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Dr Ian Plummer

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Technical
Thermal Expansion of Croquet Balls

It is important to know how much a croquet ball might expand in the heat when deciding on sensible settings for the clearance between balls and hoops.

Measurements were made on Dawson 2000 and Sunshiny Tournament balls and the Coefficient of Linear Expansion, α, was calculated.

Type

Temperature change ºC

Expansion across diameter

Coefficient of linear expansion, α

Dawson Brown ball

31.1

0.022"

1.95 x 10-4 / ºC

Dawson Green ball

23.7

0.0175"

2.03 x 10-4 / ºC

Sunshiny Blue ball

27.7

0.015"

1.49 x 10-4 / ºC

These figures do not appear to have been presented elsewhere. To put the expansion into context, 1/64" = 0.015625".

Discussion

An approximate take-home message is that a rise in temperature of:

~ 22ºC for a Dawson ball causes a 1/64" expansion, and

~ 29ºC for a Sunshiny ball causes a 1/64" expansion.

These magnitudes of temperature rises occasionally occur in the UK climate. However, as will be shown in another article, radiant heating from direct sunlight causes large surface temperature rises. The ambient temperature produces smaller expansions.

Consider a dutiful championship referee selecting the largest Dawson ball out of a set (it could be any colour) early in the morning when the temperature could be 15 ºC. His intention is to set the hoops at 1/64" clearance - the standard minimum clearance for a championship event; 1/32" - 50%.

The weather is wonderful and by mid-afternoon the air temperature is 30 ºC. Assuming the Dawson balls to be at this temperature throughout, they will have expanded by approximately (30 - 15) / 31.1 x 0.022" = 0.106", around 3/256th inch. The clearance on the biggest ball has gone down from 1/64th (= 4/256") down to 1/256". Basically very bad news if you select the largest ball.

Further, the Balls Specification and Approvals[1] allows "The maximum and minimum diameters of balls in a set must not differ by more than 3/64 inch (1.2 mm)". What does it look like? The diagram below is to scale showing a Red ball with 1/64" clearance and the accompanying permitted minimum size Yellow ball and its clearance (1/32"). The white bar represents a standard 5/8" hoop upright.

The diagram above shows the difference in clearance between the permitted largest and smallest balls when the clearance is 1/64" say at 15 ºC. If we have a 15 ºC temperature rise, both balls will expands by ~3/256". For the largest ball however the clearance is now reduced to 1/256" whilst for the smallest it is 1/32 - 1/256" which is still ~1/32". I would want to be playing with the smaller ball!

As a quick aside what is happening to the gape of the hoop with this temperature rise? "Steel" is quoted as having a linear coefficient of expansion of ~1.2 x 10-5 / ºC - an order of magnitude less than has been found for the plastic balls. Consequently it is ignored in these arguments. What is happening to the strength of the soil around the carrots as the temperature rises is open to speculation. It will also depend on whether the carrots are pulled together by the soil to produce the clearance or pulled apart.

Conclusion

We know that the balls will expand by ~1/64" when they get 15-30 ºC hotter, which represents viable air temperature increases likely to be found in summer.

There are two useful results:

  • When it is going to be a hot day - select the smaller balls!

  • Either the diameter range between the largest and smallest ball is too large or, more practicably, setting hoop clearances to less than 1/32" is both unfair and asking for trouble if the temperature changes.

What has not been discussed however is the change in properties which accompanies a temperature rise. The balls' bounce (coefficient of restitution) is likely to decrease making them 'deader' to play with. Additionally their surface properties may change - they may become more rubbery/grippy. These ideas are explored a companion paper.


Appendix A - Method

It was considered easier to cool balls down and let them warm whilst taking temperature measurements rather than heat them up, e.g. in a water bath, and watch as they cooled. (The balls would have to be left in a thermostatic water bath for a long time to get warmed through - much easier to dump them in a freezer overnight). A reference on 'Castable Polyurethane Polymers' (IR Clemitson) gives the following general guide for polyurethanes:

Below -80 ºC
 The material is a hard solid and in a glassy state.
-80 to +20 ºC
 The hard segments of the urethane begins to rotate and move.
20 to 130 ºC
 The material is usable.
130 to 180 ºC  The polyurethane starts to soften severely.
Above 180 ºC
 The polyurethane starts to break down irreversibly.

Consequently the balls should not be permanently damaged in boiling water nor by -80 ºC.

Dawson and Sunshiny balls were left in a freezer for at least 12 hours. The internal temperature of the freezer was around -18 to -20 ºC. It was assumed that the entire ball would be chilled to this temperature after 12 hours. Ambient temperature on the day of diameter measurement was ~16 ºC offering measurement over a 34 ºC range.

A ball measuring jig was set up, consisting of a ¾" thick steel base containing a 3/8" vertical hole. This hole was used to fix the ball's position. A standard dial gauge (0.001" divisions), supported by a magnetic holder, was set vertically above the hole and set so that the dial was approximately mid-range when a room temperature ball was inserted between the gauge and the hole in the plate.

The ball was transferred to the plate using oven gloves. In addition to the test ball there was a room temperature ball beside the rig as a check for the temperature reading device and to determine when the test ball had reached room temperature.

Temperatures were taken using a non-contact IR thermometer (photograph). This had previously been used on a set of Dawsons and showed that similar temperatures were recorded from all balls when they were left to equilibrate to room temperature. This demonstrates that the emissivity of the balls is similar.

In the minute that was taken to get the balls from the freezer to be centred on the hole in the test rig the surface temperature increased markedly.

It was appreciated that having the ball centred in a 3/8" hole would mean that not the whole diameter of the ball would be measured. A calculation (Appendix D) showed that only 0.27% of the ball's diameter (≈ 1/128") lay within the hole and that would not hugely affect the expansion measurements.

The imperial dial gauge was marked in 0.001" increments and included a revolution counter. It was confirmed that a reading of 250 corresponded to ¼". The worktop was lightly drummed before making a reading to allow the pointer to settle, overcoming any stickiness of the mechanism. A larger dial gauge reading indicated a larger diameter.

The key measurements are the first and the last; it can be assumed that the ball starts off at a uniform temperature from the freezer and given enough time ends at room temperature. Clearly the ball gains heat through mainly its surface hence the surface may be warmer than the core during the warming stage.

Appendix B - Data

Dawson Brown Ball

Time

Expansion*
(inches)

Temp
(ºC)

00:00

0.2055

-12.0

00:01

0.2062

-10.9

00:03

0.2075

-10.0

00:05

0.2087

-7.5

00:16

0.2122

0.4

00:21

0.2135

1.9

00:28

0.2150

3.7

00:34

0.2163

4.4

00:59

0.2200

10.8

01:10

0.2210

10.3

01:17

0.2216

10.5

01:33

0.2228

12.0

01:48

0.2245

13.7

02:56

0.2260

17.7

03:16

0.2265

18.1

03:49

0.2270

18.9

14:19

0.2275

19.1

Expansion of ball diameter in inches versus temperature ºC

Dawson Green Ball

Time

Expansion*
(inches)

Temp
(ºC)

11:21

0.1995

-10.4

11:23

0.2

-9.6

11:25

0.201

-7.7

11:27

0.202

-6.3

11:29

0.203

-4.9

11:32

0.204

-3.0

11:35

0.205

-2.2

11:39

0.2065

0.6

11:43

0.207

1.3

11:47

0.208

1.7

11:55

0.2095

4.4

11:57

0.21

5.3

12:03

0.211

5.9

12:10

0.212

7.2

12:17

0.213

8.3

12:25

0.214

9.2

12:36

0.215

10.2

12:47

0.216

12.0

Dawson Green Expansion inches vs 'C

Expansion of ball diameter in inches versus temperature ºC

 

*4th decimal place is estimated between dial gauge marks

Sunshiny Blue Ball

Time

Expansion
(inches)

Temp
(ºC)

00:00

0.248

-11.4

00:06

0.250

-8.0

00:59

0.259

7.7

01:39

0.261

10.7

02:37

0.262

13.7

03:27

0.263

15.4

04:33

0.263

16.3

Expansion of ball diameter in inches versus temperature ºC

Appendix C - Calculation

Thermal expansion, α, is given as:

α = ∆L / (L0 * ∆T)

Where ∆L is the change in length, L0 the original length (3 5/8" = 3.625") and ∆T, the temperature change.

For the Dawson Brown ball:

α = 0.022 / (3.625 * 31.1)

α = 1.95 x 10-4 / ºC

For the Dawson 2000 Green ball:

α = 0.0175 / (3.625 * 23.7)

α = 2.03 x 10-4 / ºC

For the Sunshiny Tournament Blue ball:

α = 0.015 / (3.625 * 27.7)

α = 1.49 x 10-4 / ºC

Appendix D - Effect on Ball height of being Centred in a 3/8" Hole

The croquet ball sat in a 3/8" hole on a thick metal plate; the height change above the metal plate was measured using a dial micrometre. Technically some of the plastic lies in the hole and we only measure the height above the plate (see photograph above)

So rather than measuring the expansion of 3.652" of plastic, we measure slightly less. Also as the ball chills, its diameter will change and the dimensions above and below the hole will change marginally.

How significant is the bulge into the hole?

Using the product of segments theorem

diagram showing geometrya1 * a2 = b1 * b2 ;

a1 = a2 = 3/16 = 0.046875"

b1 + b2 = 3 5/8" = 3.625"

How big is b1? Plugging the numbers in and solving the quadratic yields:

b1 = 0.00972436226801"

b2 = 3.61527563773"

To put things into context 1/64" = 0.015625"

b1/( b1 + b2) is 0.268%, hence will be considered negligible.


1. Note this is at variance with the current (2017) Tournament Regulations which allows: "BALL ROUNDNESS. The diameters of all balls used on a court may differ by no more than 1/32" for Championship conditions, or 1/16" otherwise."

All rights reserved © 2017-2017


Updated 16.vii.17
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