As of September 2018, the FIPJP rules governing the petanque jack (the little target ball, cochonnet, bouchon) are as follows. We will discuss synthetic and paramagnetic jacks later in this post.
- The jack must be made of wood.
- The jack must be 30mm, +/- 1mm in diameter.
- The jack must weigh between 10g and 18g.
- The jack may be unpainted or painted any color.
- A painted jack may not be painted with paramagnetic paint.
Table of Contents
- Documents containing the rules governing jacks
- A short history of changes to the rules governing jacks
- Synthetic jacks
- Paramagnetic jacks
- The weight of jacks
- The future of jacks
Documents containing the rules governing jacks ▲
The FIPJP requirements for jacks are contained in two documents. The first is the official FIPJP international rules for the sport of petanque, which determine whether or not a jack is “legal” for competition play. The second is Fabricants de Boules: Labels des Boules et Buts agréés en compétition. It is a list of certified manufacturers, boules, and synthetic jacks; it is the document that determines which synthetic jacks are “authorized” or “approved” for competition play.
In order for you to use a synthetic jack in competition play, it must be both “authorized” and “legal”. Note that it is possible for a synthetic jack to be “authorized” but not “legal”. Obut’s black jack, although authorized, is not legal because it weighs more than the maximum allowed weight of 18g.
A short history of changes to the rules governing jacks ▲
This section contains a brief summary of historical changes to the rules governing jacks. For more detailed historical information see Footnote 1.
In the 1960’s, jacks made of metal were prohibited. In 1970 the prohibition on metal jacks was replaced by a requirement that jacks be made exclusively of wood. In 2002, jacks were also permitted to be made of synthetic material (i.e. plastic, epoxy resin).
Jacks were originally unpainted wood. In 1979, jacks were permitted to be painted white, and in 1984 jacks were permitted to be painted any color.
The official size of the jack was originally set at 25mm to 35mm in diameter. In 2008 the size was set at exactly 30mm (+/- 1mm), which put an end to big variations in the size of the jack.
Paramagnetic jacks were prohibited (for the first time) in the 2008 version of the FIPJP rules. “Painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet.” Nobody really knows the reason for the prohibition.
Traditionally, jacks are made of wood— usually boxwood root (buis) or beechwood (hetre), but the rules do not require any particular type of wood. Differences in wood, when combined with differences in size, meant that a wide variation in the weight of the jack was permitted. In 2016 the weight of a jack was specified as 10-18g, which retroactively prohibited all synthetic jacks then on the market. (A jack made of beechwood weighs about 9-10g. A jack made of boxwood weighs about 14-15g. A jack made of epoxy resin weighs 22g.)
Synthetic jacks ▲
In 1996 VMS, a boutique manufacturer of petanque boules, introduced its distinctive tortue (“tortoise”) boules, designed to resemble the old wooden “nailed” boules (boules cloutées). At the same time, as a marketing gimmick, VMS brought out a new line of colorful epoxy resin jacks. The design of the resin jacks, like the design of the new boules, was meant to suggest the appearance of the old nailed boules.
According to Mike Pegg—
These 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 to purchase and of course, as is the way with these things, the market was flooded with resin jacks. Instead of banning them the FIPJP decided to approve them … but sadly without any real investigation.
The VMS resin jacks were approved by the FIPJP in 2002. (Les buts sont en bois, ou en matiére synthétique portant le label du fabricant et ayant fait l’objet d’une homologation de la F.I.P.J.P….) As soon as people started using the synthetic jacks, they started having problems with them. The epoxy resin material is very hard (like a billiard ball or a bowling ball) and very heavy. If a synthetic jack is hit by a boule, it is going to fly farther and faster than a wooden jack, and it is going to hurt more if hits somebody. Almost immediately, many national organizations, including the FPUSA and the English Petanque Association, banned the resin jacks. As English international umpire Mike Pegg wrote—
The issue we and other nations have with the resin jack is two-fold.
- They are far more dense (they don’t even float) than a wooden jack, causing more injury if you get hit by one.
- When they break (hit by a boule for example) they shatter into pieces which can be sharp.
There are a number of reported incidents where players have been hit on the arm causing a severe bruise. More worrying was a player hit in the face near his eye receiving a nasty cut. Our insurers advised us as we know these jacks can cause an injury we could negate our policy cover if we allowed them to be used.
For a bit more information about synthetic jacks, see THIS POST.
This might seem to be the end of the story for synthetic jacks, but it isn’t. That story has at least two more chapters. One is about “magnetic” jacks, and the other is about the weight of the jack.
Paramagnetic jacks ▲
In January 2013 the Obut catalog listed a new product— the “black jack”. The new black jacks (buts noirs) were ramassables par aimant — could be picked up by a magnet.
At the same time the FIPJP list of approved manufacturers, boules, and jacks was updated. The black jack was added to the list of approved jacks. In addition, the specification that “Painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet” was copied from the rules of the game to the list of approved jacks. This caused a lot of confusion. If the rules of the game say that “painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet,” how could the FIPJP approve a magnetic jack?!
The commotion was more or less put to rest in 2016, when a new rule specified that the weight of a jack must be in the range of 10-18g. This effectively prohibited the black jack, which is made of epoxy resin and weighs 22g.
Part of the problem (at least among English-speaking players) was the word “magnetic”. A material is magnetic if it carries a persistent magnetic field. A material is paramagnetic if it does not carry a magnetic field itself, but (like most things made of iron) is attracted by an externally applied magnetic field. The black jack contains iron oxide particles embedded in the synthetic material. That means that it is not magnetic but it is paramagnetic. Il n’est pas aimanté, il peut-être aimanté.
The official FIPJP position is that (a) the rule says that PAINTED jacks may not be paramagnetic, but (b) the rule says nothing about UNPAINTED jacks. So paramagnetic jacks are permitted… if they are not painted.
This is of course absurd. When Claude Azéma, President of the FIPJP, came out with this lame after-the-event rationalization, it was met with universal ridicule. As Eli Nielsen wrote on the “Ask the Umpire” Facebook group: Do you really believe, that those who wrote the rules meant, that only painted jacks were not to be picked up with a magnet, but any other jack could legally be picked up with a magnet? What is the point?
A few commenters opined that the approval showed that Obut, not the FIPJP, really writes the rules.
Around 2019, Decathlon added a nice red paramagnetic jack to its Geologic product line. See our post Is the Geologic “red jack” legal?
Why were paramagnetic jacks forbidden in the first place? Nobody really knows.
One theory is that the rule was really a way to prohibit metal jacks. But metal jacks were already prohibited by the rule requiring jacks to be made of wood or plastic. Prohibiting paramagnetic jacks is not an effective way to prohibit metal jacks— there are easily-available non-paramagnetic metals such as bronze and aluminum. And of course, the best way to prohibit metal jacks is simply to explicity prohibit metal jacks, as the rules briefly did in the 1960s.
Another theory is that the FIPJP umpires were clairvoyant— they foresaw the future development of paramagnetic jacks and were concerned that such jacks would interfere with some players’ practice of using their telescoping magnetic boule lifters as measuring devices. This is absurd. The FIPJP umpires aren’t clairvoyant. They don’t care at all about old duffers using boule lifters as measuring devices. And if they were concerned about this problem, what they would do is to forbid using magnetic boule lifters to measure, just as they now forbid using feet to measure.
Another theory is that if the jack was paramagnetic, then a player could cheat by placing a magnet in his shoe and surreptitiously moving the jack with his foot. That is just silly. Having a magnet in your shoe would make it harder, not easier, to cheat by moving the jack with your foot. The jack would stick to your shoe.
Probably there never was a good reason to forbid paramagnetic jacks. In some umpires’ meeting, somebody probably raised a question, and the umpires impulsively imposed the ban without really understanding the physics of magnetism.
The weight of jacks ▲
On February 7, 2014 there was a seminar for international umpires in Tolouse. It was attended by Claude Azéma, President of the FIPJP, the president of the FIPJP Umpires Committee, and the president of the FFPJP Umpires Committee. According to the minutes of that meeting—
The President [of the FIPJP, Claude Azéma] first explained why the Obut jack, which could be picked up with a magnet, had been approved. In fact, the wording and effect of the relevant sentence of article 3, which says that jacks should not be capable of being picked up by a magnet, concerns only painted jacks. The Obut jack is not painted but dyed in bulk. In any case, as it only contains a few oxide particles, there is no risk of electrolysis.
[The reference to a "risk of electrolysis" makes no sense. It may reflect a confused understanding of the fact that ferrites are electrically nonconductive.]
Then the discussion turned to the weight of the jack.
A number of umpires drew attention to the danger of jacks that were too heavy. The President [Azéma] also raised the problems posed by jacks that were too light, in terms both of throwing them and of their behavior, which had led the FIPJP to impose wooden jacks at the world championships. It will therefore be proposed to state in the regulations that jacks, whatever they are made of, must weigh between 10 and 18 grams, and that this restriction can be retroactive for synthetic jacks that have already been approved. That would be added to the rules of play and to the manufacturing specification.
Historically, the FIPJP rules change only in response to problems that FIPJP international umpires (who write the rules) experience personally. The umpires had not personally experienced problems with paramagnetic jacks, but they had experienced problems with jacks being too heavy or too light. That’s why the 2016 rules were changed to require jacks to have a weight between 10g and 18g. As a side-effect, the black jack and all other synthetic jacks were banned… because of their weight!
The future of jacks ▲
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.
We already have a promising candidate— Decathlon’s Geologic “recreational” jack. Although this jack is rather small and light (29mm diameter and 11g weight), it does meet the FIPJP requirements for size and weight. If Decathlon made it a bit larger, a bit heavier, and requested FIPJP certification, it might well be the jack of the future. If Decathlon doesn’t do it, I’m sure that someone else will.
|1957 and 1962
Jacks are made of wood. Their diameter should be between 25mm (minimum) and 35mm (maximum).
|Les buts seront en bois. Leur diamètre doit être compris entre 25 mm (minimum) et 35 mm (maximum).|
|1959 and 1964
Jacks are made of wood. (Jacks made of metal are officially forbidden.)
|Les buts seront en bois. (Les buts métalliques sont formellement interdits.)|
Jacks are made exclusively of wood. Wooden jacks that are painted white are permitted.
|Les buts sont exclusivement en bois. Les buts en bois peints en blanc sont autorisés.|
Jacks are made exclusively of wood. Wooden jacks that are painted (whatever the color) that permit better visibility on the terrain are permitted.
|Les buts sont exclusivement en bois. Les buts en bois peints (quelle que soit la couleur) permettant une meilleure visibilité sur le terrain sont autorisés.|
Jacks are made exclusively of wood. Jacks that are painted – whatever the color – are permitted.
|Les buts sont exclusivement en bois. Les buts peints – quelle que soit la couleur – sont autorisés.|
Jacks are made of wood, or of a synthetic material bearing the manufacturer’s trademark and having obtained the FIPJP’s approval in line with the precise specification relating to the required standards. Jacks that are painted – whatever the color – are permitted.
|Les buts sont en bois, ou en matiére synthétique portant le label du fabricant et ayant fait l’objet d’une homologation de la F.I.P.J.P. en application du cahier des charges spécifique relatif aux normes requises. Les buts peints – quelle que soit la couleur – sont autorisés.|
[The list of approved boules and manufacturers was modified so that a synthetic jack manufactured by the company VMS was licensed.]
|Les buts portant le label “VMS” sont agréés.|
Jacks are made of wood, or of a synthetic material … Their diameter must be 30mm (+/- 1mm). Painted jacks are permitted, but must not be able to be picked up with a magnet.
|Les buts sont en bois, ou en matière synthétique … Leur diamètre doit être de 30mm (tolérance: + ou – 1mm). Les buts peints sont autorisés, mais ne doivent pas pouvoir être ramassés avec un aimant.|
[The list of approved boules and manufacturers was modified so that Obut’s synthetic black jack was licensed.]
|But Noir marquage OBUT – OBUT en relief. But déclinable en plusieurs coloris marquage – OBUT en relief.|
Their weight must be between 10 and 18 grams.
|Leur poids doit être compris entre 10 et 18 grammes.|
Finally, here is a curious object that I found on the Educanaute-Infos web site, in a post dated November 2013 — a jack filled with metal washers (rondelles). I have no idea who made it, or why. Perhaps some arthritic player wanted a jack that he could pick up with his magnetic boule lifter.