A ball mill, a type of grinder, is a cylindrical device used in grinding (or mixing) materials like ores, chemicals, ceramic raw materials and paints. Ball mills rotate around a horizontal axis, partially filled with the material to be ground plus the grinding medium. Different materials are used as media, including ceramic balls, flint pebbles, and stainless steel balls. An internal cascading effect reduces the material to a fine powder. Industrial ball mills can operate continuously, fed at one end and discharged at the other end. Large to medium-sized ball mills are mechanically rotated on their axis, but small ones normally consist of a cylindrical capped container that sits on two drive shafts (pulleys and belts are used to transmit rotary motion). A rock tumbler functions on the same principle. Ball mills are also used in pyrotechnics and the manufacture of black powder, but cannot be used in the preparation of some pyrotechnic mixtures such as flash powder because of their sensitivity to impact. High-quality ball mills are potentially expensive and can grind mixture particles to as small as 5 nm, enormously increasing surface area and reaction rates.
A ball mill consists of a hollow cylindrical shell rotating about its axis. The axis of the shell may be either horizontal or at a small angle to the horizontal. It is partially filled with balls. The grinding media are the balls, which may be made of steel (chrome steel), stainless steel, ceramic, or rubber. The inner surface of the cylindrical shell is usually lined with an abrasion-resistant material such as manganese steel or rubber lining. Less wear takes place in rubber lined mills. The length of the mill is approximately equal to its diameter.
The general idea behind the ball mill is an ancient one, but it was not until the industrial revolution and the invention of steam power that an effective ball milling machine could be built.
Ball mills are used for grinding materials such as coal, pigments, and feldspar for pottery. Grinding can be carried out either wet or dry but the former is performed at low speed. Blending of explosives is an example of an application for rubber balls. For systems with multiple components, ball milling has been shown to be effective in increasing solid-state chemical reactivity. Additionally, ball milling has been shown effective for production of amorphous materials.