Hockey Puck ~photo by Janothird at Wikimedia Commons Licensed under CCA-SA 3-0 Unported

The game of ice hockey is fast paced and exciting and requires some unique equipment such as the hockey puck, the little round disk that is moved around the ice and ultimately hit into the net. That little round disk is more interesting than it would initially appear. Flat, solid and made of vulcanized rubber, hockey pucks for the National Hockey League (NHL) are black, 7.6 cm (3 inches) in diameter, and 2.54 cm (1 inch) thick. They weigh in at a whopping 154-168 grams (5.5-6 ounces). The edge of the puck has a series of slightly raised grooves or bumps, called diamonds in the industry. These allow a taped hockey stick to grip the puck during a shot.

In the 1860s-1870s a rubber ball was used for hockey games, but because of the bounce, sometimes blocks of wood were substituted. Around 1875 the modern version of the puck was invented. There are two versions of how and where the ice hockey puck was invented. The first version claims students from Boston University cut a rubber ball in half to make a puck. The second version claims the owner of the Victoria Rink in Montreal, Quebec cut a rubber ball in half. Regardless, the first recorded use of the hockey puck was in Montreal in March of 1875.

Initially the pucks used were made by gluing two pieces of rubber together. Unfortunately, the pucks would often split when they hit the goal posts. During the 1931-32 hockey season, the puck had beveled edges, but by midseason the teams and players complained to the extent that the league went back to the original design. In 1940 Art Ross regularized the design of the NHL regulation pucks. The basic design remained the same with some innovations by Ross that allowed for easier manufacture and more consistency when used in the games. Logos are designed by the NHL and individual teams.

NHL ice hockey pucks are made from vulcanized rubber with logos silk-screened on the top and bottom. Currently, pucks are made in only four countries: Canada, China, Russia and the Czech Republic. There are two types of manufacturing processes; one process for souvenir and practice pucks and one for regulation NHL and other professional league pucks used in games.

Manufacturing Process for Practice and Souvenir Ice Hockey Pucks

Cords of rubber packed into 361.9 m (40 feet) tubes arrive at the factory and are hand fed through a pultrusion machine. Workers monitor an automated, timed machine as it pulls and slices the rubber into long pieces 10-14 cm (4-5 inches) thick. The machine grabs 10 cm (4 inches) of the rubber cord and drops it into a mold. The mold is two-part; male and female. The mold is heated and the two parts are compressed together.

Once the pucks are made, logos are applied by silk-screen machines. Rubber-based ink is used and the pucks are fed into one of four types of silk-screen machines: hand silk- screen machine, three-color, six-color, and eight-color silk-screening machines. The type of machine used for silk-screening depends on the number of colors included in the team's logo or the league's logo. After the logo is applied, the pucks are packed for shipping. About 10,000 pucks can be made in one day. They are packed in cases of 100 with wax paper placed between rows to separate the pucks and keep the logos from becoming marred.

Manufacturing Regulation NHL Hockey Pucks

The second type of manufacturing is used for regulation pucks used for the NHL. In this process, granular rubber is mixed by hand with special bonding material which is then poured into a two-part mold. A molding pallet of 200 mold cavities is filled, all by hand. The mold is cold compressed which actually takes place at room temperature.

The second part of the processing procedure involves the silk-screening process. Like the practice and souvenir pucks, these regulation pucks are silk-screened using a rubber-based ink. They are fed into one of the four types of silk-screening machines and the logos are applied to the puck. About 5,000 regulation pucks can be made in one week. They are packed in cases of 100 with wax paper between the rows to separate the pucks and prevent the logs from becoming damaged.

Other Versions of Ice Hockey Pucks

During the 1995-96 season, the Fox Network had a contract with the NHL to air the All-star Game and the Stanley Cup playoffs. To attract new viewers, the network made a FoxTrax puck which was designed to track the puck across the ice, making it easier for viewers to follow. The pucks contained a computer board and battery at its center; twelve pin holes on the edges, four pin holes on the top and four pin holes on the bottom that guided infrared emitters. The emitters communicated with 16 sensor devices that were strategically placed around the rink which were in turn linked by fibber optics to computers outside in a truck. To the viewers, the puck had a translucent blue halo and when a player shot the puck, a colored tail appeared on the television.

The batteries in these pucks only lasted about 10 minutes and were much more costly to manufacture. They had a value of about $400 each. Players complained about the movement of the puck and coupled with the fact that it did not hold the cold as well making it much more bouncier and the Fox network declining to renew their contract with the NHL after the 1998-99 season; the FoxTrax puck was discontinued.

When the FoxTax was manufactured, the same process as that in making the regulation puck was used. Before the silk-screening process, the FoxTrax puck was cut in half; the 20 pin holes were drilled with a special drill bit; the center carved out by hand and the computer board, driver circuits, batter and other parts were placed inside. The board was potted with a flexible epoxy. Then the puck was glued back together with a mixture of the flexible epoxy and filler.

The blue hockey pucks used in junior hockey are made the same as the regulation NHL pucks, but the composite is of rubber and blue-colored plastics.

Other Issues in Manufacturing of the Hockey Puck

Pucks are checked to ensure they meet regulation size and weight. Those that don't pass are recycled and the rubber reused for making pucks. The pucks that pass inspection are frozen for 10 days and then bounced. All pucks must bounce in the same manner as previous batches. The pucks are checked to ensure the ink in the logos are not damaged in any way; pucks effected by dust particles, hair or moisture in the air are washed with paint thinner and go through the silk-screening process again. Pucks with any metal fragments, air bubbles, or soft rubber in the middle are rejected for use.

Once pucks are received by teams, they are kept in a freezer when not in use and during games, pucks are kept frozen in ice-packed coolers located on the official's bench. Pucks are frozen to reduce the amount of bounce. Teams rotate pucks so that older pucks are used first.

No one knows how the hockey puck actually got its name; however, many believe it was named for the character in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Taking the characteristics of the impish Puck, the ice hockey puck moves quickly and sometimes in ways not expected; just ask any goalie who has been "fooled" by that little round rubber disk.

The copyright of the article "How NHL Hockey Pucks are Manufactured" is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.