and that great players are great (at least in part) because they have good form. Watch Youtube videos of great players in action. Study their form. Look for the way they move their bodies as they throw. Develop your own conscious theory about what good form looks like, and about how you want your body to move when you throw.
  2. Human beings learn by imitation. If you watch someone do something, you will find yourself unconsciously imitating what he does. So a useful technique is simply to watch other players doing what you want to be able to do. For example, when I was trying to improve my high lob I found it helpful to watch Claudy Weibel during this marvellous singles competition.

    Claudy stands, and when he lobs no part of his body moves except his right arm. When I practice my lob, that’s the form that I try to imitate. Simply watching him do it makes it easier for me to do it.
  3. Play solitaire. While you’re playing, consciously try to pay attention to what you feel your body doing— your hand, wrist, arm, torso. If you’re having consistency issues, look for a pattern that might provide a clue to the cause in your form. If your boules sometimes go to the left and sometimes to the right, then pay attention to your follow-through, your grip, and to making sure the boule is coming straight off your fingers. If the boules are sometimes long and sometimes short, pay attention to the height of your throw and to keeping your arm straight (not bending at the elbow). And so on.
  4. Find a fellow petanque player who knows what good form looks like (for pointing or shooting or whatever you’re working on) and play a few games with him. Ask him to watch you as you throw and to tell you if he sees you doing something that you might want to change. You may be surprised at what he can see you doing (or not doing) that you’re not aware of.
  5. A useful technique is to get a friend to make a video of you while you are throwing, so you can watch yourself and see what you’re doing. A cell phone or digital camera will work, but a labtop or tablet is better because you can immediately watch the video on a relatively large screen, see clearly what you’re doing, and experiment with changing it. (I learned this from Artem Zuev, the Technical Director of the Los Angeles Petanque Club. Thanks, Artem!)

Finally, if you’re reading this and have an idea, story, or tip based on your own experience, I’d like to invite you to share it with others. Drop us a comment.

How to blacken your boules

There are a number of reasons why you might want to make the entire surface of your boules black. You might want to make it easier to tell your boules from other players’ boules. You might want to play solitaire. You just might like the color.

Gun blacking comes off on your hands and wears off quickly. Black magic marker (permanent marker) is time-consuming and messy to apply, and leaves your boules slightly sticky for a while. Now Kim Badcock, of the Mission Beach Petanque Club in Australia, has a tip for what may be the best method yet.

In response to our post on boules and rust Kim wrote

Did you know you can make your SB boules black again and very easily. A soak or wipe over with a very weak acid solution (vinegar, lemon juice, dilute hydrichloric acid etc) will change the outer molecular layers of your boule to magnetite (black colour). Quickly wipe with an oiled cloth afterwards to help seal in the colouring.

This should work with all carbon-steel boules. It shouldn’t work with stainless steel boules or with chrome-plated boules (which means that it shouldn’t work with leisure boules).

Following Kim’s suggestion, I bought an inexpensive jug of distilled white vinegar. I left two La Franc SB boules to soak in the vinegar overnight. (La Franc SB boules are relatively soft carbon-steel boules, acier au carbone.) In the morning they were really black. When I washed them off, a lot of black came off on my hands. The boules were left with a deep uniform matte gunmetal grey color. There was a small shiny spot where they had been sitting on the bottom of the container.

In this picture, the brownish boule in the front is a rusty boule that has been brought back from the dead. The two vinegar-blackened boules are at the back. The boule at the left has been played with more than the boule at the right, so it is more scratched-up. The image doesn’t really capture the color of the boules. The boules, while not absolutely black, are a much darker grey than they appear in the photo. In play, they do appear to be black.
Click to see larger image.

This picture was taken immediately after I treated the boules. Since then, I’ve played with them a couple of times and the color seems relatively long-lasting. In any event, even if the color doesn’t last forever, renewing the color with another vinegar soak is essentially effortless. I’m happy with the result.

Update, April 28, 2017
Today, about 5 months after the date of the original post and after perhaps 30 to 50 hours of play, I thought the boules were beginning to look a bit shiny, so I blackened them again. Soaking them for 6 hours in distilled white vinegar restored them exactly to the condition that you see in the pictures in the original post.